Want your students to be excited to write? Check out this awesome app!

Friday, September 15, 2017 / Leave a Comment

This year making my students better writers isn't just one aspect of my job as an English teacher, it's become a bit of an obsession. I am on a quest to find a way to help my students, who are largely struggling (and often unmotivated), writers discover their unique voices and how to channel that voice into interesting writing that breaks free from the formulaic rules we've been trying to teach them unsuccessfully for so long.

I'm reading like mad and always on the hunt for good ideas. And today I found this:

This simple site starts with one emoji. It's totally random so it might not be a smiley emoji. One time it will be a cow emoji. Another time, a ladybug. 

student writing writing prompt excited to write fun fresh ideas

I tried this with my students today and they went wild for it! I displayed the first emoji and asked them to start writing a story about it. After two minutes, I added another emoji. Some students groaned. Others got excited as they figured out what was going on. A few minutes later I added another. At the end, I had put up 5 emojis, my students had written practically non-stop for 15 minutes, and they were desperate to share their writing with each other. 


student writing writing prompt excited to write fun fresh ideas
You KNOW you want to hear the stories your students would come up with for this one!

Give it a try and then stop back to let me know what awesome writing takes place!

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Saturday, September 2, 2017 / Leave a Comment

Back to School Reflection || funfreshideas.com

Two weeks down. We are officially back in school. The icebreakers and get-to-know-you games are over and we're starting (or have already started) our first real unit of the year. What a whirlwind!

Before leaving for home this week, I found myself sitting at my desk in a bit of a stupor (this happens a lot on Friday afternoons if I'm being honest). The first two weeks had flown by, I feel like I'm getting to know my students and I'm excited for the year. But I wanted to make sure to take a second to reflect back on all the things that I poured time, money, and energy into that were worth it...as well as admit the one thing I already know I could have done better.

1. The amount of time (and money!) we spend on making our rooms feel welcoming and comfortable...is WORTH IT.

This will be my third year in my current classroom and each year it becomes more and more comfortable. I toyed around with the idea of flexible seating this summer, but ultimately it didn't work out, but overall I really like my classroom. It's warm and welcoming and full of fun little touches that make the students laugh when they discover them. I can tell they enjoy being in my room and I truly believe that makes a big difference.

I love my room swag!

2. The time we spend getting to know our students instead of diving right into the curriculum...is WORTH IT.

I spent the past two weeks doing activities to develop a positive classroom culture in my classroom. At times, I did panic a little about the fact that I wasn't getting to the curriculum fast enough, but when I had my students write about why feeling comfortable and positive in class is important I knew I had made the right decision. "It makes me more willing to take chances when I know no one is going to judge me." wrote one of my students. "I'm gonna talk more this year because I know people will listen." wrote another.

3. The pain of preparing cool new projects and ideas so our students can enjoy new experiences...is WORTH IT.

I'm not sure I would have agreed with this sentiment on the Saturday before school started as I was trying to figure out how to get a small 3-digit lock to close a pencil case in such a way that no one could get into it unless they had the combination. Sweating (and swearing...I'll be honest), the thought of just handing out the syllabus and skipping the whole "escape room" opening I had planned sounded like a great idea. But look:

They were up and alert. Engaged. Laughing. Focused. Curious. Frustrated. Collaborative. They were having fun on the first day of classes doing an activity that they're still talking about. As I snapped the pictures all the frustration of getting the experience ready seemed like nothing.

4. The formative assessments we give at the beginning of the year to gauge where our students are at academically before we begin...are WORTH IT.

It's tempting to do all the fun activities we've pinned this summer. I had two projects I was super excited to do with my students, the Get-to-Know-You Curation Project, I talked about last month, and the Breakout Room project - many, many thanks to BreakoutEDU for their amazing resources and products (I'm planning on writing a grant to see if I can get several of the boxes for my high school!). I did them - and I'm so happy I did, but I also made sure to leave time for my students to show me what their best writing, reading, and analyzing text looks like in August. I'm planning on spending time this weekend looking over it all and deciding where I need to focus my instruction. This will give me more "bang for my buck," by making sure I'm really paying attention to areas where more time needs to be spent.

5. Letting our students get to know us (as teachers AND as people) is WORTH IT.

 I always try to stay on the right side of the "share-overshare" line with my students. I know they want to know who I am, both as a teacher and as a person, but I also know that they're my students and I'm their teacher and a line should exist between us for many reasons. I like to share my interests with my students - especially if I find out that we have shared favorites, like music, tv shows, movies, or hobbies, but I try to keep the stories about my kids or husband to myself. I don't think they really care and I don't want to cross over that line between teacher and friend.

I was honest with them, however, about the fact that while I love the idea of this bulletin board; it is not my most beautifully executed design. A few of them have already offered to help me "pretty it up."

I already know I need to fix...being clear about when it's time to work and when its time to play.

I'm not a follower of the "Don't Smile 'Til Christmas" camp of classroom management. I enjoy lively classrooms where students can express themselves (appropriately, of course). I'm not a yeller. At five feet tall exactly, I know I'm never going to be intimidating in that way, so I never really tried. All that being said, I do run a "tight ship" for the most part. My classes talk a lot about mutual respect. About knowing when joke and when to get down to work. 

I already know, however, that several of my classes haven't quite learned the difference yet. I erred on the side of making classes engaging and active these past two weeks, and let a few things slide that I really shouldn't have. On Friday, I spoke about this with two classes - letting them know that I loved our classes energy, but that we all needed to be more aware of when it is time to get down to business. I'm already planning how I'm going to communicate this more clearly next year.

Overall, I'm excited and energized to be back in my classroom! I hope your school year (and mine!) are meaningful and memorable!

Let me know your Back to School Successes (and mistakes!) in the comments!

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46 Reasons You Might Be Freaking Out Right Now (if you're a teacher at the end of summer vacation)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017 / Leave a Comment

46 Reasons Why You Might Be Freaking Out Right Now (if you're a teacher at the end of summer vacation)

It's coming. Whether we like it or not, the first day of school will be here soon. Here are just a few of the random anxieties floating around in my head... Can you relate?

You only finished 5 of the 87 books you hoped to be able to read this summer.

The house still looks like a pack of wild dogs use it as their den.

You aren’t nearly as tan as you want to be before heading back under the fluorescent lights.

You’ve been having too much fun peeing whenever you actually need to go instead of holding it for hours on end.

You’ve been able to eat lunch at a normal hour, instead of at 10:30 AM or 2 PM or whatever other odd time your schedule dictates you can eat.

You actually have time to eat lunch now…and it’s really nice.

The thought of setting an alarm clock makes you twitch.

There are still a million people you said you’d hang out with once summer arrived…and you’ve only seen three of them.

You haven’t gotten your class rosters yet.

You have gotten your class rosters and they’re making you twitch.

The teacher in the classroom across the hall has her entire room set up with the theme you were planning on using this year.

You haven’t chosen a theme for your classroom yet.

The thought of choosing a classroom theme makes you twitch.

None of the school supplies you ordered for the start of the year have arrived yet.

They changed your schedule.

You’re teaching an entirely different class/grade/course this year.

You’re teaching the exact same thing you’ve taught for the past _____ years.

The “Back-to-School Nightmares” have started.

A fellow teacher’s son/daughter will be in your class this year.

The school principal’s/superintendent’s son/daughter will be in your class this year.

The brother/sister of that student will be in your class this year.

It’s still too hot to spend all day inside.

Analyzing last year’s testing results.

Writing/reviewing special education paperwork for all the students who move in a day before the school year starts.

Your teacher friend from another district doesn’t start until September.

None of your teacher clothes fit.

It’s been nice not to hear people asking you to repeat directions immediately after you finish saying them (unless you have kids…then this one really doesn’t apply).

You’ve been able to stay up past 10 o’clock in the evening.

You’re not caught up on all the TV shows you couldn’t stay up for during the school year.

Trying to work out how you’re going to attend your Back-to-School Night and your kids’ Back-to-School Nights is already giving you headaches.

You decided to try flexible seating…and you’re terrified.

You didn’t decide to do flexible seating…and you regret it.

Right now, it’s a weekday and you’re not teaching.

The lifeguards at the pool know you by name.

You’re going to need to start remembering which day of the week it is.

The desk arrangement you planned out in your head doesn’t work the way you thought it would once you got into your classroom.

You can’t get into your classroom because the custodians are still waxing the floors.

The school construction that was supposed to be done in July still isn’t finished.

The redecorating/redesigning project in your house that was supposed to be done by June still isn’t finished.

Your kids/pets have just started to sleep in.

You’ve become very committed to your daily naps.

The thought of leaving your kid(s)/pet(s) every day makes you weepy.

The putty you bought to stick your posters on the wall isn’t working.

Having to pack a lunch every day is a pain.

What if the students don’t like you?/don’t listen to you?

You’ve just started to relax and now summer is over!

What did I miss? Let me know what you're feeling anxious about in the comment section!

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10 memes that capture how teachers feel about heading back to school

Thursday, July 20, 2017 / Leave a Comment

10 Memes that capture how teachers feel about heading back to school

What type of teacher are you? Have you been planning for the upcoming school year all summer long - coming up with new ideas, retooling lessons, and looking forward to the first day of school? Or does this blog post make you angry because you've managed to go the entire summer without thinking about school and now you remember that it's almost time to go back! Wherever you fall - there is a meme for you below.


10 Memes that capture how teachers feel about heading back to school


10 Memes that capture how teachers feel about heading back to school


10 Memes that capture how teachers feel about heading back to school


10 Memes that capture how teachers feel about heading back to school


10 Memes that capture how teachers feel about heading back to school


10 Memes that capture how teachers feel about heading back to school


10 Memes that capture how teachers feel about heading back to school


10 Memes that capture how teachers feel about heading back to school


10 Memes that capture how teachers feel about heading back to school


Have a great first day of school everyone!

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Why I'm Starting This School Year with a Get-to-Know-You Curation Project...and You Should Too!

Monday, July 17, 2017 / 19 comments
Why I'm Starting This School Year with a Get-to-Know-You Curation Project and You Should Too!

Ah, Back to School activities. Those wonderful ice-breakers, games, questionnaires, and activities we use to try to make the first week of school tolerable as we introduce our new students to the expectations and procedures of our classroom. Yeah...I hate them.

My students are always surprised when I tell them about my secret (well, not so secret now) loathing of ice-breaker games. I'm a talkative, friendly person, but the moment you tell me to come up with two truths and a lie about myself I start to feel queasy and wonder if I could sneak off and hide in the restroom while everyone else "circulates and finds another person who has traveled to another state recently."

Why I'm Starting This School Year with a Get-to-Know-You Curation Project and You Should Too!
Why yes, I would love to create a "personalized license plate" that personifies me and then explain it to everyone 
in my group. That sounds awesome! I'm just going to run to the bathroom super quick...don't wait for me!

Don't get me wrong. It's crucial to get to know our students. That first week is vital for building classroom community, for establishing the tone your classroom will have for the year, and for making sure students know that they're in a safe place to make mistakes, grow, laugh, and learn. 

That's what makes it so damn difficult! 

I know full well that every other teacher they have will be doing similar, if not the same, things this week. How am I supposed to stand out, make them sit up and pay attention, get them excited about entering my room each day with the same old get-to-know-you activities?

Enter CURATION. An awesome idea for all sorts of project-based learning in the classroom (you can read more about that here), but one that I'm planning on using to get my students to introduce themselves to me (and each other!) in a way I bet they haven't seen before!

Why I'm Starting This School Year with a Get-to-Know-You Curation Project and You Should Too!
Yep...I'm that excited about this idea...

Curation is the process of collecting a bunch of high-quality materials all related to a similar theme, topic, or idea. The curator of a museum might curate a collection of artifacts from ancient Greece, a librarian might curate a group of the latest and best young adult novels for a start of the school year display in the library, and so on. And using the free, online tool elink, I'm going to have my students curate a collection of photos, links, videos, songs, and whatever else they can think of, that will teach me and their classmates all about them!

Here's a screenshot of the collection I've started for myself. I'm going to share it with my students so they can learn a bit more about me as well.

Why I'm Starting This School Year with a Get-to-Know-You Curation Project and You Should Too!

The two items you can see in the screenshot are things I want to share with my students. One is an article about "stunning viewpoints" on the Appalachian Trail. elink then gives you the option of writing a note underneath each item you've collected. I've written "I love to hike. Someday I hope to hike the entire Appalachian Trail." The other is a collection of funny teacher memes. Below it I tell the students that I love memes and that these made me laugh. So right away, I will have shared a little bit more about me with my students than I might have if I used a different type of activity.

Here's my plan. During my first few days of class, I'm going to have my students curate a board all about them. Then, we'll do a carousel activity where we move from one desk to another, taking the time to look through each other's boards. Each person will have a sheet at their desk where their classmates can leave them positive notes (things they liked, thought were interesting, have in common, etc.).

By the time the carousel is complete, all the students will have gotten a few minutes to get a much more personal introduction to their classmates than any activity I could have come up with, and each student will have a bunch of positive comments about their board to start off the year! I will have gotten to know each student more deeply than any questionnaire could have told me and I will have gotten my students using a new technology tool right away. So many wins!

 tv reaction reactions win winning GIF
I may not like ice-breakers...but I can get nerdy teacher excited about Back to School with the best of them!

I'm (obviously) crazy, excited about this idea - so come back in September for an update post on how it went. And if you think you might want to try this idea out yourself, check out my screencast below for step-by-step instructions on how to do it!

Have an awesome Back-to-School Week, everyone, no matter what get-to-know-you activities you use!

P.S.  A huge thank you and shout-out to Jennifer Gonzalez at Cult of Pedagogy for her awesome Jumpstart: A Technology Course for Thoughtful Educators where I learned about curation and screencasting and SO.MUCH.MORE! If you have the ability to take this course at some point in your career I highly recommend it! 

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How to Create Awesome Anchor Charts (when you're creatively challenged...)

Thursday, June 29, 2017 / Leave a Comment

You see them all over Pinterest. Anchor charts. Charts for English/Language Arts, for science, music, classroom management, for working well in groups, for not annoying your teacher (well, ok, I haven't seen that one on Pinterest yet...but I just might make one!). They're awesome and lots of teachers will swear to how useful they are when used appropriately. 

But what are those of us who are...less than artistic supposed to do if we want to use anchor charts in our rooms? What about us teachers for whom stick figures represent the height of our creative abilities? 
Yeah, I didn't draw this. This is way better than anything I can draw.

Thankfully, once again the Internet comes to the rescue. Below are several fantastic sources that show us creatively challenged teachers how to make anchor charts that will have our students saying "Ooh!" and not

Start With a Solid Template

If you think the idea of having a visual representation of the thinking or work you expect students to do somewhere in your room for them to refer to but have no clue how to create one, this template is for you. Rachel Lynette breaks down the poster into manageable chunks so you don’t forget anything. I especially like her inclusion of a student model at the bottom of her post so students know exactly how their work is expected to look.

Tips and Hacks

The wonderful thing about teaching is that incredible educators can come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are able to take some markers, paper, and glitter and create hundreds of amazing looking projects, posters, and other classroom decorations. Others, myself included, look at those people in awe and wonder – How the heck did you learn to do that?! If you’re like me, then this post is perfect for you. It shows multiple ways to make your anchor charts look AMAZING with nothing more than some markers and the ability to doodle.

From here - the possibilities are endless. Anchor charts for classroom management or essential questions, working well in groups or what they're finished work should look like before they turn it in. Pinterest has examples of all of it - but now, you can get out there and make some beautiful anchor charts all on your own!

Questions Demand Doubts Psychology Fear Insecurity

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The 10 Best Things That Happen on Summer Vacation When You're a Teacher

Monday, June 12, 2017 / 3 comments
The 10 Best Things That Happen on Summer Vacation When You're a Teacher

Here's an awesome list of all those little things that happen to teachers over summer break that just bring a smile to the faces of teachers everywhere!

1. You accidentally forget to turn off your alarm that first week, and when it goes off you get to giggle and go back to sleep.

 nap GIF
Ugh, I so wish I didn't have to get up tod...Oh, wait...I DON'T! Hehe...zzz zzz zzz....

2. You have a whole list of things you want to get done…but then you decide you’re not going to do them today.

Braxton Family Values  reality sisters nah braxton family values GIF
When I said I wanted to clean out and organize my closet when summer started
I meant later in the summer...

3. A friend, family member, or total stranger makes a snide remark about how nice it must be to only have to work nine months out of the year and you're just too relaxed to care.

 chill sloth relaxed GIF
Yeah, it IS pretty awesome. Have a nice Tuesday!

4. You have to write the date on something or someone asks if you're busy next Tuesday and you realize you have no idea what day of the week it is.

Iliza confused idk shrug uncertain GIF
Is it Monday? You look sad and tired, so I'm guessing Monday.

5. You read for no other purpose than your own entertainment.

 college magazine how reading read GIF
Absolutely no one in this book is talking about state assessment scores, growth mindset, or common core.
This. is. awesome.

6. After a week or two, you remember you have more than 10 minutes to eat your lunch.

 jessica chastain GIF
Did you know that if you slow down and chew you can actually TASTE what your eating?!?!?!

7. You spend time with your loved ones without a stack of grading between you.

RJFilmSchool yes school celebrate done GIF
Which is good, because my kids have totally caught on to the "Let's play the GRADING game!" trick.

8. Since you don't have to arrive at work as the sun is rising and leave after it has set, you actually get to spend some time in the sun.

 hot sunny sunshine bright sunlight GIF
The brightness and heat take some getting used to after living under the fluorescent lights for so long...

9. You start to have conversations about actual topics again – not just grading, administration, and which students (or parents) are driving you crazy.

 giggle the office laugh nbc jim halpert GIF
Hey, you're really funny when you aren't stressed out beyond all imagining!

10. You think about how many days of summer vacation are still left and get all giddy.

 happy smile nice pleased hehe GIF
Maybe I'll even clean my closet!  Hehe, yeah right.

Enjoy your break, teachers! You've earned it! 

Have any other fun summer moments that only teachers understand? Share them in the comments!

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