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Packing Our Skills for Our Journey - Through the Year

By Shari Edwards on August 29, 2012
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5

My students walk through the door the very first day and settle down to do their first assignments. I put on my white coat (at least in my imagination) and begin to observe them, clipboard in hand.

What have they brought with them to help them be successful this year? That’s what I’m looking for.

The gaps in their mastery of basic skills and the summer lag are my biggest battles this time of year. Changes in standards, curriculum and time schedules make consistency from year to year harder to achieve. Am I the only one with this experience?

To help my students start on a more even playing field, I have developed a unit for the first weeks of school. I am already teaching procedures and getting to know my students so this unit fits in my schedule much easier now than later, when my days will seem very hectic and my planbook, full.

Because we have a “Journey” theme in my room for the year, I decided to call this unit “Packing Our Skills for Our 2nd Grade Journey.”  We are in the midst of it as I write.

List of skills for mastery.


For the unit, I chose five skills from areas where I found my struggling students stuck. Spending time throughout the year helping my struggling students master these skills can keep my advanced students from progressing as they should so the unit helps them catch up at the beginning.This is what I use for 2nd grade, but no matter what grade you teach, I’m sure you have a similar list at your students’ level.

Because of my journey theme, I chose to have students make a construction paper suitcase and am giving out travel stickers for them when I see mastery.  A fellow colleague, Judy Fleig, decorates in bears and is using bear paws and stickers with the title “Paws-ing for Success.”

jar of travel stickers for suitcases  paper suitcase with travel sticker


My students bought into this idea completely and are working for their stickers by completing their tasks enthusiastically. They have all started “packing their suitcases” and are ready for their journey toward third grade.

students performing addition facts timed assessment


How To Make It Work

  • Make a list of five to six skills that you wish your students had when they got to you.

  • Decide on an incentive display. Although my theme could work in any classroom, you may have a theme going that you would like to tie in to the unit.

  • Use the first two or three weeks to give extra time to these skills.

  • Decide how you will assess and keep track of their successes.

  • Choose an activity or celebration for the end of the unit to commemorate their gains. It may be as simple as a game time, lunch in the room, or extra recess.

  • Unless I see students not trying at all, I have decided to reward for improvement for all students and so far, I don’t anticipate leaving anyone out of the celebration.

A benefit that I am hoping this unit will afford me is being able to stress how important these skills are to me with my students for the rest of the year. I can mention handwriting or any of the other skills that students become lax in and they will remember, immediately, my standards for them in that area.

How do you help your students polish up their skills for the year?

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