How I Use Mentor Sentences in My Classroom

Download my mentor sentence template for free here!

One thing that I’m actually doing this year is teaching writing! Obviously I have always incorporated writing into my instruction, but I was never responsible for teaching standards for grammar and writing. That changed this year with my transition to fourth grade and to the Common Core State Standards.

While I’m obviously still working out the kinks in our schedule, one thing that I piloted last week was a mentor sentence routine. I saw the fourth grade writing teachers at my previous do this, and while I never had the time to fit it in when I taught fifth grade reading, I knew that I wanted to try it out in fourth. And y’all, I am OBSESSED! I love that this routine is going to spiral in skills in a really authentic way, and I have a feeling it will really broaden my students’ writing horizons!

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I’ll Never Get Rid of My Classroom Library

Recently, I was shocked to read an article written by a middle school teacher listing reasons why she was getting rid of her classroom library. I can’t imagine my fourth grade classroom without our library! This space is sacred. It’s the heart and soul of our classroom, and I will defend its presence until the end of my days. 

It’s Better to Lose a Book Than Lose a Reader*

Do I end the school year with all of my classroom library books intact? Absolutely not. Inevitably, some will get lost or forgotten at home. But others–and this is important–will be read so many times that the pages will fall out, the covers will disintegrate, and the book has to be retired. In my view, that’s the sign of a successful school year. I will never complain about replacing some of my more popular books and series each school year, because I know the reason I’m replacing them is that my students literally read them to pieces. 

Also, if you establish a procedure for your students to check out and return your library books, you will have a general sense of where you books are. And at the end of the day, it’s better for a book to be in a kid’s backpack, locker, or bedroom than sitting on a dusty shelf, never allowed to be read or loved. 

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A Summer To-Do List for New Teachers

Summer is here! For most of us, anyways–for the teachers who keep working into June, I see you, I feel for you, and that will be me next year. Sigh.

For brand-new (or new-ish) teachers, the summer can be a time of excitement and relaxation combined with a healthy dose of peer pressure, thanks to social media platforms like Instagram. You might think that you need to spend your hard-earned money (that you might not have yet) at Lakeshore Learning and the Target Dollar Spot in order to be prepared for your kids in the fall. You might think that you need to get your class list early and label ALL THE THINGS. You might think that you need to have all of your units planned out and color-coded in your beautiful, personalized Erin Condren planner.

But I’m going to let you in on a secret–you don’t have to! However, there are a few things you can do to get a jump on the school year without feeling like you spent the entire summer stressing and shopping.

I’ve put together a to-do list of things that new teachers should focus on this summer. And I’ll even go so far to say that this list can apply to all teachers, not just those who are starting their careers.

1. Read a really good “teacher book.”

Donalyn Miller = my queen

I don’t think professional development books get as much credit as they deserve. While it can be great to attend conferences and trainings in-person, there’s nothing wrong with taking your professional learning into your own hands and diving into a great book. It’s more affordable and can be done at your own pace, on your own schedule.

My teaching practice was forever changed after I read The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild, both by the literacy guru Donalyn Miller. Her books opened my eyes to what authentic literacy instruction could and should look like, and I went back into the classroom feeling refreshed and ready to help my students learn to love reading.

Below are some books I recommend:

  • The Book Whisperer
  • Reading in the Wild
  • Teach Like Finland
  • Who’s Doing the Work?
  • Comprehension and Collaboration

2. Hide Your Wallet.

These Target Dollar Spot apples are a prime example of something that is cute, but not necessary.

For a bigger list of things you don’t need to buy in order to be a good teacher, click here.

If you’re a teacher on Instagram during the summer, you would think that in order to have a successful school year, you need to purchase ALL THE THINGS from the Target Dollar Spot. Who cares if you don’t have a plan for how to use those adorable adhesive llamas? YOU NEED THEM! Who cares if you haven’t even seen your classroom and have no idea what the teacher before you left behind? BUY THOSE MATCHING BINS, GOSH DARNIT!

But here’s the thing–you don’t need them. I am just as guilty of going as hard in the Dollar Spot as any other red-blooded American teacher. I’ve bought my fair share of adhesive squares and colorful tassel garland and $3 maps of the United States. But last summer, I just stopped. I realized that I didn’t need to reinvent the wheel when it came to decorating my classroom, and I certainly didn’t need to be buying items that I couldn’t immediately think of a use for.

Teachers have enough stuff, and you don’t need to be buying anything before you see your classroom and what materials you already have to work with. Believe me, it’s easy to end up spending hundreds of your own dollars on your classroom, so do yourself–and your bank account–a favor and hide your wallet until you know that you absolutely need something. Once you get inside your classroom, you will have a much better idea of what you actually need. This will prevent you from spending money unnecessarily and accumulating a bunch of stuff you might not ever use.

P.S. This tip can also be applied to the fancy teacher planners. If you want one and can afford it, then go for it! No shame in that game. But if you’re on the fence, that $60+ can probably be put to better use. Plus, if you’re not a planner person to begin with, you probably won’t end up using it enough to get your money’s worth.

3. Start building a classroom library.

Our library at the beginning of the school year. That coffee table was long gone by October. #RIP

To read all of my tips about how to save money while developing a great library, click here.

I think that all teachers should have a classroom library, and this is definitely true for elementary teachers. Having a wide variety of books available at a child’s fingertips is so important for their development as readers. If they don’t have to wait for their weekly trip to the school library to pick up a new book when they finish their current one, they’re going to read a lot more. The summer is a great time to stock up on books for your classroom library and get them labeled and organized before the school year starts.

I’m also a big proponent of building your library on the cheap! You shouldn’t be spending too much of your own money to build your library. DonorsChoose, Amazon wish lists, FirstBook, and used bookstores are all excellent ways to create a classroom library without going bankrupt.

4. Start looking over your curriculum, but don’t make too many plans.

If you have access to your standards and curriculum before you begin whatever training your district has you do, I highly recommend that you spend some time looking it over. Get familiar with the skills, concepts, and units that you will be expected to teach. Think about or research the read-alouds that you want to use in your classroom. If you have more autonomy over the order you teach the standards in, start thinking about how you could group those standards together to create your own units.

However, I would also encourage you to not make too many plans. You may find that you need to stay on the same page as the rest of your team, or that you get a last-minute subject change or addition. You don’t want to have sunk hours of work into plans that you may not be able to use. If you do feel a strong need to plan ahead, I would focus only on the first week of school. Pick out some welcoming read-alouds, plan some ice-breakers and get-to-know-you activities, and have a plan for how you’re going to ease your students back into the routine of going to school. Your future self will thank you for having that figured out when you’re facing the chaos of putting your classroom together.

If you’re anything like me, having absolutely nothing on your summer agenda is fun for all of about three weeks. There’s only so much Netflix I can watch, coffee I can drink, and books I can read before I start going a little crazy and get the itch to be productive. Hopefully, these tips will help you prepare for going into your classroom without overwhelming you!

What do you suggest new or new-ish teachers do over the summer? Let me know in the comments!

7 Things I Tried This School Year (and How They Turned Out)

Untitled Design
I also tried denim jackets and gold hoops this school year

One of the things I appreciate most about teaching is that it gives me a chance to try new things. In my regular life, I’m pretty risk-averse, but within the walls of my classroom, I try out new things on a near-weekly basis. If I try something and it doesn’t work, no big deal! I can try something different or tweak what I have until I find something that works for me and my students.

This school year presented some new challenges for me, so I thought I would use this space to reflect on what I tried in my classroom this year and how everything worked out.

I Tried…Teaching Math (LOL)

math meme
This was me basically every day during my math block

Let me start by saying that this was NOT a choice I signed up for. Basically, we never filled an open spot on our fifth grade team because of budget issues at the district and state level (thanks, Texas legislature!). This meant that my three-teacher rotation turned into a two-teacher rotation. Each of us would now be responsible for teaching math to our homeroom class. Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I absolutely hate math and I legitimately am not very strong in it (this is ironic because my mom taught math for many years and was actually my Algebra teacher!). Needless to say, I was not excited about the prospect of adding this subject area and I basically lived in denial until the first day of school.

How did it work out?

Not great, in my opinion. Statistically, my kids did okay, but teaching math was definitely not something that I enjoyed. I often felt confused because the way that we teach math is different than the way I remember learning it (do I sound old yet?), and this brought back a lot of bad memories of me struggling with math in school. I was also frustrated by how many math objectives teachers are expected to get through before the state test. I felt like we were constantly racing against the calendar to cover every standard, only to have to reteach what felt like everything when it was time to start reviewing for the test. Looking back, I am glad that I at least got to experience what it’s like to teach math, but I’m very relieved that next year I’ll be back in my comfort zone of reading and writing.

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Five Novels You Need to Read With Your Fifth Graders

Photo taken while avoiding all the papers I have to grade!

Without a doubt, my favorite part of each school day is reading aloud to my students. And it’s not just fun for me–sharing a novel together has almost endless benefits for children! They get to listen to a fluent reader, talk about a text with their peers, and most importantly, enjoy a good story! Using novels together in class is also an authentic and engaging way to teach and reinforce important reading skills. I use novels to teach all of the fiction skills and strategies we learn in fifth grade, from connections to characterization.

Reading novels out loud is also a great way to introduce your students to characters and experiences that can expand their world view. There’s a lot of kid lit out there, but I try to be intentional about which books I choose to read with my students. I purposely choose books that have protagonists who aren’t white males because unfortunately, white characters are still the norm in publishing, and I want to make sure my kids are exposed to a wide variety of people and cultures.

Read on to see my top five read aloud recommendations and why my students loved each book!

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How to Survive Standardized Testing Without Losing Your Mind

testing season

Anyone who knows me knows that I positively LOATHE standardized testing. I hate the pressure that it puts on students, teachers, and schools. I abhor how it’s used to judge academic achievement and punish schools that need the most additional resources. And most of all, I hate the expectation that teachers should put regular instruction to the side in order to prepare students for a test that is biased, unrealistic, and in the case of my home state of Texas, written two grade levels above a student’s reading level!

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How to Host a March Madness Book Tournament with as Little Effort as Possible

Obama Meme March Madness
I will not pass up the opportunity to use an Obama meme

Hosting a March Madness Book Tournament in your classroom is an easy (and free!) way to get your students super excited about the books they have read. You may have seen pictures floating around Instagram or Pinterest and felt overwhelmed or intimidated by how much extra work this type of activity might mean for you. However, I’m here to tell you that it really doesn’t take a lot of effort for a book tournament to be an exciting activity for your students.

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