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Back to the Top Teaching Blog
September 16, 2010 My September Top Ten List: Back to School We Go! By Beth Newingham
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 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

    ParentDeveloping 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 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 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!





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