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October 14, 2010 My October Top Ten List of Classroom Ideas By Beth Newingham
Grades 3–5

    In my second top ten list of the school year, I am revealing my new class theme and taking you on a virtual tour of my 2010 classroom makeover.  As the craziness of the first month of school settles down, I like to look carefully at my teaching and determine how I can improve what I am already doing.  This post will focus on effective ways to maintain parent communication throughout the school year, use an interactive whiteboard to enhance your current lesson plans, highlight students in special ways each week, implement an effective Reader's Notebook for your Reading Workshop, raise money for your school, celebrate Halloween in a purposeful way, and more.

    READ ON to check out tons of photos, download useful printables, visit cool Web sites, and watch a video tour of my "new and improved" classroom.


    1. My Classroom Makeover

    Going from 20 to 27 students and getting a SMART Board installed in our classroom over the summer required my teaching partner and I to rethink our classroom design.  We got rid of our huge desks and opted to use smaller tables, perfect for the constant collaboration and group work that takes place in our classroom.  Even with the extra bodies in our classroom, we wanted to make sure that we still left room for a large gathering area and other, smaller gathering areas for students to work in book clubs or cozy up for independent reading during Reading Workshop. Creating room for 27 book boxes and reading binders, six large tables, a separate guided reading table, additional book baskets we added to our class library, and a new SMART Board required us to get rid of any furniture and other classroom materials that we did not absolutely need. As you watch the movie, you will see how we found solutions to our problems and created a classroom fit for 27 students and two (very picky) teachers.

    Take a photo tour of my classroom for this year, and then read a great article about classroom design: "Classroom Organization: The Physical Environment." You may also use Scholastic’s "Classroom Set-Up Tool" to redesign your own classroom!



    Class Rock

     2. Rock Star Theme

    After doing a different theme for six years in a row, I decided this year I would finally dig into the “theme bins” in the over-crowded storage room in my basement and recycle one of my favorite themes: Rockin’ Room 13.  However, my teaching partner and I tried to update the theme and make it even better this year by going from a focus on American Idol to a theme that featured our students as rock stars.  We incorporate our theme into our classroom design, as well as our daily routines. 

    Students posed for their first rock star photo on the first day of school, and their rock star posters now hang on the “concert stage” in our hallway.  As you will see in our classroom tour (posted earlier in this article), we decorate our room to complement our theme, with everything from a music note tablecloth to inflatable guitars and pianos hanging from our ceiling.  Even the names of our math groups and word study center groups relate to our rock star theme.

    Rock star poster1
     Download rock star poster templates, learn more about my rock star theme (photos included!), and watch our rock star class movie.


    P1120766 [Desktop Resolution] 3. (Rock) Star of the Week

    I find it so important to highlight students in my class on an individual basis.  The way I do this is to have each child be our (rock) star of the week for one week of the school year. Obviously this is nothing new, as many teachers do this exact same thing.  However, I try to make the week extra special for the child by planning a different activity for the “rock star” on each day of the week.  Seeing how excited my students get for this week is a good reminder that some "fun" things can be just as worthwhile as my "curriculum."  This week certainly makes my students feel special and important.


    Monday Sharing Sack: The rock star brings pictures to share and add to her Rock Star Bulletin Board (see picture).  She also brings the Rock Star Sharing Sack back to school to share three things with the class that represent her.  (Third graders still love “show and tell!”)

    Tuesday — Rock Star Read-Aloud: The rock star reads aloud a favorite picture book or a short section from a favorite chapter book.  In 3rd grade, the kids often pick the chapter book option.  It is a great way to get the class interested in the book by reading an interesting part of the story.

    IMG_0995 Wednesday Parent Letter: This is my favorite day!!  The parents are asked to write a letter, make a book, or even make a video that tells the class more about their child.  Most parents write a traditional letter, but some families have made very cool movies with parent interviews and photos set to music.

    Thursday Lunch Buddy: This is many students’ favorite day! The rock star invites guests (usually parents) to join him in the school lunch room.  The guests can either order lunch from the cafeteria or bring lunch (often from a favorite fast food restaurant) to school to eat with the student.

    Friday Rock Star Friends: The class writes short messages to the rock star on a poster board with the child’s picture in the middle. This reminds me of a tradition at weddings in which guests often sign the mat of a framed picture of the bride and groom.  Parents have told me that this poster is so special to the child, and it often hangs in the child’s bedroom at home.


     The Rock Star of the Week also writes a message at home that is published in a feature article with the child’s photo in our weekly newsletter.

    ROck Star Newsletter

    Read more about what Rock Star of the Week looks like in our classroom. Download a Rock Star of the Week parent letter and a sample Rock Star of the Week newsletter article.


    4. Maintaining Positive (and Frequent) Communication With Parents

    September 13-First DayWeekly Newsletter: While many teachers have done away with the weekly newsletter, I still find it to be a very useful way to provide parents with timely information and to highlight the cool things we are doing in class.  The parents love to see pictures of their children in the newsletter, and it is a constant reminder of the many things we do each week in Rockin’ Room 13. The newsletter can be saved as a PDF file and emailed to parents, and I also post in on our classroom Web site so that it can be accessed if a parent loses it or is out of town on a day we send it home. Download my weekly newsletter templates.

    Class Website: My class website is my best way to provide parents with a window into our classroom.  It does not take the place of my newsletter because I know that parents do not check it on a regular basis.  However, I can post many more pictures on my class website than I can in a newsletter, and parents can then save the photo files on their home computers. The website also allows parents to watch our class movies, quickly access our daily schedule, check field trip dates, download spelling lists and activities, and read tons of information that helps them to better understand the curriculum in our classroom.

    There are many software programs, such as Edline, you can purchase to create your own class website. Many teachers in our district use Edline to post homework information every evening and even upload some homework assignments, photos, study guides, PPT presentations, etc.

    Website horizontal

    Visit my class website, for the 2010–2011 school year.


    Facebook-iconClass Facebook Page: This is not something that I am currently doing in my classroom, but my interest was certainly piqued when Megan Power, my fellow Top Teaching Colleague, posted this idea on her blog. (Read more about this innovative option for parent communication.)


     5. Mountain Math: Our Daily Math Board Goes Digital!


    Digital Math 


    Math on waterWhen I wrote a post last year about Math Workshop, many teachers were interested in our daily math board.  The board (on the right in the pictures above) is a math board filled with concepts that come straight from our Everyday Mathematics curriculum.  These include things like frames and arrows, number grids, "What's My Rule?" charts, number story diagrams, place value charts, name collection boxes, etc. (We enlarged things from the Math Masters book.)  We also use clocks, magnetic money, magnetic geometric shapes, fraction pieces, etc.  We use this board daily to review concepts the students are learning during Math Workshop. You can read more about how this works in our classroom by reading my Math Workshop post, but, in short, a student teaches the class a short math review lesson that includes three to five skills that have been taught during the current unit or previous units.   

    P1120706As great as the daily math board was working, there were some drawbacks.  The cards (even though they were laminated on card stock) had to be replaced often due to lots of use, the cards (held to the board with magnets) were always falling down and being moved around, and the board took up valuable wall space in our classroom. That is why I was so excited to find Mountain Math, an interactive whiteboard tool that works essentially just like our daily math board.  (It was actually recommended to me by a reader on my Top Teaching blog last year!) As you can see in the photo to the right, the interactive Mountain Math board has a variety of grade-level appropriate skills.  In our classroom, the daily “mathematician” picks four skills to teach each day.  The student uses the Mountain Math recording sheet (included with the program)  to solve the problems he plans to teach that day by accessing the Mountain Math board on our classroom computer in the morning.  He then teaches the lesson on our SMART Board before Math Workshop each day.  There are 24 problems on each Mountain Math board, and there are 34 boards for each grade level.  That means one board lasts for about a week.

    The only downfall is that it is not free. It is an online subscription that costs $50 per school year. We are lucky to have a very generous P.T.O. who is paying for it for us this year. We also find that we still need to create some of our own SMART Board slides to teach some Everyday Math concepts that are not included on the Mountain Math board. Check out Mountain Math online and even download a free demo!


    6. Using a Reader’s Notebook to Enhance Student Performance in Reading Workshop

    Readers notebook  One of my most popular posts last year was my post about the Reader’s Notebook we use in our classroom.  Since many of you are likely in the midst of launching Reading Workshops in your own classrooms, I wanted to highlight this post again. I find that my students have really come to rely on this notebook as a place to keep track of the books they read, set reading goals, respond to their reading, and store important information they are given during mini-lessons.  I also rely heavily on the notebook to assess my readers and keep track of what they are doing when I am not reading with them.  My teaching partner and I are now using ideas from The CAFÉ Book as we try to incorporate some of the CAFÉ assessment tools into the “Reading Goals” section of our current Reader’s Notebook.  We do not use a “Daily 5” approach in our classroom, but we are fans of the CAFÉ Menu where students are taught to set individual goals for each of the four CAFÉ categories: comprehension, accuracy, fluency, & expanding vocabulary. 


    7. Great Web Sites for SMART Board Resources

    Smartboard1Now that I have a SMART Board installed in my classroom, I literally cannot imagine teaching without it!  I use it for nearly every lesson I teach, making the content more engaging and interactive.  While the SMART Exchange is probably the most popular place to find templates and pre-made notebook lessons, I have listed below some additional Web sites that provide some very useful (and free) SMART Board resources.

    Harvey's Homepage: This Web site has very cool SMART Notebook lessons for a variety of math concepts.

    Mrs. Meacham's Classroom: This teacher posts tons of SMART Notebook lessons for word study, as well as math.  The rest of her class Web site is awesome as well.

    Crickweb: This Web site has SMART Notebook lessons geared toward the primary grades. It includes games, activities, and lessons for all subject areas.


     8. Plan a Jog-a-Thon to Raise Money for Your School!

    JogWith school budgets being cut across the country, teachers are finding it hard to make ends meet in their classrooms. Decreased supply budgets are forcing teachers to dip into their own pockets, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide for our students.  Just when the need for more books and greater technology is increasing, the money districts have to purchase these items is nowhere to be found.  That is why so many school are turning to grant writing and P.T.O. fundraisers. I am so lucky to be at a school where our P.T.O. works incredibly hard to raise money to fulfill classroom wish lists. Our biggest fundraiser for the past two years has been our school jog-a-thon.  We have raised close to $20,000 at our school, and other schools in our district have raised $30,000. All classrooms in our building now have SMART Boards, thanks to the money raised at last year’s jog-a-thon.  So, how does it work?

    1.  Our P.T.O. plans a kick-off assembly where they motivate students to collect pledges.  Donors can pledge a certain amount per lap or give a flat donation.  Each student is encouraged to raise $65.

    2. The jog-a-thon takes place in the fall.  Each grade level runs for 30 minutes around our bus loop. Students have a card pinned on their back, and parent volunteers mark a tally on their card each time they complete a lap.

    3. A DJ runs the outdoor event.  He plays popular music to get the students motivated and keeps them pumped up throughout the event.  Parents can even pay $2 to give their child a special “shout out” from the DJ while they are running!

    4. Local businesses donate prizes for students who earn the most money, run the most laps, collect the most pledges, etc. Prizes include things like skating parties at the local skating rink, laser tag outings, ice cream parties, etc.  The class who earns the most money gets a trophy to keep for the year and a pizza party.


    9. Global Webcast With Taylor Swift!

    In October of 2014, popular country/pop artist Taylor Swift participated in a live webcast with students in an intimate setting, as well as two schools that were skyped in. She spoke about reading, talked about her songwriting process, and answered questions from the students. Celebrities are certainly very influential in today's society, and it is refreshing to see a young star support reading in such an exciting way.


    10. Creative (and Purposeful) Halloween Parades

    While Halloween is a fun and exciting time of year, it is hard to make this holiday relevant to the curriculum.  Some schools do not even celebrate the holiday and have opted not to allow students to wear costumes to school.  The following ideas are alternatives to a traditional Halloween school celebration/parade.

    Halloween Vocabulary Parade: The awesome Angela Bunyi posted this very cool idea. Based loosely on the book Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster by Debra Frasier, students dress up like a vocabulary word and take part in a parade with their class or school. READ MORE about this creative idea!

    Vocab parade

    Book Character Halloween Parade: This idea is self-explanatory.  Students pick a favorite book character and dress like that character for Halloween.  Students carry their chosen book in the school parade.

    Dr seuss


    Be sure to check back next month for my November Top Ten List where I will give a detailed overview of the Word Study program in my classroom!




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