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

By Beth Newingham on September 16, 2010

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 (76)

How about free things for everyone? Would you like to know more, get paid applications for free? If the answer is yes then go to this site and thank me later:


As a parent, I really enjoy your blog. As a teacher, I'm always searching for new, inexpensive sources for teaching supplies. One that I've found and would like to pass on to your readers is http://www.TeacherSupplyStore.net

Beth - Thank you so much! I have developed several lesson plans for my students based on your information. The workshops are fantastic! You should most definitely blog more on this topic. See Amor Lashes for more information as well.

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

Hi Beth, This is a great article full of excellent information! I help students in my daughter's 5th grade class and now I have even more things to help me help them. Thanks, James from gun safes Houston http://www.houstonsafeandlock.net/safes/gun-safes

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Any chance of posting an update to this list? I'm sure the school curriculum has been amended since this was originally done? Thanks. Sumir Adodra Consultant

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 =)

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

Thanks for this man! I'd like to show you an educational website for a game called www.metalgearrising.org

I like the 'Partner Clocks' idea. It will teach the students to practice social and sense of appreciation skills by familiarize the child to try new things with new partners. Nice share Beth :)

I Like the Partner Clock idea as well. College was fun and challenging but I think the partner clock
Method would have helped greatly. I Currently teach my nurses to home care clients so I will use this
to see if it helps my site is http://www.devotedhomecare.net

Excellent teaching ideas.

More to Life Than Shoes is a book you can pick up for five minutes or fifty minutes and come away believing you have it in you to turn your life around. More than a career book, MTLT is a source of inspiration and practical tools for kick-starting the journey towards achieving ANY of your (wistful) dreams - which may of course be career-bound. The front cover might suggest this is a book for young women - it's not. Both men and women, young and old can get something from it, although it is especially relevant for someone who feels drained or despondent with the way their working life is at the moment.

The authors combine self deprecating wit and warmth with case study after case study of women who've achieved some incredible things. They deconstruct how each woman they profile has achieved what they have and draw out insights for the reader to take away and use in her own life right now. That's what makes it a powerful and useful read and why I will be recommending to some of my clients.

She is a smart teacher. hehe
visit back, Beth Newingham.
at my site http://januar-anas.blogspot.com/2012/12/commonwealth-life-perusahaan-asuransi.html
Thanks ;)

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!

The layout of the PPI book is simple and logical, approaching the task of model building in stages - starting with planning and project management and ending with post implementation MI. Books like this tend to be approached in one of two ways. They either start with lots of theory and then talk about application, or focus on application and then move on to the theory. This book is very much in the later camp with a clear focus on what the author has found to work well in practice rather than what is theoretically most appropriate - although there are a good number of references to PPI academic papers and books. The first chapter starts with the basics, such as this is what a predictive model looks like, this is what models are used for, these are the stages involved in building one and so on. These are well explained for those new to this subject, but you can probably skip much of this chapter if you have some previous experience.

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!

How to Train your Dog - this DVD tutorial video guide will teach you how to train your dog. Build a relationship with your dog that is built on respect and trust, curbing behavioural issues such as constant barking, pulling on the leads, toilet habits, jumping up, destructive behaviour and many more unwanted habits, as well as dealing with dangerous traffic, fear of swimming etc .

A properly trained dog will be happier and healthier through its life - the proverb 'you can't teach an old dog new tricks' is entirely false, and with the right form of training, a dog can learn new rules without breaking the dogs spirit - rather, enhancing it. Dogs are pack animals by nature and strive to assert their dominance and develop a hierarchy - once they realise the owner is the dominant being, they will learn their place. This DVD dog training video shows you how to improve your relationship with your dog, enabling both a happier owner and a happier dog. Over 3 and a half hours of training techniques

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.


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