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January 4, 2018

Kick-Start the New Calendar Year in the Classroom

By Juan Gonzalez
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    Although fresh starts can happen at any moment in life, January always gives me a sense of hope and new beginnings. The beginning of a new calendar year is a perfect time to re-establish previous learning, give the classroom some simple updates, and set goals for an even more successful second half of the school year. Here are some ideas to help get your classroom back into action.

    Give Your Classroom Library an Update

    Let’s get our students excited about jumping back into reading. Here are some quick tips to get your library feeling fresh:

    • If you’re part of the Scholastic Book Clubs, save your bonus points to get new titles in January. New books are an easy way to motivate students to check out new adventures. This is also my favorite way to discover new books all year long.
    • Change the placements of the books in your classroom. I have many students who stick to their favorite genre tubs or shelves. To give them a new perspective, I shuffle around the tubs in my library. This helps with getting my students to see titles they may have overlooked before.
    • Schedule a time for your students to reorganize the books. Getting your students invested in the organization process will give them a better sense of ownership to the classroom library. I ask my students to create new genre/topic tubs, move the genres around, and share ideas on how to make the library better. Check out Top Teaching blogger Mary Blow's post, "8 Library Makeover Ideas" for more classroom library ideas.

    Revisit Learning and Classroom Expectations

    After one of the longest breaks of the school year, I help my students get back on track by revisiting expectations and the learning we achieved in the previous quarters. Plus, they're kids, they need reminders.

    Rather than telling my students what they should remember, I facilitate a discussion on a topic that the class needs a refresher on. For instance, my first mini-lesson in Reading Workshop every January is asking my students “What goes on in the life of a reader?” Not only is this discussion helpful for the students, it allows me to see what has stuck from my teaching in the previous months. Below is a picture of an anchor chart that my students completed with me on the carpet. They did the thinking, I did the writing. This chart serves as a perfect reminder of what to do when our reading life begins to fall by the wayside because let's face it, it happens.   

    When planning our first week back from break, I reflect to find classroom issues that need some fine-tuning. One of my favorite literacy coaches would always say “If it’s a problem, it’s a mini-lesson.” Her name is Nicole Morales and I’m so thankful she shared that phrase with my team. Those words always remind me to face issues in the classroom instead of allowing them to grow into a bigger problem.  

    One of those mini-lesson I find myself using every year is one on book box organization. The book boxes in my classroom hold all of the tools we use to become readers and writers. As the year goes on, those boxes begin to look like a disheveled recycle bin. So, I remind the students how to take care of the bins and the items that live in them. These mini-lessons always help give students a better understanding of what is expected of them.

    Another lesson I revisit is a lesson on reader’s identity. This is an amazing reflection activity for your students to see themselves as readers by sharing their reading life and goals. I usually do this with my students at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year. It's a fantastic way to see the growth in the student's reading life. You can read more about implementing this activity from fellow blogger, Julie Ballew in her earlier post, "Three Easy Ways to Help Students Build a Reading Identity."

    Don't Forget the Parents

    As teachers, we know that parent relationships are vital to student success. Winter break is long for the parents too. During the first week back, I send home a Welcome Back letter via email or paper. Here are some things to remind your families about

    • lunch times
    • contact information
    • important classroom procedures
    • upcoming events
    • any changes you might be implementing

    Set Goals

    New Year’s resolutions are great things to discuss with students. I also think it's important to show them how to adjust and continue working towards resolutions. So, we take the time to set personal and classroom goals in January. I explain to them that these goals are different from our personal daily academic goals. As the year continues, we check in on those plans and I show them how to readjust and keep their big dreams alive.  

    Give Students Time to Reconnect

    It’s important to give the students time to re-acclimate to the classroom setting. I do this by bringing back my favorite icebreaker activities from the first week of school. These activities are great because it gives students time to talk, laugh, and continue building our classroom community. Fellow bloggers Genia Connell and Alycia Zimmerman offer great activities to complete with your students in their respective posts, "10 Fun Back-to-School Activities and Icebreakers" and "Building Teamwork and Bridges: A STEM Icebreaker."

    I hope you found this glimpse into my first week back after winter break useful. What are some things you do with your students after break? Let me know by connecting with me on Instagram, click here or comment below.  

    Although fresh starts can happen at any moment in life, January always gives me a sense of hope and new beginnings. The beginning of a new calendar year is a perfect time to re-establish previous learning, give the classroom some simple updates, and set goals for an even more successful second half of the school year. Here are some ideas to help get your classroom back into action.

    Give Your Classroom Library an Update

    Let’s get our students excited about jumping back into reading. Here are some quick tips to get your library feeling fresh:

    • If you’re part of the Scholastic Book Clubs, save your bonus points to get new titles in January. New books are an easy way to motivate students to check out new adventures. This is also my favorite way to discover new books all year long.
    • Change the placements of the books in your classroom. I have many students who stick to their favorite genre tubs or shelves. To give them a new perspective, I shuffle around the tubs in my library. This helps with getting my students to see titles they may have overlooked before.
    • Schedule a time for your students to reorganize the books. Getting your students invested in the organization process will give them a better sense of ownership to the classroom library. I ask my students to create new genre/topic tubs, move the genres around, and share ideas on how to make the library better. Check out Top Teaching blogger Mary Blow's post, "8 Library Makeover Ideas" for more classroom library ideas.

    Revisit Learning and Classroom Expectations

    After one of the longest breaks of the school year, I help my students get back on track by revisiting expectations and the learning we achieved in the previous quarters. Plus, they're kids, they need reminders.

    Rather than telling my students what they should remember, I facilitate a discussion on a topic that the class needs a refresher on. For instance, my first mini-lesson in Reading Workshop every January is asking my students “What goes on in the life of a reader?” Not only is this discussion helpful for the students, it allows me to see what has stuck from my teaching in the previous months. Below is a picture of an anchor chart that my students completed with me on the carpet. They did the thinking, I did the writing. This chart serves as a perfect reminder of what to do when our reading life begins to fall by the wayside because let's face it, it happens.   

    When planning our first week back from break, I reflect to find classroom issues that need some fine-tuning. One of my favorite literacy coaches would always say “If it’s a problem, it’s a mini-lesson.” Her name is Nicole Morales and I’m so thankful she shared that phrase with my team. Those words always remind me to face issues in the classroom instead of allowing them to grow into a bigger problem.  

    One of those mini-lesson I find myself using every year is one on book box organization. The book boxes in my classroom hold all of the tools we use to become readers and writers. As the year goes on, those boxes begin to look like a disheveled recycle bin. So, I remind the students how to take care of the bins and the items that live in them. These mini-lessons always help give students a better understanding of what is expected of them.

    Another lesson I revisit is a lesson on reader’s identity. This is an amazing reflection activity for your students to see themselves as readers by sharing their reading life and goals. I usually do this with my students at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year. It's a fantastic way to see the growth in the student's reading life. You can read more about implementing this activity from fellow blogger, Julie Ballew in her earlier post, "Three Easy Ways to Help Students Build a Reading Identity."

    Don't Forget the Parents

    As teachers, we know that parent relationships are vital to student success. Winter break is long for the parents too. During the first week back, I send home a Welcome Back letter via email or paper. Here are some things to remind your families about

    • lunch times
    • contact information
    • important classroom procedures
    • upcoming events
    • any changes you might be implementing

    Set Goals

    New Year’s resolutions are great things to discuss with students. I also think it's important to show them how to adjust and continue working towards resolutions. So, we take the time to set personal and classroom goals in January. I explain to them that these goals are different from our personal daily academic goals. As the year continues, we check in on those plans and I show them how to readjust and keep their big dreams alive.  

    Give Students Time to Reconnect

    It’s important to give the students time to re-acclimate to the classroom setting. I do this by bringing back my favorite icebreaker activities from the first week of school. These activities are great because it gives students time to talk, laugh, and continue building our classroom community. Fellow bloggers Genia Connell and Alycia Zimmerman offer great activities to complete with your students in their respective posts, "10 Fun Back-to-School Activities and Icebreakers" and "Building Teamwork and Bridges: A STEM Icebreaker."

    I hope you found this glimpse into my first week back after winter break useful. What are some things you do with your students after break? Let me know by connecting with me on Instagram, click here or comment below.  

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Susan Cheyney

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