Our Hopes and Dreams – What I Do On the First Day of School

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

In my last post, I wrote about the importance of classroom management and the five key elements that you MUST do to be successful. Today, I want to share my Our Hopes & Dreams lesson plan that I use to start that discussion with my students on the very first day of school. It’s not an icebreaker, it’s not a game … this is an activity that has meaning for the rest of the year!

You know how that first day can be! It’s stressful. It’s probably the longest day of the year. I used to spend time making endless lists of plans to keep everyone busy and happy for that first day and half of it never even got touched. What a waste of time!

Now, instead of those endless lists, I use this as a way to get to know my students, build community, establish and discuss our classroom expectations and routines, and incorporate ALL 5 Cs! That last one is big in my district:) This lesson plan is also a part of our Responsive Classroom strategies, so when I say I’m hitting everything, I really mean I’m fitting in everything I’m intentionally trying to work on in my classroom! And by the end of the day, I have a simple classroom display, along with our classroom expectations posters that we make collaboratively, that can be posted on a bulletin board or wall in the classroom for the rest of the year as a reminder of our reason for working hard and following the rules! It’s a win win!

It all starts with one question, “What are your hopes and dreams for the future?” If you’d like a copy of this first day lesson plan that will have meaning and make a difference for the rest of your school year, you can get it by going to my shop or clicking here!


The Most Important Thing Teachers Must Do to Have the Best Year Ever

What’s your Classroom and Behavior Management Plan?

No matter who you are or what you use, your classroom and behavior management plan is the key to your classroom’s success! You can plan amazing lessons, room transformations, and activities. None of that will be as meaningful without a solid classroom management plan. In my fifteen years of teaching, I’ve found five key rules for any management plan to work.


Your students need to know that you respect them and care about them. They need to feel valued; that their thoughts, feelings, and actions are important to you.

Building positive relationships doesn’t mean that you are their friend. Being their friend puts you on their level. This is not where you want to be if you want to hold the authority in your classroom. This means that you need to make sure they see you as an ally and mentor; someone who will treat them with value and lead them in a positive direction.

I begin building these relationships on day one. I join in on their conversations. I ask about them and take time to listen to their stories. I tell them they are important to me and I speak to them with respect and honesty. I’m straightforward. I tell my students that our relationships matter towards having a successful year. I tell them that I may make mistakes sometimes (I’m human) but that I will try my best to be honest and fair. We have a realistic discussion about what they expect from me as their teacher and I tell them that they can hold me to these expectations. We are ALL in this together.

Throughout the year, I join in on their conversations and games at recess. Sometimes I eat lunch with them. Sometimes I join in on resource/specials classes with them. I make sure we have time to smile together. And when it’s necessary, I make sure we have time to be serious and talk about more difficult things together. I share my emotions with my students. To me, it’s important that the students know emotions are okay, and that we all have them. To me, it’s important to show that I am a real human (a professional human, of course).

Clear Expectations and Consequences

Whether you have printed Bitmoji rules posters already made or you make the rules together as a class (or school), it is extremely important to make sure your students understand your expectations and the consequences for meeting or not meeting them.

Your expectations should be high, yet fair! Students need to be motivated intrinsically to meet the classroom expectations. They are only going to feel this intrinsic motivation if they feel like they are capable of meeting the classroom expectations or following the rules. Your consequences must also be fair and clear. Your students need to know what will happen if they don’t meet your expectations and what will happen if they do.

You also need to make it clear that you are here to help them. I let my students know that they can always talk to me if they are having a bad day and may need a little extra help from me to be successful.

Your language needs to be clear. You may feel like you’re on repeat, but if you tell your students exactly what you want them to do, give clear directions, etc. they are more likely to do those things. Even when what you’re telling them is a direction you give every day, it’s important that you give those directions – “push in your chairs and line up quietly”. Many teachers use music, door bells, call and responses for these daily routines and expected behaviors. Those only work if you have given very clear directions, many times, about what you expect them to do before you use those techniques.


No matter what, you must consistently reinforce the expectations and consequences. I think this is the hardest part of it all. Especially at the beginning of the year, it’s easy to fall into the misconception that if you get on them or punish them for not meeting your expectations, they won’t like you or they’ll think that you’re mean. That’s not true! Remember, you are trying to earn their respect and you can’t do that if you’re a pushover. You’ve established the expectations and consequences. You’re working hard to meet the expectations they’ve set for you. You MUST consistently hold them to your expectations. This doesn’t just mean that they get in trouble for every misbehavior. Consistency must also go towards reinforcing the positive behaviors. And, just because a student is getting a consequence for a negative behavior, it doesn’t mean that you have to enforce that consequence with anger. It won’t be important to your students if they don’t think it’s important to you, and that’s where consistency comes into play!

Be Fair

I mean several things when I say to “be fair”. I mentioned above that your expectations need to be fair. What I mean is that they need to be reachable. Your consequences must be fair. They must make sense with the level of misbehavior or the level of positive behavior. You must hold ALL of your students to the same level of expectations and consequences. I promise you, your students will notice if they think one student is getting away with misbehaviors for ANY reason. They’ll also notice if one student is being reinforced for positive behaviors way more often than others. For inclusion classrooms like mine, this may mean that you have preventative measures like social skills lessons, behavior tools, verbal prompts, whatever else, in order to help some students meet your expectations and have the same chance as everyone else in the room. This may also mean that you have to work harder to keep a more positive outlook and mindset. It can be really easy to get sucked into the negative mindset and only notice misbehaviors. Again, your job is to help your students meet the classroom expectations, and that means you have to work as hard to help them as you expect them to work towards their positive behaviors.

With fairness, I also mean that you need to be fair in how you treat the students when they don’t meet your expectations. If being yelled at in front of everyone is not something that you would like done to you when you make a mistake, you should not be doing that when your students make mistakes. Also, if you do happen to have that student who consistently makes those mistakes, be fair in how you watch and manage his/her behavior. You can’t allow yourself to only focus on the misbehaviors. Your students will never make positive changes if you don’t also reinforce the positive behaviors they exhibit.


Your students WILL want to talk to you. They’ll want to tell you stories. They’ll want to explain themselves when they make mistakes. You HAVE TO take time to listen to them. It’s a huge part in the positive, respectful relationships you’re building with them. I think many of us believe that we don’t have time to listen to our students. I feel this way too, sometimes. But, there are definitely times throughout your day that you can make time to listen – pull that student a few minutes during resource/specials, lunch, recess, or arrival. I’m sure when you really think about it, you do have a few minutes somewhere in your day that you can use to make that student feel listened to. I promise you, it’s worth your time!

It doesn’t matter if you use a behavior chart, Class Dojo, an economy system, etc. Without these five elements, none of those will be successful. These five elements come into play when collaborating with your students’ families also. It’s important that you work with and build positive relationships with them, and it’s important that you all are setting clear classroom expectations, being consistent, fair, and listening to each other.

So … now that you know the five key elements to any successful classroom management plan, it’s time to prepare what works for you. What are your expectations? What are your consequences? How will you keep track of the behaviors? How will you manage the daily routines? If you haven’t thought about this, now is a great time to start! It’s the most important thing you can do to prepare for having your best school year ever!

Have a great school year! And if you’d like to know more about how I implement these things in my classroom, please leave a comment/question or get in touch!

End of the Year Digital Choice Board Projects

My end of the year project just leveled up! With ten days left to go, and the sentimental thoughts of missing the class (from myself and the students), these projects will give the students a chance to share special memories, things learned throughout the year, tips for next year’s students, or a summary of what they’ve learned through five different creative options.

Students can choose between a series of podcasts, writing a song and creating a music video, writing and illustrating an audio book, writing and making a movie, or creating a series of sketch notes or mind maps to share their year.

All of the project options are perfect for 21st century skills. Students will collaborate, get creative, think critically, practice citizenship, and practice good communication skills through their project presentations. The projects are great for MANY grade levels (probably excluding K and 1) and any subject area!

I can’t wait to see what they come up with!

For you teachers out there, these slides are completely editable. You can edit the text and directions to fit your grade level and add your own bitmoji images. Get it here ๐Ÿ™‚

Test Prep Room Transformation

Can You Defeat the Puzzle Master?

This room transformation was easy, cheap, rigorous, and highly engaging! I centered the theme around growth mindset and mindulness strategies that, when used together, are the puzzle pieces to success. We’ve focused on these concepts all year long in the classroom, so it made perfect sense to “put the pieces together” for test prep. The mindset concepts I used are grit, dedication, perseverance, effort, mindfulness, strategy, positivity, attitude, commitment, confidence, critical thinking, and growth mindset. I’ve added pictures of the puzzle pieces I made and hung on the walls in my classroom below.

These were pretty big, so they pretty much cover all of the free wall space in my classroom, which meant that I didn’t need to do any extra decorations. To me, the minimal decorations were also the right choice because I wanted my focus to remain on the work and being able to use these concepts and strategies for state testing.

I also hung some multi-colored dollar store table cloths on the ceiling to add some “pretty” to the room.

For the work, I needed mixed review of everything we’ve done throughout this year. I used the Reading Skills puzzle centers pictured below from TPT. These are just the right amount of challenging and confidence building for my 4th graders! My students also really enjoyed using them. (You could also use any other task cards or test questions for your subject.). These centers come with answer keys that could be used for self-checking, but I wanted my students to have to correct their thinking and try again, so I created Google Forms Quizzes (that showed a score and if the question was right/wrong, but not the correct answer). My students worked in pairs and had to get an 80% or higher to show mastery and move on to the next step. There were 9-10 pairs working on separate skills during the class time so the Google Forms were extremely helpful for keeping the students accountable (I get grades and know they did the work necessary for the group) and moving at their own pace because they didn’t have to wait on me to check their work.

Once the pair had shown mastery they got one of the following “treat puzzles” to put together (shown in the pics below). If the students were able to put it together completely they got the candy or treat that was referenced in the pun/riddle on the treat puzzle. I made these out of poster board that I got in the school section at Walmart for about $3.00 for a set of five posters. I made the same number of treat puzzles as the reading skills puzzles that I used, so the students got a different treat each time they mastered a skill. I did this for a little extra motivation, but it certainly isn’t mandatory.

In my two hour class, with a mini-lesson focused on each of our puzzle piece mindset and strategy concepts, my students were able to complete two to three reading puzzles per class.

To complete the transformation and theme, I gave each of my students these blank puzzles that I ordered from Amazon to design and keep. I could have had my students focus on a design that used our mindset concepts and success as the theme of their picture, but for destressing after testing (we did this part during the afternoon after state testing in the morning), I allowed my students full creative rights for their puzzles.ย  You can get the puzzles from the link here.

I had actually worried that it wouldn’t be as exciting to them as I hoped, but they absolutely loved these puzzles.

How I Teach and Use Sketch Notes for Reading Comprehension

I know there’s a lot of information on the web about the power of sketch-noting in the classroom. I’ve read the blogs and watched many of the videos. Yet, I found nothing that worked for me as a teacher. If you’re like me – I need rules that make sense – sketch-noting can seem too unstructured. I loved the concept and knew right away it would be a game-changer in my classroom as a way for students to show their understanding, but I also knew that my students needed to be taught how; and if it doesn’t make sense and work for me, my instruction wouldn’t make sense and work for my students. So I came up with a few simple, easy to remember “rules of sketch-noting” for my classroom. Maybe these “rules” could also work for you. In my classroom, I’ve separated my rules by Fiction and Nonfiction.

Most importantly, what I’ve found is that it’s all about VISUALIZING!


  1. Begin by writing the title of the text on the top or middle of the page. Take time to scan and predict before reading and sketch noting (it will make knowing when to stop and sketch note a little easier).
  2. We focus on setting, characters, and events. Each time one of these things changes, the students stop and sketch a new note to tell the story.
  3. Use simple pictures and words – stick people, very few details, basic images with labels or a quick phrase to retell each part of the story. When I say simple, I mean, I give the students 1-2 minutes at most to complete each note.
  4. Use arrows or numbers to sequence your notes. Use frames to separate each note.
  5. Summarize the story to complete your notes. In my classroom, we use an SSWBS (Setting, Somebody, Wanted, But, So) to summarize and the students write it out and frame it on their page.
  6. Start by using the “I, We, You” process. Do it in front of them for your first story and explain the process as you go. Involve them next time. Have them do a sketch note page while you complete your own. Talk about what to sketch note and how. Allow them to use what works for them as long as their note shows the important change in the story. (Everyone’s personal visual images are different.) Then, make a game of it. While I read aloud, each time they get a new visual image in their heads they can raise their hand or signal to me (signals based on the story for fun) and tell me what to sketch on the board. I was quickly able to make them responsible for stopping and doing their own, and this quickly became an independent task for them while I was reading during my whole group lesson.
  7. Allow time to share. Once the students are working independently on notes, it’s important to give time to share. My students learn so much by discussing and comparing their sketch notes with each other. They often want time to revise their own afterwards because of new ideas they got from their class mates.


  1. Begin by writing the title of the text on the top or middle of the page. Take time to scan and predict before reading and sketch noting (it helps you become more familiar with the topic, making it easier to sketch note).
  2. Count the number of headings and/or subheadings in the text. That’s how many sketch notes you will complete. If there are no headings (this happens with test passages fairly often), count the paragraphs to determine the number of sketch notes. I have my students draw out the frames or fold their papers for the number of notes they’ll need before they begin reading.
  3. If there are headings, write the heading in each frame to organize the notes and make it easier to use the notes later on.
  4. Use simple pictures, words, symbols, arrows, bullets, and fonts – stick people, very few details, basic images with labels or a quick phrase. When I say simple, I mean, I give the students 1-2 minutes at most to complete each note.
  5. Sketch note the main idea of each section or paragraph. Include important vocabulary from the text. This can be more difficult for students if they lack background knowledge about the topic. I often tell my students that if figuring out how to sketch note is difficult, it could mean they don’t understand and should re-read. If it’s still difficult, I have my students tell me the main idea out loud, then I have them write it for their note instead of use images.
  6. Start by using the “I, We, You” process. My students have needed more “I, We” time for nonfiction. It can often be difficult to know how to sketch note the ideas in nonfiction, especially when you lack background knowledge about the topic.
  7. Allow time to share. Once the students are working independently on notes, it’s important to give time to share. My students learn so much by discussing and comparing their sketch notes with each other. They often want time to revise their own afterwards because of new ideas they got from their class mates. I’ve seen the students apply those same noting techniques later on with new reads after this.
Nonfiction sketch notes by a student reading a magazine article.

How I Use Sketch notes in my classroom

  1. Differentiation – What I love most about sketch noting is that all of my students can do it and feel good about their work. It’s not about the art, so there’s no talent involved. It’s not a lot of writing, so reluctant writers don’t feel anxious. In an inclusive classroom like my own, this is HUGE in ensuring success for everyone. For my talented and gifted students, they are able to use their creative and critical thinking skills. It’s like individualized differentiation because everyone chooses how to show their thinking. Everyone’s notes are different and personal to their own metacognition, which gives me a lot of information about their understanding and thinking while they are reading. Plus, my students LOVE doing it. They do it on their own while reading independently just because they enjoy the creativity involved. They love sharing their notes with each other and as teachers, we know how important that is for our students’ learning.
  2. Engagement – I’ve found sketch notes to be an easy to use engagement tool during my whole group read-aloud skill and strategy lessons. I’m reading to them anyway. No matter what skill or strategy my lesson is based on, I can teach the skill and strategy while my students sketch note to summarize the important details while I read. In my classroom, I’ve found that this helps my students stay focused on the text and they participate more because of it.
  3. Informal Assessment – I can get so much insight about my students’ comprehension when having them explain their sketch notes to me.
  4. Collaboration – My students love sketch noting with a partner. I have them read together, discuss their ideas, and complete one page of sketch notes based on their discussions.
  5. Test-taking – My students complete sketch notes for all of their test passages. It’s a way for them to monitor their comprehension while reading. If they don’t know what to make note of, they know to re-read. (For me it’s a way to ensure they are actually thinking while they are reading.)

Creative Reading Review


This review project is a favorite in my class!  I was looking for a way to assess my students’ fictional comprehension of ALL of the skills I teach in our fiction unit. The problem with assessments, though, is that they aren’t always fair to all students. You reading teachers know what I mean! We differentiate our instruction to make learning fair for all of our readers, so assessments should also be fair! With this project, I can assign leveled text, individually or by group, allowing me to actually assess their comprehension skills without questioning if the real problem was that they couldn’t read the passage. As the teacher, you can even choose whether you assign the pages with graphic organizers or blank pages for students who need more of a challenge.

While working on this project, my students are given free rein, meaning they are completely in control of how they show their understanding. Text dependence is easy too. With digital text, students can take a snapshot or copy/paste exactly what they need to prove their thinking. Altogether, I’m assessing their understanding, giving my students opportunities to use creativity, critical thinking skills, and their communication skills. If not being used for assessment purposes, it also makes for a great collaboration project for group assignments.

If you want to check this out for your own students click the link below.

Fiction Book Analysis Project

My Revising Writing Process Week of Fun


You know how teaching writing can be in elementary school … the students just have a hard time really working through each of the stages of the writing process with full effort.ย  I believe they try their best with rough drafting, but they just don’t get the process of revising.ย  They are so quick to just read their writing over and then say, “I’m done” without adding any details or making any necessary changes to their writing to make it better (or sometimes to even make it make sense).ย  So, I decided to make the revising process memorable.ย  To prepare, I drafted several of my own personal narratives, which is what my class is working on when I first introduce revising in the school year.ย  I wrote a few drafts about experiences with my family (going to Jump, going to a high school football game, and a family vacation).ย  I purposefully wrote my drafts to match the kind of drafting I read from my students all the time.ย  You know what I mean, one sentence for each part of the story, not a lot of explanation, and with no transitions or interesting word choices.

I started our revising lessons this week by adding details that answer who, what, when, where, why, and how questions we had in one of my writings.ย  I purposefully started with a funny story about my toddler’s socks and pants being pulled down in a foam pit at Jump (you’d have to hear the whole story).ย  The students had TONS of questions about this story.ย  They just NEEDED more information about how this happened.ย  I wrote all of their questions down and then went to work modeling how I’d add the answers to those questions into my writing.ย  Now, when we re-read this writing after adding all of the details, they drew their visual images while I read and they totally grasped the necessity of adding these details.ย  Next, the students went through the same process with a small group of students to start revising one of their own drafts.ย  They loved it, the sharing and drawing totally caught their attention during this lesson, and their revisions were successful.ย  So, SCORE for me AND the students on our first revision lesson.

The next day, they’d been told to wear their best, most stylish, outfits.ย  You know what’s coming.ย  When they walked into the room that day, it was turned into a red carpet fashion show.ย  This was a really easy, free transformation (just some red anchor chart paper and I moved my lamps and seating around to outline the “carpet”).ย  I also had a Kidz Bop playlist ready for the show.ย  Our lesson today was all about adding more interesting, descriptive words to our writing.ย  I read another draft out loud to them before beginning and then shared an adjectives and adverbs t-chart with them on their chromebooks.ย  ย Adjectives and adverbs are a review for fourth grade, so I didn’t need to teach the vocabulary, so I focused on choosing more interesting descriptive language for our writing.ย  Now, we had the fashion show.ย  We hooped and hollered, clapped and cheered, and we got our groove on while walking the red carpet.ย  Meanwhile, the audience wrote all of the adjectives and adverbs they could come up with while watching.ย  It was quick, ten minutes maybe, and then we focused on our writing.ย  We started by sharing the words they came up with while watching the show to create a whole class t-chart.ย  Next, we chose a few words to make more interesting by finding them in a thesaurus and choosing some synonyms that would really catch our reader’s attention.ย  Now, we worked on adding some more interesting words to the draft I shared with them (some could be used from our t-chart and some we came up with based on the story and used a thesaurus to find more wow version of the word the students came up with.ย  You see, in my county, background knowledge and vocabulary tends to be one of our common struggles, so the use of the thesaurus is especially necessary for this lesson.ย  Again, just like the day before, now the students worked with a partner to add some more “wow” descriptive language to their own writings.ย  Again, everyone was excited about the learning, and their writing benefited from this added engagement.

We focused on adding sensory details for our last lesson this week.ย  This was going to be the big room transformation, and the students had been told ahead of time to wear their favorite sports gear.ย  I transformed the room into a football stadium for this lesson.ย  Everything for the transformation was either made, already available at my school, or purchased at Walmart or the Dollar Tree in the party sections.ย  I probably spent about $25 – $30 on this transformation, and with help, it took about an hour and a half to decorate the room after school for this lesson.ย  I found videos on YouTube of our high school football games and prepared a draft for this experience that the students would work on revising.ย  We’d already discussed sensory details in our reading lessons when practicing the reading strategy of visualizing, so I didn’t need to teach these details.ย  We were just able to focus on coming up with the details and adding them to our writing.ย  I chose different parts of the game to focus on and divided the draft into those sections.ย  We recreated the beginning of the game (the team entering the field and chanting), and then the students were divided into several teams.ย  Each team had their own football on the field taped out on the floor and earned yards for the sensory details they were able to add to each part of the shared draft.ย  You can watch the video that was made about this lesson here.ย  I gave this lesson extra time since the students were responsible for revising each part of the draft (their were six different events in the draft I shared) and we included a half time for students to get popcorn (thanks to our school’s PTA).ย  I have a two hour language arts block and this activity took about an hour and then included “overtime” for students to begin working on one of their own drafts.

For the rest of the week, the students worked on revising their own writings that they’d been working on during this unit.ย  You see, I’ve divided the writing process into weeks in my classroom.ย  So, the students spent a week in prewriting as many personal narratives as they could (we use a storyboard for prewriting personal narratives).ย  Then they spent a week drafting as many of those personal narratives as they could.ย  I use this time to have individual writing conferences to get to know my students and their writing.ย  This week was all revising and so they spent two days just adding the types of details we focused on this week and I used those two days to have conferences again to check on their progress.ย  Next, we’ll spend another week revising to work on transitions and leads, an then we’ll spend a week editing, leading to a week of publishing.ย  As we work through this process in the classroom, students are often in different stages by the end of the week.ย  Some will go back to prewriting to add more narratives to their portfolio as they finish working on the narratives they’ve written so far.ย  This way, all students are busy and can work at their own pace.ย  It’s not quantity that counts in my classroom, but quality and I make sure the students understand that before we ever begin.

For you teachers out there, I hope this may help you in planning your own writing lessons, or spark more creative ideas to add engagement to your own classroom.ย  If you do something else that you’d like to share, I’d love to read your comments!

thanks for reading!