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Engaging Back to School Activities with Social Distancing

Hello darlings!  It's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year; BACK TO SCHOOL!!!  But thanks to the darn Corona virus, our lives are flipped upside down.  So how are you still going to engage your students on the first few days of B2S?  How are you going to make sure there is teamwork and community building?


I will start off by saying my district is currently going back in person and we are still encouraged to do best practices with our students.  They still want us to do partner and group work, just while wearing masks and hand washing.  Our homeroom of 25 students students is considered our cohort, so they will be interacting. You will have to judge what you are allowed in your building.  For some of these activities, you may have a smaller cohort allowed.

Now I am taking my SUPER DETAILED B2S Plans and just explaining how I would change the group work.  PLEASE go checkout my blog post about back to school here.  I wrote it as if you were a brand new teacher and needed to know what procedures and expectations to set up as well as engaging activities to do.  Click here to Go there now!  Then come back here and see how I changed it up.  You can grab my FREE lesson plan template and first two days of plans here.

Pro Tip: For every activity that I talk about spacing students 3-6 feet apart, have a few trusted students with the job of using a yard stick, tape measure, or measuring tape help you quickly create spaces between students.  This is a perfect way to introduce measurement to the entire class and show students the distances they need to remain away from each other.  This will save you time.  You will still oversee the measuring but it won't take all day.  

To get really fancy, create marks on the floor with masking tape when you know you are going to do "group" activities.  Then you don't have to do it again. We just have to get creative, my friends.  Nothing is going to be perfect...

Getting to Know You Activities-Class Meeting Intro-Pandemic Style

This is our introduction to Class Meetings. Since we can't sit on the carpet in a circle like normal, create a large circle around your room with students standing. If they have to remain at their seats, you can do the same thing.

I tell them that our goal is to leave knowing everyone's names. I tell them that I am going to try really hard to memorize each of their names and I need their help. We go around the circle a few times with each kid saying their name and then something about them. We are all looking at the speaker, trying to memorize names.

Round 1: name and favorite food
Round 2: name and favorite color
Round 3: name and favorite subject

Now ask for students who think they can name all of their classmates. Give students turns to try. I am trying to memorize too. I take a turn. Then I close my eyes and have students move spots and see if I can still remember their names but, I wouldn't do that with the pandemic.

Find Someone Who-Pandemic Style

This game is meant to have students walk around and find friends who meet certain criteria. Yeah... a little difficult to change up for the pandemic. I have two different options for you.

Option 1: Give each student a paper and hard surface (clipboard/whiteboard) and a pencil. Take students outside if possible. If not, find two or three places in the room where you could create two parallel lines of students facing each other but space them out 3/6 feet apart. Students will wear their masks and talk to the person across from them, asking which description they fit in one of the boxes. Students then write their friend's name on their own paper. (we aren't switching papers)

Then choose one side of the line to be the moving/scooting line. Give a minute or two for students to talk and write then play music. The scooting line must move in front of a new student every time you turn on music. [Get Freebie here]

Option 2: Have students remain at their desks and you or another student chooses a box on the paper and reads it aloud.  Anyone who fits that description, stands up and students can then write one of those students names down.  For this, you may need to have students wear a name tag.  To change it up, you might want to call off a funny movement with the description. Example:  If you have a cat, hop on your right foot.

Taco ‘bout the Teach-Pandemic Style
You want to establish trust and community with your students. In order for them to trust you and (I'll just say it) like you, they need to get to know you. I created a Taco Scavenger Hunt called Taco 'bout the Teach. I created a sheet with questions about me. I then wrote the answers on cards and hid them around the room by taping them on the walls and such. First I give students 5-8 minutes to try to guess the answers. Then I give them 15-20 minutes to walk around the room finding the correct Taco card that has the answers. It is funny to hear their reactions to some of the questions! Now obviously this can't be as free and easily done as normal. Here are two options.

Option 1: Divide students into two groups. You need to make double of the scavenger hunt cards and dive your room in half. Tape a set around one side of your room and another full set on the other side of the room. Show students which side they will be working on. They can move around with their masks on, BUT they cannot be at a card that another student is at. They have to find a card that is open.

Option 2: Have students remain at their seats and simply project the cards up onto your board. Have students write their answers down on their paper. Have some music playing in the background and turn it off every so often. When the music turns off, students have to stand up and jump 10 times or run in place until you turn the music back on. Just figure out some kind of movement for them to do. DON'T make them stay at their desks all day!
No matter what option you chose, go over the answers with them and ask them what surprised them. We talk about things we have in common and things that they thought were "cool."

Addition Brainbreak

Your students will need to get up and move around,so have them do some sort of brainbrak at their seats. We do a math facts flashing whiteboard game. It flashes addition facts from the projector and students try to shout out the answer before the answer pops up. Scattered throughout are movements and exercises students have to do. [Memorization In Motion-Fitness Facts]

I'm Unique Poem

I'm still planning on doing my writing project like normal, the only difference is I will have them sit at their desks for the read aloud portion. Read all about this activity, here.

All About Me Booklet Pandemic Style

I am lucky enough to be a 1:1 classroom with chromebooks so I am going to have my students complete an All About Me Book on Google Slides. Students will NOT finish this book in one day. In fact, they will be working on bits and pieces throughout the week. It is a great filler activity or activity for students to work on for morning work or free time. I might assign certain pages on certain days, or I might let the kids pick. When we finish, we will share a few of the pages with each other.

Save Fred Pandemic Style

Throughout the week, we usually work on team building activities that I created called the Misadventures of Fred.  It contains different STEM activities with Fred the gummy worm as he travels across the United States.  Read how I usually do it here.    I am only going to explain how to change it up, below.
My students and I both LOVE this activity.  They still talk about it at the beginning of the year, so you can bet your bottom dollar that I am going to try to make a Pandemic Style activity!
Option 1:  Now remember, check your district guidelines.  My kids are able to work together with masks on.  I am going to have everyone wash their hands with soap and water and wear their masks.  Instead of working in groups, they will work with one partner.  Each partner will have their own paperclip.  (they can still only use one at a time) When we finish, we will go back and wash our hands with soap and water.
Option 2: Do the same as above but have students wear gloves.  You could also have students sit in groups of 4, 3 feet apart and have one student work on it at a time.  Give them 1 minute to try to do it alone while their friends give them suggestions and then give another student a turn.  Wear gloves and/or give each student their own paperclip.

Just Do What You Can

We have to just realize our limitations and do what we can.  Every district is different in their rules and expectations and some districts are all virtual.  Try to take these ideas and make them work for you!  Hang in their friend, this will not be forever!

If you get nothing else from this entire post, PLEASE get your students UP AND MOVING!  They need it more than ever!

Want to grab all of these resources and more for back to school?  

Grab all the activity resources mentioned here!

Flat Teacher Project

Hello darlings!

I completed this project with my students during the school closures last quarter.  The Flat Teacher Project is a spin off of the book Flat Stanley.  This fun activity allows your students to take "you" on adventures with them.  I had my students choose activities from a choice board and then take a picture with my Bitmoji completing that activity with them.  I had my students take the pictures using Flipgrid, but you could also have a Google Slide for them to upload pictures to and even included a little writing assignment with it.  They could write a little journal from your perspective or explain the adventure in their own words.

I have included step by step directions for you in this free resource.  It is really easy to create your own Bitmoji and then simply replace mine.  (The resource link can be found at the bottom of this post)

Frequently Asked Questions

There are black squares printing behind my Bitmojis.  What do I do?
***This usually happens on Macs if you are simply copying and pasting a picture.  You could save each Bitmoji to your computer and upload it OR you could simply save your file as a PNG and it will print the entire file as a picture.

How do I find the Bitmojis that are just standing?
***Search "pose" but make sure if you are in the Bitmoji extension on Chrome, you do not press the space bar.

Click here to get your own editable copy!


Using Google Slides as your Teacher Planner

Hello darlings!

My teacher bestie and I are so similar when it comes to our passion for teaching and our love for our students!  But we are so different when it comes to planning and how we organize things.  LOL!  I am a paper and digital hybrid.  She is all digital and I wish I could be like her because my life would be so much easier!

How I Plan

I create one template that I love, in Google Slides.  For a few weeks, I type my lessons in the beautiful template and print it out because I like to hang it on my bulletin board right by my desk.  It looks so gorgeous and organized.  As the weeks go on, I get lazy and just start printing out the template and write on it instead.  Totally fine.  Works great.

How My Teacher Bestie Plans

The only issue is now I have to rewrite everything the next year while teacher bestie over here, just duplicates last year's plans, cuts and pastes a few things that she needs to change, and BAM, she's done.  Good for you, teacher bestie!  LOL!

I also envy her because she has all of her small group lessons for math and reading planned out in Google Slides as well.  I just wish I liked typing as much as I do writing.  She is a few years younger than me.  Could that be the difference?  Let's just pretend it is and it's not that I'm lazy.  LOL!

I love that she can just copy and paste from previous years AND if we even had to turn in lessons to our principal, she could very easily just press share on Google Slides.

Going Digital

I think I've just talked myself into giving it another try this year.  It would be nice to have everything in one place

This is the Teacher Planning Toolkit I made for her.  I'm going to give it a whirl myself since so many things are going digital.

I made sure to include everything she, uh, I mean, we, would need to keep organized and save paper!

-Title page
-Curriculum Map for the Year
-Weekly lesson plans
(you can change amount of rows & columns for subject and days!!!)
Template 1: 6 subjects and Mon.-Friday
Template 2: 6 subjects and Mon.-Wed.
6 subjects and Thurs-Friday
-Lesson Ideas and Links (add hyperlinks and pics for upcoming lessons)
-Weekly To Do List 2 formats
-Meeting Notes Form
-Teacher Passwords
-Classroom Schedule
-Classroom Checklist
-Student Transportation
-Class Birthdays
-Student Tech info and passwords
-Student Medical issues
-Parent Contacts
-Parent Communication Log
-Professional Development Log
-IEP at a Glance
-Student Alternative Schedules
-Math Rotations
-Math Small Groups
-Small Group Lesson Template
-Reading Small Groups
-Reading Conferences
-Guided Reading Lesson Template 2 formats
-Writing Small Groups
-Writing Process Stages
-Writing Conferences
-Small Group Template 3 formats
-Student Data Chart
-Student Growth Data
-DRA scores
-Progress Monitoring
-Gradebook pages with AND without premade subjects
Reading, Writing, Math, Science, Social Studies, Word Study, and 4 templates that you edit the subject

 Go check it out and see if it is something that would help you to be more organized this year!

Creating a Class Promise Instead of Classroom Rules

Hello darlings!

I don't have a list of rules posted in my room.  Instead, I have a class promise that my students "made" and we recite it each morning.  You would not believe how much it has changed the climate of my classroom!

Students have a sense of ownership and they call each other out when someone isn't following the promise.  I hear thinks like, "Jane, I asked you to stop, and in our Promise it says that when someone asks you to stop, we stop."  Or when we do compliment circles for morning meeting, I will hear things like "I like how you always stay focused and work hard."

How We Want Our Class to Feel, Look, Sound

I use the same promise every year, but I don't refer to it until we create this chart on the first day. Each year I make a chart that says how we want our class to feel, look, and sound.  I gather the students to the carpet and I ask them to tell me about their dream classroom.  I fill in the chart as I go.  They want to FEEL safe.  They want it to LOOK like kids are having fun.  They want it to SOUND like people laughing and being kind. Etc.  I kind of "guide" them with the language I really want to pull from our promise.

Next I tell them how I think that they have great ideas and that this is the kind of classroom I want as well.  I talk to them about how great it will be to have fun and learn together but I tell them that we have to have rules in order to make this happen.

Students Make the Rules

I ask them to create the rules for us.  I have them each get with a partner and they each get one sticky note.  On the sticky note, the partners must agree on two specific rules for the class.

Finally, we gather back together at the carpet and I have each partner group come up and share their rules.  We then discuss where those rules would fit on our "How We Want Our Class to Feel, Look, and Sound" chart.   I always have multiple rules that are the same and sometimes, students never actually cover the exact rules I want.  That is okay.

The Class Promise

This is when I get creative and I show them how Our Class Promise fits exactly what they wanted for our rules.  When someone made a rule that said, "Don't call people names" that fits perfectly with "Treat others better than you want to be treated." 

By the way I added in the "better than you want to be treated part" when I learned years ago that if you ask a kid something like, "Would you like it if someone called you stupid?" they would always say "I don't care!" or "It wouldn't bother me!"  That's when I tell them, "Well, that's why we have to treat people BETTER than we want to be treated!"  Believe me, they really do care but their pride won't admit it when they are upset and in trouble.

Recite it EVERYDAY and Make Movements

We say our class promise every single day and when kids have it memorized, we make motions to go along with the words.  For example, when we say "We promise to encourage others and cheer each other on," we throw up our fist in the air like we are cheering.  This helps with more buy in as the brain is becoming more involved.

There will become weeks or days down the road when they become complacent and just say it to say it.  This is when we start to really talk about it again and use a lot of inflection in our voice.  Sometimes I even make little competitions between table groups on who can sound the most convincing.

Give this a try!  Use mine or make your own, but please make a promise.  It makes such a difference because you and your students are using the same language everyday.  They know what you expect and they know that they are held accountable for their words.  Here is my Class Promise. 

6 Steps to Creating a Curriculum Map Pacing Guide for your Year

Hello darlings!

Can I let you in on a little secret?  I hate planning.  I love creating and making engaging lesson plans, but trying to fit in all my standards for every subject for the entire year isn't something I enjoy.  It's especially  hard if you aren't already given a pacing guide by your district or by your curriculum company.   But, guys, once you do it, it is so WORTH IT!

Luckily, my team and I worked on this together a few years ago and now all I have to do is tweak it for changing standards or new curriculum adoptions.  Otherwise, I just change the dates each year, and I am golden.

I will admit, it takes a little work, but once it is complete, you really have a document that will keep you on track and make sure you cover all of your content.

6 Steps to Creating A Curriculum Map

Step 1: Plug in the Dates for your year.
To save myself time, I wanted to just denote each week as Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, etc, thinking that it would make it easy for the next year.  Having the dates are helpful because then you don't forget about four day weeks, holidays, special events, etc.  This will make a difference.

Step 2: Does your curriculum have a recommendation of how long it should take to teach each lesson/unit?
Many times your teacher manuals will have the amount of time recommended for each lesson.  Just make sure you are looking at your curriculum as well and not just the teacher manual.  For example, the math curriculum we were given has extra standards that we don't teach and also is missing some standards for my state, so I have to make sure I include those myself.

Step 3: Find out if your district has a certain order you must teach the standards.
For example, in my district, we have a very specific order we have to teach our reading and writing units so that if you go to any of the schools in our district, we are all teaching the same unit at the same time.

Step 4:  See if you can teach science and social studies in any order.
I LOVE it when all of my subjects match up in one big theme.  That's when the real learning takes place.  For example, when we are teaching about graphing in math, that is the perfect time to also be teaching about weather in science.  There are so many weather graphs and charts that we make and analyse.

Step 5: Plan the Order of the Units first.
Before I fill out the Curriculum Map, I plan out the order of each of my units first.  That is how I can make sure they match up and make sense.

Step 6: Plug in your Map for each week.
Finally, I use all the info I have to plug in the units and indicate which week I will teach them.  I never stick to this perfectly, because any good teacher knows you have to be reflective and just because it took me four weeks to teach that skill last year, doesn't mean it will take me four weeks this year.  Each class is different and as long as you are pretty close to your schedule, you will be fine.

To get your own Curriculum Map resource, click here.

Diverse Books to Have in Your Classroom Library

Hello darlings!

We all like to think that we are just one little person and we really can't do anything to affect change.  As a teacher, that can't be further from the truth.  I believe teachers have immense power in their classrooms.  

I think of my third grade teacher who embarrassed me in front of my class saying I couldn't even cut straight with scissors.  That still affects me as an adult.  LOL!  I think about my fourth grade teacher who introduced me to my first book series and got me to start to love reading when I hated it before.

One simple thing we do in our classroom can stay with a child forever.

What if that one simple thing was just a book?  One book.  A book that for the first time, your student actually saw himself as the main character.  Your student could see his face reflected on the pages of the book.  And it wasn't a book about Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks.  It was just a regular old book with a regular old, powerful story.  Sadly, something this simple has to be discussed and isn't the case in all classrooms.

If this holds true for your classroom library, let's see why that is.  It's kind of difficult to have the right representation when books aren't even being published! 

Posted with Permission Huyck, David and Sarah Park Dahlen. (2019 June 19). Diversity in Children’s Books 2018. sarahpark.com blog. Created in consultation with Edith Campbell, Molly Beth Griffin, K. T. Horning, Debbie Reese, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Madeline Tyner, with statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison: http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp. Retrieved from https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2019/06/19/picture-this-diversity-in-childrens-books-2018-infographic/

This is why we, as classroom teachers, have to do the work and find the quality books that are out there.  

I have done research trying to find the best books possible to add to my classroom.  Below you will find links to others who have done a much better job than me collecting all of these titles into one place.

Here are just a few to get you started.  This is in no way an exhaustive list of all cultures. 

Black Books Matter: Books Celebrating Black Boys 

28 Picture Books That Aren't About Buses, Boycotts, or Basketball

28 More Picture Books That Aren't About Buses, Boycotts, or Basketball

The 2020 Ultimate List of Diverse Children's Books 

Diverse Books Featuring Leaders of Color 

Social Justice Books 

Books by Sharon Draper 

40 Children's Books Celebrating Native American and Indigenous Mighty Girls 

Native American Children's Literature Recommended Reading List

Culturally Diverse Picture Books Pinterest

Happily Ever After Elephants Diverse Children's Books 

Enjoy adding more books to your library!

Preparing for Back to School with COVID

Hello darlings!

School just ended for me here in Missouri, but like you, I am already thinking ahead to next year and how on earth school is going to look during this COVID-19 Pandemic.  My mind is spinning and I'm seeing all kinds of crazy pictures and recommendations on social media.

States are trying to decide what school will even look like.  Will we go back inside the classroom?  Will will stay home?  Will it be a hybrid of at school learning and distance learning?  Will students go on an A/B schedule with some students attending in the morning and some in the afternoon?  Will some students attend school on Monday and Wednesday and another group on Tuesday and Thursday?  Will we have to wear masks?  No more flexible seating? Desks have to be 6 feet apart?  And it just goes on and on and on, and guys..... I'm over it.  

I'm over the stress and the uncertainty.  I am a classroom teacher.  I am not in charge of making any of these decisions, and let's face it, I'm not going to have a say anyway.  So instead of ruining my summer, I am going to stay calm and focus on what I have control of.

You need to take a break my friend!  Seriously!  I know you hear about self care all the time, and remember that means your mental well-being.  Focusing on all the uncertainty and things you have literally no control over will NOT HELP.

Here is what we can control.  

1. We CAN brush up on technology and digital tools for next year.

2. We CAN get a jump on websites we can use in our classroom or virtually.

3. We CAN organize our resources and make them digital.

If you know me, you know I HATE wasted time.  Meaning, I don't want to spend time preparing for something that might not happen.  I am only going to focus on the things that will help me and my students no matter what happens!

1. Focus on Technology Platforms-Posting and Recording Assignments

My district uses Google Classroom, so I am making myself an expert with that. I used Google Classroom before distance learning to push sites and links out to my students and I will continue to do that no matter what, next year. Ask your district what platform they are thinking about using.

Google Classroom

If you want to see how I used Google Classroom during distance learning, go to my instagram stories here.

This is a Tutorial for Google Classroom that explains everything for beginners.

If you already use Google Classroom, here is a tutorial on how to post assignments and Google Forms.

I also created a Google Slides Assignment Template for my students to keep track of all their assignments.  You can grab the free template here.  

Recording Teaching Videos

Youtube App
The Youtube app was indispensable during the school closure.  I was able to record my lessons and read alouds right from my iPhone and upload to my own channel.  I even made all of my videos unlisted so that only my students with the link could view them.

I used the free version of Screencastomatic to record any videos that I needed to share my screen or create a tutorial on how to use something on the computer.  It allowed me to also show my face in the corner to give that personal feel.

I am still looking into Digital whiteboards such as Loom, Explain Everything, and Whiteboard.fi 

2. Websites for Distance Learning AND for in the Classroom

There are so many websites out there for student learning.  Thankfully, many of them were free with unlimited use during the school closures.  I am not sure how that is going to work in the fall, but here are the sites I recommend. 

I used this for math.  I set my students up with the 3rd grade program and they worked through it at their own pace.  It has videos and then exercises students must master before they can move on.  If we are in the classroom, I will still use this during math rotations. 

I used this for Math and ELA even before the closure. It also has science and social studies. It allows you to pick the standards and decide on an exit ticket or assignment.  You can view the types of questions before assigning and view reports.  It also groups students for you.  The free version allows you one assignment per subject at a time.  It has reading articles, grammar, word study and so much more for ELA.

This is my students' favorite math site.  It is basically like a little video game, but they are asked challenging math questions in order to advance.  I like that you can set the standards that they work on, or have them work in certain domains and they advance after they take a pretest.  This is free.

Get Epic 
This site is amazing for reading!  It is basically an online library with TONS of QUALITY books that you actually have in your classroom library, not obscure books.  You can assign books or allow students to choose.  You can even assign quizzes. It is currently only free until the end of June, BUT it was always free for students during school hours.

This was my favorite tool during distance learning and I am going to continue it into the regular classroom as well.  Flipgrid is a platform in which you can assign students a task and then they respond with a video!  They can respond to each other's videos if you allow it.  I used this for my daily read aloud.  I recorded my read aloud in Youtube (Flipgrids's longest video is 10 minutes) and then pasted the link in my grid assignment.  Students then responded to my question with their video.  I am going to use it next year with having students video themselves teaching a lesson.  I did this with having students teach me how to tell time, and it was amazing!!  Watch how I used Flipgrid in my instagram stories. 

3. Organize Your Standards and Make Curriculum Digital

One of the other things I can focus on this summer, is taking my resources that I already use and turning them into Digital Resources.

For example: How can I take that writing assignment and make it digital to use at school or at home?  Easy- just take my directions and my rubric and create a Google Doc or Google Slide that students can type their writing on.

Take your math worksheets and turn them into self-grading Google Forms. You can use mine here. 

You can screen shot basically anything and save it as a picture, then insert it as a background in Google Slides.  Then just insert text boxes where you want students to type.   (For copyright purposes, make sure you check the terms of use if you are using a resource someone else created.)  Here is a Tutorial using PDF to Image to make it faster. 

Check your TPT purchases.  Many of your purchases from TPT are being converted into digital products for you.  Most sellers like myself, are including that in our paper versions so all you have to do is go to your purchases and redownload the new additional digital resource.

So... I am just going to focus on what I can control and not dwell on what could be.  We will find out soon enough what our classrooms will look like for Fall 2020.  Don't let worrying about tomorrow, rob you of your joy today!

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