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My September Top Ten List: Back to School We Go!

By Beth Newingham on September 16, 2010
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5



I am so excited to be blogging for Scholastic again this school year!  While I will continue to share my ideas with all of you, my role will be a bit different this year. I will be creating a "Top 10" list at the beginning of each month for my readers to enjoy.  It will include timely lesson ideas, instructional videos, technology tips, management tools, links to cool Web sites, and, of course, a window into my own classroom so that you can see what I am doing with my students each month. 

READ ON to check out my first "Top 10" list of the year and discover the things I am most excited about this month. Printables and links to useful Web sites are included.


New year 1. Happy New School Year!

Why not make your students' first day back to school after the long summer a celebration?  In past years, I have purchased New Year's Eve hats, blowers, and other decorations when they were on sale in January.  I saved them for the following school year and threw a "New School Year" party on the first day of school.  When students walk into the classroom, they find a New Year's hat and blower on their desks, and the song "Celebration" by Kool and the Gang is playing. Their first task is to then write New School Year resolutions similar to the ones people make at the beginning of a new year.  I encourage students to make their resolutions related to the school year.  If you want to do this, consider visiting a local party supply store and asking the manager if they have any New Year's Eve supplies in the back.  (Oftentimes they keep them in boxes until December.)  If you have already started school this year, stock up on New Year's Eve supplies once they go on sale in January and plan this fun event for next school year.


Baby 2. We Are Family

Building community is a huge goal for me each school year.  I want my students to feel as if they are part of a close-knit family when they are in my classroom.  To help students get to know each other and really feel as though they are brothers and sisters, I ask them to bring a baby picture to school on the first day.  I request that they put it in an envelope so that other classmates do not see the picture.  I then create a bulletin board in our classroom entitled "Who's That Baby?"  Each baby picture is on the board along with a number.  After the pictures are up for a week or so, students are given a blank sheet of paper.  They number the paper and try to guess each baby.  It is fun for the students, and it creates a sense of family to have all of their baby pictures hanging in our classroom.




Tiles 3. Use Student Art to Decorate a Wall 

On one of the first days of school, I give each student a white tile.  (I purchase the most inexpensive individual tiles I can find at Home Depot or Lowes.)  Students use permanent markers to write their names on their tiles and draw pictures of things that represent who they are (hobbies, pets, food, etc.).  Once the students are finished, I attach a self-adhesive business card magnet to the back of the tiles and arrange them on a magnetic wall in our classroom.  It makes for a beautiful wall display and adds a personalized component to my classroom design.






4. Partner Clocks   

Partner ClockPartner ClockI ask students to work in partnerships quite often in my classroom.  While they have assigned partners in Reading and Writing Workshop (based on reading level and other factors), there are certainly times when I want them to quickly find a partner with whom they can complete a task or do an assignment.  If I ask students to find a partner, feelings often end up getting hurt.  Some students are excluded by others, or they may complain about working with a particular student.  For this reason, students make "appointments" with their classmates for each hour on the clock.  I can then quickly say, "Work with your 10 o'clock partner for this activity.  This management tool saves a lot of time and hassle. Read more about my partner clock idea, and download a partner clock from Scholastic Printables.



5. Reaching Out to Parents

ParentParentDeveloping a positive relationship with my students' parents is incredibly important.  The school year runs much more smoothly when parents know that I care about their child and that I have their child's best interest in mind.  For this reason, I write parents at the beginning of the school year asking them to write a letter to me about their child telling me anything that may help me be the best teacher that I can be to them. I encourage parents to tell me about their child's personality, interests, talents, learning style, etc.  Not only does this letter help me get to know my students so much better, but it also sends a positive message to parents.  It tells them that I value their input and want to alter my teaching to best meet the needs of their child. You might also send them a simple parent questionnaire to help guide their responses.  


6. Read-Aloud Books for Launching Reading Workshop

You set the tone of Reading Workshop in your classroom during your launching unit. For this reason, it is  important to choose read-aloud books that both reinforce the behaviors you are teaching during your mini-lessons and promote a love of reading.

(Click on each book for more information about the story.)

Abe LincolnThe Wednesday Surprise Please Bury Me in the LibraryThe Bee TreeTomas and the Library LadyThe LibraryRichard Wright and the Library CardMore than Anything Else The Hard-Times JarRead for Me, MamaLibrary Lil The Library Dragon












 For more on Reading Workshops, read a detailed blog entry and watch a video showing how it works in my classroom.


7. Cool Tool for Creating Random Groups  

Group MakerGroup MakerAt the beginning of the year, I find it hard to form groups before I really know my students and how they work together. Instead of having them count off in numbers or drawing sticks, I found this neat online tool at a site called Super Teacher Tools that will randomly group my students for me.  It allows you to create a class list and then choose how many students you want in each group.  It automatically creates the groups with just a click of the mouse.  (In addition to Group Maker, this Web site also has cool online review games and management tools you can use with your students.)


Writing 8. Have Students Personalize Their Writer's Notebook

My students write each day in their Writer's Notebook during Writing Workshop.  They are given a blank composition book at the beginning of the year and I ask them, in class and with a letter to their parents, to bring things from home (photos, sticks, postcards, souvenirs, etc.) to decorate both the front and back of the notebook.  While this may just seem like a fun art project, it is so much more than that!  Allowing students to personalize their notebooks helps them truly take ownership of the writing that will soon cover the pages of their book.  The photos and other things they choose to put on their notebooks often give them ideas for new notebook entries as well.  I have parent volunteers cover the notebooks with contact paper when they are done decorating them. 


9. Creative Activities for the First Days of School

Get to knowGet to knowI am always looking for new ideas when it comes to planning for the first week of school. Some great resources I've found for getting to know students and welcoming them to the classroom include an article "Top 5 Ways to Welcome Students Back to School," this page of getting-to-know-you" activities, and these getting-to-know-you printables.




10. Using a Classroom Economy to Manage Behavior (and Teach Economics) in Your Classroom


Banker1 Teachers often ask what behavior management looks like in my classroom.  I use my classroom economy to teach economic concepts, but it also serves as my behavior management system.  It is so important to introduce the economy during the first days of school, so I am including a link to one of my favorite blog posts from last year.  In this post, you will find out how to set up an economy in your classroom and use it to effectively manage behavior in your classroom.  Creating class rules and determining class jobs are done right at the beginning of the school year, and they serve as the catalyst for this dynamic classroom economy. Read more about my classroom economy/behavior management system.




Check back next month for my October Top Ten List. It will include new resources for Reading Workshop, a video of my classroom makeover, ideas for celebrating Halloween in your classroom, and much more!




Comments (61)

Highly descriptive article, I enjoyed that a lot. Will there be a part 2?

Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the internet. Shame on Google for not positioning this post higher! Come on over and visit my site . Thanks =)

Hi-Ya! siblings just loves your terrific editorial and pls stick at it

Excellent teaching ideas.

Beth, you are an inspiration! Although I, too, feel as though I'm unable to do many things I want, such as some of your suggestions because of requirements of testing, I hope to use one or two to spice up my classroom.
Thank you.

I just found your blog and other info on Reading Workshop, etc. I really like what I've read so far and love your 'style' for visual displays! (I also really hate it when good things get lost in comment 'garbage' =-( -- hopefully somebody will notice and be able to get rid of it!!) It's inspiring for me to see other teachers great ideas, so thanks for that!

Happy 2011-2012 School Year Beth..

Sometime ago there was a post requesting the labels in the word study pocket chart. I tried opening the link and it wasn't there any more. When you get time will you post the link for the labels. I've made most of the games. Also, found the pocket chart.


Beth I've tried opening the link but nothing is there. Will you post the link near the pocket chart area, so I can download them? Thanks in advance.

Beth, Thank you very much for sharing your wonderful ideas. I am using a version of your rock star theme in my classroom and I am wondering what photo enhancement software you used to make it look like your students are on stage. Thanks again for sharing! My students are loving this wonderful way to start the year!! Lana S.

AZING!!!! I was wondering if you did anything special for birthdays?


Beth, Wow! You are my teaching hero. i have been doing Reader's Workshop in my classroom for years, but the way you have your program organized is truly astounding. I've gotten so many wonderful ideas from your website and your contributions to Scholastic.

While I love all your ideas for September, as the mother of two adopted children, I would discourage any activities which require students to bring in baby photos. There may be children in foster care or who were adopted as older children who have no photos of themselves as infants or toddlers and who would feel left out of such activities.

Keep up the AMAZING work! I honestly don't know where you find enough hours in the day to do everything you do!

Are all your signs and posters available on your website for teachers to use? I saw some, but not all of the displays that are in your video. For example, the bucket filler signs and Who's that Baby? Thanks! What a great website!

Hey Beth, I love your website and while I was working for a year as an assistant in Maine after graduation (I couldn't get a job cause I was new) I dreamed of using so many of your ideas. Well I moved to Virginia and I feel like I am in teaching hell! Everything I do has to be to the test that the students have to take at the end of the year. We spend 4 weeks of the year just on testing! So many of your great ideas I can't use and so many of my own ideas get tossed away because they don't go with what the district wants. I have several students that are extremely advanced and I have to read easy books with them just because I have to do what they tell me to do (one girl read Twilight last summer but has to read picture books with 10 words per the 10 pages in the book and then answer 5 questions about it). Do you have any advice for a teachers these days with all this teaching to the test and NCLB?

Sherri (comment #46),

Please see comment #44 for an answer to your font question. I'm glad you like my posters!


Beth, Your classroom posters & charts are amazing. Where did you get the font for your posters. Love the print on everything your use...from your library to your book nook chart. Thanks, Sherri

Hi Beth,

Just wondering how you choose your mini-lessons...I know you use the state standards and curriculum, but I am curious how you choose what lessons to teach and in what order. Do you have a list of the order you address/teach reading strategies? I love your website!!! It has been a great resource.


Vanessa (comment #42),

The label covers for my classroom library baskets are actually self-adhesive floppy disk holders. I purchased tons of them at Office Max. However, I am guessing they may now be hard to find since floppy disks are a thing of the past!

In answer to your question about fonts, I have downloaded all different types of fonts that I use to create posters for my classroom from many different places on the Internet. However, I think that the font you are referring to is called LD Circles. I got it on a "School Fonts" CD from Teacher Created Materials years ago, but when I checked their website it was no longer available.

Here are a few additional websites where you can download more fun (and free) teacher fonts:





I'm sorry I couldn't be of more help! Thanks for reading my blog!


Tara (Comment #34),

Thanks for your comments! I am honored to be your 1st bookmark! I just updated my class website with some photos from this school year and additional links on my teacher resource page. Enjoy!



I have been a 5th grade teacher for the last 3 years and have now switched to a new school teaching 4th grade. My classroom library is in shambles and it is driving me crazy! I wanted to know where you got the label coverings for the baskets? Also, I have been searching high and low for the font you use for the different genres. The one with the dots at the tips of each letter. Do you know where I can find that font? Thank you so much!

Hi Beth! I am such a huge fan of yours. I have you as my 1st bookmark on my school and home computer. You are awesome! I have become a better teacher because of your sharing. I refer to your website in every professional discussion about innovative ideas. Thank you for all that you do for kids and also thank you for sharing all of your fantastic ideas and resources.


I am a 4th grade special education teacher needing to build my personal classroom library. Many of the books in my library are not "just right" books. Do you have lists or suggestions of books for red readers? I have students reading on these levels who really want to read small chapter books. Thanks so much, and I have enjoyed incorporating IDR into my class!


Amy (Comment #36),

I fixed the lesson plan link on my website, so you should now be able to download a copy of my sample weekly lesson plans. I'm sorry about that!


Sarah (comment #35),

Doesn't it feel great to know that you are doing everything you can to meet the needs of all of your students! I'm so glad that math workshop is going so well for you. Good luck with your continued success, and thanks for posting your comments on the blog!


Kay (Comment #34),

You asked if I will be blogging about writing workshop this year. My goal is to write about what teachers are interested in reading about, so I will be sure to add more information about writing workshop in my monthly Top Ten Lists this school year!

Thanks for your comment!


I would love to hear about writers workshop and see videos of
your students and you in action. I'm doing a project
about writing workshop in my own classroom and would benefit
from any hints/tips you have about which programs
you model your lessons after. I'm guessing that it's
a combination. Thanks again!

Beth, Your website has helped me so much! Thank you for all you do. Just one question... I was trying to click on the link for your plan book template and am not able to. I am looking for a better way to plan this year and was hoping to see what you do. Anyway you could send me this information? Thanks in advance.


Thank you for the links to yours and Alice's EM workshop info. I am going to begin the workshop model on Monday! I have also emailed our staff and asked if anyone else wanted to join with me! I have to say THANK YOU to you for all you do. I am now individualizing every subject for every child in my room except for science and social studies. Through the spelling, Reader's Workshop, Writer's Workshop and now, EM Workshop, I am confident that I am actually meeting my kids where they are! I love that feeling! Thanks again!

Dear Beth, I am reading all your posts because I just discovered this website. Will you talk about writing workshops this school year? I loved all the information you gave us on how you work with readers workshops. Thanks for all your posts!!! Kay

Nicole M. (comment #31)

Thanks for your comments! I'm so glad to hear that math workshop is going well for you! Since you are using Everyday Math in your district, here is a link to Alice Murphy's website where she provides EDM lesson plans to use in your math workshop. http://alicesmathworkshop.weebly.com/

It sounds like your school year is off to a great start!


Heather (comment #30),

The type of Reader's Notebook that my students keep would certainly be very difficult to duplicate in kindergarten, but I am not sure what a kindergarten reading notebook would look like since so many students at that age are not yet "writing." Perhaps it would allow students to illustrate their favorite part of a book or fill in blanks for skills like predicting. (I think _________ will happen.) I will ask some other teachers in my district what they expect in terms of reading response in a kindergarten reading workshop.

A great book for learning more about reading workshop in the primary grades is Kathy Collin's "Growing Readers." I would suggest checking out this resource to learn more about what reading workshop looks like in a kindergarten classroom.

I wish that I could be of more help, but I have no personal experience teaching students at that level. I am hoping Kathy's book will help you out!


Beth, I just have to tell you how your ideas on Scholastic have helped me so much. I loved your description of math workshop so much (our school uses Everyday Math also), that I emailed the article to my principal and asked if I could do math this way this year. She loved it so much, she sent it to other teachers and several decided they wanted to teach that way as well. I am loving teaching this way! It just makes so much sense and I feel like I am able to reach all levels. Thanks! Nicole Missouri


WOW! I have been so impressed with your pictures and lessons. I would love to be in your classroom everyday. I have a question about reader's workshop. What do you recommend for Kindergarten? Would you use some kind of notebook? Do you know of a teacher that does reader's workshop in Kindergarten? I look forward to your responses. Thank you so very much for sharing your incredible ideas!!

Pam (comment #24),

Thank you so much for posting your message! It made my day! It is always so nice to hear from fellow teachers who are trying out some of my ideas and finding them to be useful in their classrooms. I enjoy sharing my resources with others and am appreciative of those teachers who also share with me! As teachers, we all have the same goal of helping our students as learners. When I find something that works well in my classroom, I enjoy sharing it with others. Hopefully you will find more useful resources in my future posts this school year.


Roni (comment #21),

You asked about the literacy center materials I have on my website. I make almost all of my literacy center materials myself. In the next couple of months, I will be writing a post about the word study program in my classroom. In that post, I will try to include some templates that you can download so that you can create your own games and activities.

Check back often!


Anne (comment #20),

I'm so glad that you have found my articles on Top Teaching to be useful! I plan to post more exciting ideas in my monthly Top Ten lists this year. Check back at the beginning of each month to read my new posts.


Melanie (comment #19),

You asked if it is time-consuming for my students to have to go get their book boxes and binders before heading to the carpet for reading workshop. I did worry about this the first year that I decided to use a reading binder. However, it has not been a problem. I usually call tables separately to go retrieve their binders and book boxes so that it does not become too congested by the binder/book box shelves. Each child also has an assigned spot on the shelves so that there is never any arguing about where a student will put his book box & binder each day. This also saves times because students do not spend any extra time looking for their book box. This year (because we have so many students), our binders are actually stored in two separate places in the classroom. This is helpful because all of the students are not in one area when retrieving their binders.

I hope my suggestions help!


Corinne and Sarah,

The "Math Workshop: Using Developmental Grouping to Differentiate Your Instruction" post that I wrote last year can be accessed here: http://blogs.scholastic.com/top_teaching/2010/05/math-workshop.html

I'm sorry the link was broken for a few weeks.

You can also find great information about Math Workshop on Alice Murphy's website: http://alicesmathworkshop.weebly.com/


Beth, I have been following your blog and website for years now. You are truly an inspiration. When I get down or have a bad day, I read something you've written and it lifts my spirits and makes me want to try something new...or lots of new stuff. Thank you for sharing with all of us. Lots of teachers have fantastic ideas, all beneficial for kids, but do not want to share because they don't get the "credit". You are not like that. So again, thank you so much!

Beth (and folks)- I found a blog and "weblog" that summarizes (but gives credit to Beth) the Everyday Math Workshop. I, too, wanted to try this workshop and couldn't access the blog on scholastic...frustrating! Anyhow, I took a gamble and did a Google search and found the info. Here are the links:

http://thecaffeinatedteacher.blogspot.com/2010/04/differentiating-math.html and http://jasztalville.net/weblog/?p=243

Thanks, Beth, for coming up with this idea--I'm sure it will work wonders in my quest to continue to individualize education for my students. I switched from teaching 7th grade to 3rd grade for that reason, and, thanks to you, I've been able to use your ideas by tweaking and personalizing them for Reader's Workshop, Writer's Workshop, Spelling, and now Math. I now have one other teacher who ditched the basal and implemented RW and two others who are VERY interested in what I do! Your hard work and willingness to share encourages me to continue to do what is best for my kids even when difficult. Thanks again!

Beth, Over the summer I read a great post that you wrote about Everyday Math Centers. Before I could print the blog it was gone. How can I get a hold of this blog? Thanks for your help. Corinne

dear Beth, I was very interested in your literacy center activites that you rotated the children through. Are these center activies pre-made purchased items or are they self-made. Could you share some of the templates for these or the names of the supplier and games you purchased. Love your site-thanks for sharing Roni

Beth, I am so thankful for your articles and wonderful website. I have used many of your ideas successfully in my classroom. My favorite thus far has been math workshop. This has been a wonderful way to teach math. My students and parents are happy!

Thank you again! Anne H.


Your ideas are awesome and I especially love how you use buckets and binders for your reading workshop. I have decided to implement this into my reading workshop this year. I wanted to ask about the management aspect. Do you find it very time consuming for the kids to gather their materials. Do you call them table by table or all at once? I am concerned there will be a stampede each time or it will take to long to get ready. Thanks!


I am not sure why the newsletter download link is not working for you. I tried it on my own computer and my husband's computer just to see if I had the same problem, but I was able to open it. My only suggestion is to right click on the link, choose "save target as," and save it to a location on your computer (instead of just left-clicking and opening it). After saving it, go to the file location and attempt to open the file that way.

I hope this helps! Unfortunately I can't email the file because it is too large.


Hi Lora,

You asked about the word lists/word study program we have implemented in our classroom. The mix of daily lessons and word study activities/games really help students apply the patterns they learn each week.

Two years ago we created our own lists. Each week a challenge list and a regular list is sent home based on students' performance on a pre-test. Students also have individualized words to study based on spelling inventories of high frequency words given at the beginning of the year. On the final test, students are given ten additional words that they are not able to study so that we are able to determine if they have mastered the application of the pattern taught for the week.

After implementing the program for two years, my teaching partner and I are still reviewing each list and making some changes. Since the program continues to be a work in progress, we are not posting the lists online until we feel that they are "perfect."

The books/programs we used to help us create the lists and determine our sequential teaching of specific patterns for our third graders are Words their Way by Donald R. Bear and Word Study Lessons (Grade 3) by Fountas and Pinnell.

Words their Way: http://wps.prenhall.com/chet_bear_words_3/

Word Study Lesssons: http://www.heinemann.com/products/002132.aspx

I hope these resources will help you and provide you with lists to use with your students!

Thanks for posting on the blog!



I have been trying to download your sample template for newsletters. I even bought Print Shop and Winzip to make it work. But, every time I try to open the file, it won't open! Could you please help me troubleshoot this?

Beth-I read this summer about your Math Workshop that you run. However, I can't access it from your class website or find it on this one. Could you post a link, please?

I was wondering if you have a preferred list of spelling words for the school year? I am not sure if you have a pre-determined list that you could share? Thank you so much for all that you are doing!

Hi Beth, You had wonderful detailed information posted about how you set up your math centers. That link is now gone. Can you please help with that? I am trying to set up math centers without the aid of an assistant in 4th grade and your plans seemed ideal. I need to share the information with a colleague and review it for my own benefit. Thanks for all you do!


I absolutely love your idea of making "Back to School Night" like a press conference! Can you tell me more about that? Do the kids write their own script? Are the questions rehearsed? It sounds like such a cool way to introduce parents to your classroom.

Thanks for adding your solution to the tile wall. Using white paper and making it more like a quilt is a great alternative if a teacher does not have a magnetic surface to use.

I hope you have a great school year, and I look forward to hearing more about your "press conference" idea!


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