Back to School 101


It's almost that time for most of us. I have been enjoying my summer.....working a little bit, watching LOTS of Netflix, spending some time at the pool. We are about to spend a week at the beach and then I am heading back to set up my classroom.

I thought I would hop on here and write a little post today about some things that you might find helpful for heading back to school this year.

I am going to share my top 5 things that help get me organized or on track for back to school.

1) Meet the Teacher
2) Set up Tips
3) Parent Communication
4) Icebreakers
5) Read Alouds


Meet the teacher is crucial. I often feel so stressed out that day. I'm running around making sure the finishing touches are done to my classroom. I'm a TAD OCD about that frankly.

But more importantly, I make sure that my Meet the Teacher packet is assembled. I have several forms that I have created and I send those home in the packet. The school also requires us to send home certain things. I created an all in one file with all of my back to school forms to include in your meet the teacher packet!


I print all the forms on brightly colored paper and then place them all inside a large manila envelope with the checklist taped to the outside with students names on the front. See more about the checklist later...

Parents sign in, find their packet, and fill them out if they choose to. I don't require them to because the school will require them to fill out tons of paperwork already. Once they have picked up their packet, filled out or not, chatted with me, they visit my whiteboard where there is a wishlist of supplies for me beyond what is on the class supply list. I place the stars on magnets and parents just snag one on their way out! This is included in the Back to School forms packet. 

This is what the checklist looks like on the front of the envelope. I don't remember who I got this idea from years ago, but I LOVE it. It helps parents know what things in the envelope NEED to come back filled out and then what things in the envelope are just for reading and can be kept at home. The checklist is fully editable and is included in the Back to School Forms packet as well. 

Whichever packets are left also help me know which students didn't attend Meet the Teacher.
You can purchase my Back to School forms mini packet HERE!


I am all about keeping things simple. There are a few things I want to discuss here. The first, is classroom helpers. I have probably tried ALL THE THINGS. Years ago, I used to do the whole thing where every kid got a classroom job each week and then you would move all the clips and I was like WHY!? Half the time I would forget to move the stupid clips. Then...I was like, I'll have the kids do it! But, they would do it wrong, or muck it on purpose...you know what I'm talking about. THAT kid who wanted to be the line leader again, even though he just did it two weeks ago. Clips would get dropped. It was just NOT working for me, if you catch my drift. 

Then one day, I was reading Mrs. Cooley's blog, First Grader At Last, and I hit a gold mine. She literally has the simplest, most genius idea ever! You pick two kids a week - one boy and one girl. Slap all their names on rings and viola! Done. All I do is flip them each Monday! You can see Sarah's post HERE! I have NEVER looked back. EVER!

Last year I just typed all my student's names in a cute font on colored circles, cut them out and laminated them. Then, I hole punched them, put them on rings and hung them on my whiteboard. You can see below where they will hang. I didn't have them laminated yet for this picture.


The next thing I recommend doing each year is having a way to display what you are learning. You can see in the above photograph how I displayed my objectives for each subject. I have done this many different ways over the years. I used my Cameo to cut out vinyl letters and stuck them to my board. Then I printed a copy of each subject and slid them in a sheet protector and put them inside each rectangle. 

This coming year, I would love to do something like this from maneuveringthemiddle on Instagram!


Finally, I suggest putting together a sub binder or sub tub BEFORE the year begins. You NEVER know what life has in store for you. I recommend putting together at least five days worth of plans. There are tons of great resources on TPT out there for plans. I try to put together no fuss things. For example, for Math, I like to have students do dice or card games so I don't have to print a bunch of stuff and the kids aren't bored to death while you're out. 

I have tons of sub pages for emergency procedures and lists available in my Ultimate Teacher Binder and Tool Kit. 


I have also used Amy Groesbeck's Editable Sub kit which is great! You can get hers by clicking the picture below!


I purchased this wooden file holder at Target for $16.99 and I plan on transferring all of my binder things to this!
I definitely snagged this idea from twoteachersinfifth on Instagram and I am excited to implement it this year! Isn't it pretty!?


Anywho...don't make the mistake of putting this off until the last minute...TRUST. 

Next up is something I have done for many years and has been huge in my classroom! My parents love it and it has been such a huge help in keeping kids organized. My parent communication binder goes to and from school each day! Many of you may already use these, but if you don't...you should be!

I don't have a picture of the fully assembled inside and outside binder that we used last year, but here is what the inside sort of looks like. 


Each binder has a themed cover. We had a PIRATE theme last year, so that was the theme of the cover. I have several other options available in my TPT shop.


The inside front pocket of the binder is labeled with Sign and Return. The back pocket of the binder is labeled with Keep at Home. The zipper pouch is labeled with Notes and Lunch Money or whatever you wish. The colored folders are labeled as Homework and Graded Work. The clear plastic sleeves I do not label. I put students weekly newsletters in one. I also print out our grade level expectations and policies and they stay in there year round. I print out a class list to keep in the clear plastic sleeves as well. This may sometimes change depending on the transience of your class. I keep notebook paper in the back for students to complete their homework. 

If you are interested in checking out my themed binder sets, just click on each image below!




It is important to start the school year on a positive note. Getting to know your students is one of the most important things you can do to make sure that you have a successful school year with your students. 

One of my favorite ways to break the ice at the beginning of the year is to have a "Snowball Fight." Students get up and get moving, they have fun, and they get to know each other a little bit better. I give each students a piece of paper. I instruct them to write two things about themselves on the paper. Then they must ball it up and take position somewhere in the room. They are allowed only 30 seconds of throwing their paper balls and they must cease as soon as I call time. If they do not, they must sit out for the next round. They do NOT want to be THAT student. After time is up, each student picks up the nearest piece of paper and read it. I call on a few students to try to guess whose paper they picked up and then we go at it again. We do this a few more times and then we all share who is who. Everyone has a good time and we laugh and learn a little bit more about each other.

Another fun Icebreaker that I learned years ago at a Professional Development is a Musical Icebreaker. You play a short clip from a popular song. Students listen and think about a memory or connection they have to the song and write it on their paper. After the clip is over, call on students to share their connections. Do this with at least 5 songs. This is also a good way to gauge students writing abilities. 

And finally, I think I have done this EVERY year I have taught. I allow students to do a gallery walk learning survey. I am big believer in having students move around instead of sitting all day. This is super simple and very effective. I like this because I don't have to sift through 20 papers to see what students like to do. I can just glance around the room! All you need to do is prepare the anchor chart questions ahead of time. I also like to have the sticky dots cut out out and sorted ahead of time as well. It can get time consuming to count out 6 sticky dots per kid if you wait until the last moment. 



And last but not least, you have to start the year with off with great books! These are a few of my first week books!


Goldiscoks and the Three Libearians is the perfect books for teaching students all about selecting a just right book. 

I hope you have been able to find something useful in this post! 


Monday Motivation {Daily Schedules}

Hey friends! I am back today sharing about my daily schedule! In truth, I haven't had a schedule that I have been truly happy with in some time. We don't really have much control over when we do certain things (recess, activity, lunch) and this year, we were required to give up an additional 30 minutes to do RTI four days a week. Our Friday schedules are also different do to PLC time. I will not be including that information here, but here is what the layout of our day looks like.

When I was setting up my room a couple of years ago, I found these ADORABLE daily schedule cards from Amy Groesbeck! You can grab yourself a set HERE!

This schedule ended up changing as the year went on. Here is the schedule that I ended up sticking with for the year.


When students come in, they have a this message on the board.

We are a Title I school and offer free breakfast every day. We didn't always use morning work, but when we did, we used this, from Kiki's Classroom. You can purchase the yearlong set HERE!


Sometimes, students would just get on the computers and do Reflex Math or work on Cursive Workbooks. Eating breakfast in the classroom made it difficult to complete the morning math fully. We would try to finish it later on in the day.


 After morning routine, we jump right into Reading Workshop. I had the resource students this year and we did inclusion, so the resource teacher pushed in each day. In our district, we use the Fountas and Pinnell balanced literacy model and we also use Literacy By Design. We also have the freedom to supplement our mini lessons with whatever resources we choose. I only use the LBD leveled readers during my Guided Reading time. Each week, our mini lesson focused on a specific standard. During our Guided Reading group time, students do Daily 5. You can read more about that HERE. As students are doing Daily 5, they have the week to respond to the skill we are focusing on in their reading notebooks.


After reading, we go straight into writing. Because of our tight schedule this year, I felt like writing was always where we had the least amount of time. Guided Reading would always run over. I really am hoping our schedule allows for more writing time this year. 


I used Ashleigh Swinford's writing units this year. They follow the writing workshop model and they are wonderful! You can purchase those in her shop HERE! The one thing that I feel like I really didn't do a great job with was teaching grammar. Ashleigh's units do have a small grammar focus, but they are not lessons. This coming year, my team will be using Rooted in Reading and I am excited that they will have a grammar focus each week.

After writing, we had a 45 minute activity block. These are our specials, related arts, whatever you call them at your school!


We are required to have PE twice a week in order to abide by state law, so library isn't an official activity block. We have to carve out 20 minutes once a week to go. I would prefer that it be a full activity time, but hey....I'm not the one running things!

When we return from activity, we have one of our favorite times of the day - Read Aloud!


These are just a few of the novels we read this past school year. We also read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and The Swamp Fox. I would love some more 3rd grade novel suggestions for next year!

After read aloud, we have math. 


About a month into the school year, I discovered Hope King and Amy Lemon's Magic of Math for third grade and it totally transformed our math time! Students have never been more engaged in math in my classroom. I will say that it required lots of copies and preparation, but now I have a ton of it ready for reuse for next year. 

If you are interested in purchasing the third grade Magic of Math, just click on the image below!


You will certainly not regret it! These movable fraction number lines took me some time to assemble, but now I have them for years to come!


After math, we had recess, lunch, and a quick restroom break. 

When we returned, we had about a 45 minute content block. We had to alternate between Science and Social Studies because we didn't have time in our schedule to do both in one day. For the sake of grading, we usually alternated after completing a concept, instead of a whole unit. 



We tried our best to make this time as hands on as possible. We did have a couple of Science Kits to use and we pretty much planned our own curriculum for Social Studies as the text books don't make for much excitement. 

The last 30 minutes of the day was reserved for our intervention time. While I was meeting with these four students, the rest of the students would be on computers or devices working on Reflex Math or Imagine Learning. 


This coming year, I plan on using these progress monitoring cards from Mrs. D's corner! You can snag her freebie HERE

After RTI, we pack up and dismiss for the day! 

I hope you have enjoyed this insight into my daily schedule! 



Monday Motivation {Word Walls}

I am linking up with my friend Jen Ross over at Teacher By the Beach again this week to talk about Word Walls.

Word Walls can be so many different things and can be very useful. I hear teachers say all the time that kids don't even look at them, so what's the point? I might have actually said that myself a time or two! The thing is, you have to teach students how to USE the word wall and what it's purpose is and it can be a VERY powerful and useful for tool for students.

What I don't recommend doing if you implement a traditional word wall like this...is placing it somewhere up high where you can't easily get to it each week to add your words. I promise your words won't get added if you do this...I sure didn't add mine like I was supposed to when the word wall was out of reach.

I'm ashamed to say that this was one of my first word walls and it's pretty pitiful looking. I have NO idea what possessed me to put the letters on gingerbread men other than the fact that my name is Ginger and I thought it was somehow cute...


It was suggested to me to have strips of paper and add velcro dots so that the words could be easily added each week and reused from year to year. This plan works well if you have your words already planned out before the year begins like our district did for each grade level.

As the years passed, my word walls became more functional and more appealing.

This particular year, I had room for two word walls and I loved it! One was for the traditional word wall words and the other was for content words.

The first word wall, I created with laminated letters and 2 inch wide ribbon. As the week's passed, I would add our weekly no excuse word wall words to that word wall. It was also at a reasonable spot on the wall that I didn't have to climb like a monkey to get to it and add my words!

My other word wall is my ALL TIME favorite! It is a writable word wall for content words. I wish that I had taken a picture of it later in the year when it had words that had been added to it, but it was marvelous! Each content word was written in a different color which made it easier for students to distinguish between and use. Math words ended up taking up the most space and were what students used the most. It definitely served its purpose!

I haven't ended up having a room that enabled me to do the writable word wall again, but I'm hoping to figure out a way to make that happen this year. It was so SO easy!!

I have also done content related word walls.

Excuse the poor quality of the following two pictures.

I would place the words on the board next to the anchor chart or poster. The board's words changed with each unit.



I don't have a picture of this, but I have also done a personal word wall folder for each student. When we would add a word to the wall or when students had a word they wanted to add, they could do so to their own individual folders. This was very effective and it was like they had their own mini dictionaries.

I would love to hear how you use word walls in your classrooms! You should definitely go link up with Jen if you have some fabulous ideas of your own to share!