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Using Thanksgiving to Teach "Now and Then"

I absolutely LOVE Thanksgiving! I love the holiday and teaching everything about it. However, by the time that the kiddos hit second and third grade, they have done all the cutesy Thanksgiving things that us teachers love to do. The turkey hat is cute, but it loses its charm after first grade;)

I have found that Thanksgiving is a great way to incorporate some of my “Now and Then” standards. You can teach about the first Thanksgiving while comparing it to the Thanksgiving that we celebrate today.

Fantastic discussion starters for comparing the First Thanksgiving to the present Thanksgiving:

How long did the first Thanksgiving last? How about ours?

What did they eat at the first Thanksgiving? What do you like to eat at yours?

How did they talk back then? Now?

Always a favorite – What did they wear at the first Thanksgiving? What about you?

This Thanksgiving Now and Then Unit covers all these questions while teaching about the first Thanksgiving. It also contains several interactive components that allow to you use this in your interactive notebooks or to make lapbooks! You can buy the unit alone or as BUNDLE that includes a fun presentation to spark your students’ interest.

Alternative Seating Storage

I've been using camping chairs in my classroom way before the alternative seating trend started. My students really enjoy reading in the chairs and I've really never had a problem with them (and I'm in the second grade). My only struggle has been the storage.


The chairs fit, but the kids struggled putting them away each day.


They are much easier to store! This drawer is from an old dresser. Legs have been added to it and the chairs fit perfectly!

Teaching About the Presidential Election

I love election years! There is almost too much stuff for me to cover in my allotted time for Social Studies. I try to carry over some of the election material into our Language Arts and Reading block. How do we start our unit on the election? I usually try to make sure that I teach our unit on leaders before I start our election unit. Teaching about leaders is the perfect lead into the election unit. I have an Election 2016 Presentation that I use with the class. This presentation is a great review of when the elections are held and who is currently in the office.

We then move on to talk about the different major two parties and the two party nominees. It is extremely important to check your feelings about the candidates at the door. Your students should have no clue about your presidential preference. I always stress that the right to vote is confidential, while at the same time encouraging my students to talk about the election and the candidates at home. I only teach my students the facts ABOUT the candidates, never about the candidates’ stances on issues. Those are conversations that should be left at home. My job in the classroom is to give basic factual information (biographical) and to inform my students on the election process.

We also talk about the electoral college. This concept is sometimes a little tricky for grownups too. It makes for a great math lesson though!

The Election 2016 Unit has tons of activities that keep my students engaged while learning about the election process. My students love taking home their lapbooks full of information to share with parents!

Or, you can find both the unit and presentation together in a BUNDLE!

Goodbye Word Wall!

Goodbye Word Wall!
I have ALWAYS had a word wall in my second grade classroom. It was filled with vocabulary words and sight words. However, most of the words that were on the wall were in their writing notebooks, which they use for reference while writing. We weren’t really USING the word wall. In order to make the word wall more effective, I decided to make it a wall for all of the over used words. The words on the wall are the words that I notice they use way too often in their writing. I thought that I would change up the wall to encourage more colorful words. Instead of fun…
Instead of sad…
Instead of happy…
Instead of good…
Instead of bad…
They really enjoy using these words in their writing and even push themselves to think of other words that are not on the wall!

Books Boys LOVE

 As a second grade teacher and a mom of three boys, I am always searching for books that will capture the interest and imagination of boys. For most of my second graders, the end goal is for them to be reading chapter books before the school year is over. There are numerous book series that girls enjoy. However, books that captivate boys are much harder to find. The following series are currently working for me in my classroom (and house) right now.

A long-time favorite for me in my classroom has been Hank the Cowdog. There are now over 60 books in this series. 

My oldest son got hooked on them in the second grade and is STILL reading them as a sixth grader. My husband is also a big fan (so there really is no age limit on these books). In my second grade classroom, I start reading these aloud while my kiddos are practicing their handwriting. I teach in a rural farming/ranching community and these books grab the attention of my kids like no other book series. The author, John R. Erickson, is a master of capturing ranch life in rural Texas. It helps if they are read aloud with a strong Texas draw ;) By the time that my students are heading to third grade they are dying to get their hands on a “Hank” book for themselves. 

The characters in these books are so entertaining and endearing. My sons have literally laughed until they cried retelling me the stories from these books. At home, even my husband will stop to listen if I am reading one aloud with my boys.

A new favorite of mine is the “I Survived” series by Lauren Tarshis. What I love about these books is that it teaches the reader about an historic event through the eyes of a fictional character. I never heard of this series until my middle son (in the third grade) started talking about the Nazi invasion at the dinner table. He had been reading “I Survived Nazi Invasion” and was curious about learning more. He loved all the books in this series and was constantly returning to the school library to see if other ones were available yet.

Lastly, any book by Gary Paulsen is a hit with boys. Honestly, I read some of his books when I was in school and I didn’t think they were too great. However, boys seem to LOVE these books. My oldest is completely fascinated by any of his books. Of course, “Hatchet” is the book that he is best known for. However, he has dozens of books that hold the interest of boys.

Introducing Multiplication Conceps

I landed a job teaching third grade right out of college. It seems like I spent the entire year reviewing multiplication facts. We drilled, drilled, and drilled some more. Although it looked like the majority of my students learned their multiplication facts, it was hard to gauge if they actually understood the concept of multiplication. After my first year, I changed schools and began teaching fifth grade. Once again, it seemed like I spent the entire year focusing on our multiplication facts. Once AGAIN, we drilled, drilled, and DRILLED some more.

Now that I am teaching second grade, I have really started thinking about how to teach the concept of multiplication. I don’t start multiplication until later in the school year. However, we address the concept throughout the year.

I have found that discussing real life situations with the kids is the best way to introduce multiplication as a concept. For example, “Sally Sue Pants bought four ice cream cones. Each ice cream cone has three scoops of ice cream on it. How many scoops are there in all?” The first thing we do is to actually draw the picture--we draw four ice cream cones and then add three scoops of ice cream to each cone.

After that, I show them that it is actually a multiplication problem and show them how to write the problem. We repeat this several times. I like to divide a paper into fourths so that we can have eight practice problems (four problems on each side).

After we understand the concept of multiplication, we move onto work that still requires students to draw the problems. Although some may be ready to move on to learning actual multiplication facts at this point, we save those for later. Once we seem to have mastered that, I show them how the problem can be represented as a multiplication problem. The students love being able to write multiplication problems. After adding and subtracting in kindergarten and first grade, it’s exciting for them to be able to write a whole new kind of problem.

Even though we are writing multiplication problems, I really like to be systematic about which problems we start with. I prefer to start with only multiplying by 2’s. Since multiplying by 2’s is a review of adding our doubles, it’s the perfect place to start.

We focus intently on multiplying by 2’s for an entire week. I really like to make sure they have mastered their 2’s before moving on. The eventual target is to have the students solving word problems that require them to apply their multiplication facts. My students seem to solve word problems better when they are allowed to use color pencils. I have always used color pencils while working on the elmo projector. My students asked me if they could use them too, and it has worked really well. They love adding some color to their work.

When solving word problems, we always read through the problem first. Next, we underline the question (this is where the color pencils come in). We then go back and circle any number that we need. Lastly, we solve the problem.

Don’t get me wrong – we still practice our multiplication facts. However, we do not do that until they fully understand the concept. When we start practicing the facts, I only start with 0’s and 1’s. We practice these each morning with our warmup papers for a week. After a week, we test over them (our test day is always Wednesday). If they do well on those, they get a small sticker that they can put on their desk name tag. I strongly suggest starting with the facts that they can easily master. This is the order that I use in my classroom – 0’s, 1’s, 2’s, 5’s, 3’s, and then 4’s. Learning all of these will really help them going into the third grade.

My favorite site for multiplication fact practice pages is Math Drills. I really like this site because it allows you to focus on multiplying by a single number at a time. For example, after we have learned our 0’s and 1’s, we move on to the 2’s. I can easily print pages that contain only x2 problems. I like to print 100 problems a page, but I cut the pages into strips so that they are only practicing 20 or 30 at a time. (This is also great for saving paper).

Feel free to download my Beginning Multiplication FREEBIE to help you get started!

Using the Olympics in Your Classroom

My students have always loved learning about the Olympics. It’s an event that everyone seems to be interested in. I think the fact that students can take what they’ve learned about the Olympics home to share with their family is a big reason. Students also enjoy watching the Olympics at home and discussing it the next day. There are so many ways to incorporate the Olympics into the classroom. Here are some of my favorite ways!

Social Studies

The Olympics are a great way to talk about “Then and Now.” The first modern day Olympics was over 100 years ago. What was the Olympics like back then? How has it changed over the years? Here are some things to think about:
·         Compare the number of events back then and now
·         Compare the number of athletes back then and now
·         Compare who can compete compared to who could compete then
·         Compare the medals of the past to the current medals
·         Compare the length of the games from the past years to the current years
·         Compare the number of countries (and their medal counts) to the number of countries now competing

There are so many fascinating events in the Olympics! Students absolutely LOVE learning about the various events! I like to show them a presentation about the different events. There are sooo many that it often takes a few class periods to discuss them. We are all familiar with the popular events, but there are some really unique events!

We also cut out fact cards about each event. Each card has a short summary of each event. We placed these in pockets. They could be used in interactive notebooks, but we saved ours for making a lapbook about the Olympics.

The Olympics are also a fun way to learn about geography. We can look at the maps of ancient Greece as well as the current map of Rio.

We use the Olympics to discuss timelines. We discuss how the modern day Olympics has changed over the years. Then we complete an Olympics timeline for practice.


Below are some books that we have been reading while learning about the Olympics.

We also read some nonfiction reading passages to learn more about the Olympics.


Keeping up with the medal count is a great activity during the Olympics. The medal count is also a super way to practice your data and graphing skills!

Along with reading the medal count in a table, we construct:
·         Tally charts
·         Bar graphs
·         Pictographs

Complete Olympic Unit

All of the information we learned about the Olympics went into our lapbooks to take home to share with our families.

It also could have easily fit into an interactive notebook or journal.

All of the activities above can be found in the Olympic Unit below!

You can find the presentation at:

Or you can buy them as a BUNDLE and SAVE!

Beating the Teacher Blues

There’s a point in every school year that it happens. It’s inevitable – the teacher blues. For me, it happens every spring when there’s a long a stretch of school without any break. (Why doesn’t spring have more major holidays?) You know how it feels when it starts. The alarm seems to go off right after you’ve gone to bed. You drag yourself to school and seem to be irritated by almost everything that happens in your class. You don’t even want to think about tackling your long afternoons…How can you snap out of it?

1.     First of all, BREATHE. It’s going to be OK. It has happened before and it’s short lived. You can beat these blues. It’s not time to start looking at the help wanted ads. Remember, this is the job that you dreamed of having. It WILL turn around.
2.     What part of the day is your least favorite part? Is there some way that you can teach that subject in a different way? Sometimes we get in a rut of teaching the same unit the same way each year. Have you searched Teachers Pay Teachers for lessons on that subject? There are TONS of great lessons out there that are made (and have already been tested) by your fellow teachers!
3.     Can you take your lesson outside? Spelling is one of my least favorite things to teach. However, I love being able to let the kids practice their words outside when the weather is nice. Being outdoors lifts all of our spirits!  

4.     Go ahead and teach one of your favorite units! Is one of your best units (you know, the one that your former students still talk to you about) still a month away? Can you rearrange your scope and sequence so that you can teach it now? Go ahead – do the Oreo moon experiment this week. Really, it’s OK.
5.     Is there a conference that you can attend right now? Sometimes a good workshop can be just the shot in the arm that you need to re-energize and get you motivated.

Finally, don’t panic. Whether you’re a new teacher or a fifty year veteran, we all get the teacher blues. You WILL snap out of it and it will be OK!