Frustrated with lost pencils, messy desks, and missing assignments?


You’re not alone!  Some children respond quickly to established classroom routines, while others struggle.  For students who find it difficult to see tasks through to completion, it may have more to do with poor executive function skills than lack of effort.  Task completion requires many skills including planning, organization, time management, and problem solving.  These issues are often most challenging for students with ADHD and learning disabilities.

Children who struggle with executive function issues often have incomplete and late assignments, messy desks and book bags, and difficulty transitioning from one activity to the next. While it’s easy to spot these problems, helping students overcome them isn’t always so easy.

According to Seth Perler, an education coach, consultant and advocate, “Executive Function is the most important concept we must understand in order to help struggling students succeed.”  He attributes EF problems to a wide range of issues including unclear expectations, shame, fear, and sensory overload, to name just a few.

The words Time to Organize on a white clock to communicate now is the moment to get things in order, coordinate a mess, create a process or system to keep things tidy, clean and neat

Better executive function skills help students succeed!

But more importantly, Perler offers hope and solutions. His free Systems Checklist explains the importance of executive functions, what hinders these skills, and a step-by-step guide to help students. His suggestions include establishing child-specific routines, chunking assignments, and using timers. With compassionate support students can learn new skills and become more successful in both school and life. To learn more, check out Seth Perler’s Free Cheat Sheet here.

No-Prep Activity Ideas

Whether it’s the end of the year or just another Tuesday, all teachers have days when they need a little time to record grades from the last lesson, gather materials, or talk privately to a student.  Here are a few ways to keep students engaged.

jpg_103005-office-suppliesTo alleviate students’ fears about “getting things right,” tell them they’re only required to participate, work cooperatively, and complete the task without teacher support or intervention.

Even though the work is not graded, collecting papers at the end of an activity encourages appropriate behavior and participation.  The “reward” for students is interactive time with peers, a break from structured right/wrong responses, and/or a chance to share with the group at the end of the activity.

1.  Free Write:  Put three words on the board and have students write a story starter that logically includes all the words, or any form of the words.  Remind students not to worry about spelling or handwriting during this creative time.  Before starting the next lesson, allow one or two volunteers to read their story starters.jpg_hldn041  Collect all papers and keep for possible later use.

►Sample word combinations:toy-magic-snow/shark-treasure-hiccups/invisible-kitten-surprise/boy-recipe-boom.

2.  Brain Energizer:  Students silently walk X number of laps around the desks.  Have children enter the line by row and start walking in the same direction.  Define the “rules of the road.”  EX:  No speeding, no passing.  The line leader keeps track of the laps as they pass a certain “landmark.”  As they go past the landmark the final time, students file back into their rows and follow the written directions on the board.

►When they get good at this, you can add marching, walking in the other direction, or having a leader introduce a different arm motion at the beginning of each lap.

3.  Cooperative Puzzles:  Quickly assign pairs or small groups.  Give students X mjpg_0627IDEAinutes to identify as many ways as possible to solve a problem.  Ask one or two students to share the solutions they came up with at the end.  Collect any papers.

►Sample puzzles: list of ten items for a camping trip/three ways to raise $50 for a charity/create a new classroom seating chart/plan a menu for a week of healthy school lunches/use only hands to form all the vowels/make up at least 12 math problems that have 7 as the answer/create a rhyme that could help teach the importance of one of the classroom rules.

4.  Eye Spy:  Set the timer.  Students will have X number of minutes to silently list all the things they can see that begin with a specific letter of the alphabet.  They must remain seated.  Spelling and handwriting don’t count.  You can quickly glance at lists and reward 2-3 students for their work.

►If you have more time, students can read items from their lists aloud.  Students cross off each item they hear someone else say.  Have the winning student collect all papers.jpg_Education-037-color

5.  The Classic:  Students read silently.  They may choose a book from their desks to read for pleasure, or the teacher can assign a specific reading selection.

►Students can be given a task such as locating six examples of figurative language, identifying 12 words with the long a sound, finding twelve, three-syllable nouns, or whatever.  Require students to write out their answers and provide the appropriate page numbers.

6.  Art Activity:  Turn on some classical music and let students express themselves with drawing.

►Sample ideas: draw a machine with 10+ parts that turns on a light switch/draw a desert (or other) animal in its natural habitat/make an advertisement to sell your favorite book.

FREE Online Resource for Mandalas~ This site offers diverse and interesting mandalas for coloring. Download mandalas from 6 themes (animals, countries, dragons, etc.) and three levels (beginner, advanced, and expert). Designs may be printed in black and white for students to color, or they can be colored online and then printed out. Great for connecting activities to a wide variety of topics!

BONUS IDEA~  Color intricate mandalas with diverse and interesting patterns like this one from Australia.  Downloads include 6 themes (animals, countries, dragons, etc.) and three levels (beginner, advanced, and expert). Designs may be printed in black and white for students to color, or they can be colored online and then printed out.  Great for connecting activities to a wide variety of topics!

Check out another great mandala website, as well as many other great FREE resources on this site and Pinterest!

Banish Bullying

We implement a well-known bullying prevention program at our school.  There’s also a plan in place for dealing with all kinds of inappropriate behavior.  Citizenship awards are given out each month.  And, there are even special lunch programs to encourage children to be inclusive.

Even so, this year reports of bullying are on the rise.  More and more students are being verbally “teased” or physically picked on.  Others complain about “drama,” a word children often use when they feel shut out or excluded by someone they once considered a friend.

Whatever name students give these behaviors, it all boils down to the same thing– someone is repeatedly being made to feel inferior or unsafe due to the actions of someone else.

Bully PicAfter searching for ideas that might help bring home the importance of being kind to one another, I stumbled on two blog posts.  The first article, “My Class’s Antibullying Campaign,” was at the blog Nerdy, Nerdy, Nerdy!  The author of that blog cited yet another post by Eric Johnson, “Erasing Meanness.”  Check it out at ‘Your Kids’ Teacher.

I carefully read both articles and then decided to give Mr. Johnson’s program a try.  The plan requires about 20 minutes a day, four days in a row.  It’s free, requires no special skills, and can be implemented in most any classroom that has online access to show videos.  Interested?  Start with the two blog posts listed above.

Here’s how the plan was used in our classroom.

Day 1 

DSCF4733Remove everything from the board, clean it really well, and then use big letters to write “mean” in the middle of the board.

Show the video “Anti-Bullying PSA: The Price of Silence.”

Ask students:

1)  What was the video about?
2)  What was  ___ (character) thinking?
3)  Why did  ___ (character) act the way s/he did in the video?


My students identified several roles in the video:  bully, victim, passive onlooker, and active onlooker.  They recognized that fear, powerlessness, ignorance, and a need for acceptance, as well as many other emotions, might have been in play.

Day 2

DSCF4736Before school starts, fill the board with synonyms for mean, hate, and bullying.  As Mr. Johnson suggests, I used only “black and blue” markers.  Some words were repeated.  I also enlisted the help of several K-3 teachers to speed things along.  The alphabetized list of words below will help you get started.

Picture listShow the video “Stand Up, Stand Out: No Checking, No Capping, No Bullying.”

Some speakers in this video have a slight Southern accent and/or use slang that may be unfamiliar to students.  This is a good opportunity to remind students about cultural differences and emphasize the lessons to be learned when listeners keep an open mind about the speaker(s).

Ask students:

1)  How do you feel about teasing others and being teased?
2)  Is “teasing” joking and kidding around, or is it bullying?
3)  Why do people “check” or tease others?


Day 3


Before school write “How do you want to be remembered?” on the board.  First, I “drew” the words using the edge of an eraser.  Then, I wrote in the letters using a thick, red line.  Empty areas were filled in with extra words.

Show and discuss the videos: “Being a Friend” and “Stop Bullying PSA.”

I love the third suggested video, “Don’t Laugh at Me” by Mark Wills.  Due to community standards where I teach, I reluctantly decided against using it at my grade level.

Ask students:

1)  Besides standing up to a bully, what else can you do– if you’re being bullied or if you want to help a victim?
2)  How can you make others feel wanted and important?
3)  Do you think it makes a difference when someone walks up to a victim after they’ve been bullied?  Why?


Encourage students to think about how they would want to be remembered by their peers if they suddenly had to move to another school.

Day 4

The teacher doesn’t need to make any changes to the board, today.

Show the video “Perfect” by Ahmir.

This video captured my students attention more than any of the others shown earlier in the week.  That said, it’s important to preview all materials used in the classroom to ensure that they are appropriate for your grade level and community.  This video mentions “drinking a nice cold beer.”  It’s the only such reference, and the performers are of drinking age.

Ask students:

1)  What happened in the video?
2)  Do you think this could really happen?
3)  Why do you think this particular song was used in the video?


Tell the students that the idea for these lessons originally came from an online article with the title, “Erasing Meanness.”   Ask them, “What do you think the author meant when he selected that title?”

Announce that today they can literally erase meanness by replacing unkind words with happier words of their own.  Allow students to use brightly colored markers to replace the words they choose to erase.

Meanness eraseWhen students comment that there are still lots of “black and blue” words, ask them, “What would happen if another group of students were also able to erase words?”  This should help them understand that  they can’t “erase” all meanness and bullying by themselves, but their efforts can make a BIG difference.

Show one final video, “Antibullying- You are Perfect.”  This video was made by students and can also be found on the blog, Nerdy, Nerdy, Nerdy! mentioned at the beginning of this post.

The situations in this final video resonated with my students and left them feeling empowered.  It was a great way to wrap up this week-long experience!

Final Thoughts

My grade-level teaching partner and I both taught these lessons on the same days.  At week’s end, two children who argue so much that they can’t even be in the same homeroom,  began playing together at recess.  Several “hands-on” students started doing a better job maintaining their own personal space.  The entire class behaved in a more thoughtful manner and there was an increase in daily acts of kindness.

Did it last?  For awhile.  I believe that some parts of some lessons stuck with some children– permanently.  There’s no test for mastery of this “skill.”  Teaching children how to erase meanness is an ongoing process that requires consistent modeling and reinforcement.

If you try this plan, when you’re done I hope you’ll do what I did… pass it on!

Additional anti-bullying resource links:


Click here for a FREE download of the lesson and resources described above.


Zero Budget Resources for Building Your Classroom Library

Few teachers can afford to purchase books for their classroom libraries.  Over the years I’ve found several ways to overcome this issue.  jpg_1681-African-American-Girl-With-Books-In-Their-Hands

1.  At the beginning of the year, create a birthday book club to encourage parents to donate a copy of their child’s favorite book.  Allow the child to inscribe the year and their name on the inside cover.  Before placing the book on the shelf, encourage the student to share what they most like about the book.  Most students love the attention and it will perpetuate more donations.

2.  If your school has book fairs, create a wish list and get it out there before the sale.  Not sure what titles to request?  Ask your librarian for help or check out this list of the Top 100 Children’s Books of All-Time.  Write short thank you notes for each donated book.

3.  Allow students to order books through tried-and-true book clubs such as Scholastic.  Those free points really add up, especially if you wait and use them during slow months when publishers offer special discounts.  After saving points for two years, I once scored 90 free books!jpg_package700

4.  A few organizations will actually send you free books just for asking.  Free class sets of Ayn Rand books are available through  a special program at Ayn Rand Education.  For teachers working with students from low-income families, check out the free book program at First Book

5.  If you have some money to spend, try Half Price Books, or a similar discount, new/used bookstore in your area.  Your dollars will go further and you’ll probably have fun browsing.  One store in Texas offers teachers free books, so it might be worth a phone call to see if there’s a similar program in your area.  Check here to find a store near you.

6.  If you’re in a building where students sometimes bring teachers holiday gifts, do book talks on titles you’ve gotten from students in years prior.  Gently mention that these were among the best holiday gifts any teacher could ever get.jpg_2037-Laptop-Cartoon-Character-Displays-Pile-Of-Books

7.  Are your students reading ebooks?  There are several free resources for a wide range of titles. Search “free books for teachers” to get started, or check out eBooks@adelaide and for an idea of what’s out there.

8.  Check with the librarians at both your school and public libraries.  Ask that they contact you before getting rid of any books.  Each year I comb through the books that have been purged from the library shelves and take any titles that fit my students’ reading levels.  Sometimes the covers are a little out-of-date, but I put a colorful label on the spine and that seems to be enough to attract students’ attention.jpg_FREE01

9.  If you recently started teaching a different grade, you might want to try trading your books for different ones.  Check out Paperback Swap to learn more about this free program.

10.  Finally, put a notice in your school’s newsletter asking for any books that children have “outgrown.”  Those students you had two years ago may be ready to let go of books that are perfect for your current students. One generous parent donated over 10 books that were perfect for my students. If you can establish this “green” approach to “recycling” children’s books, you may not need to do anything else!

Have any other free or low-cost ideas?  Please leave a post and share your favorite!

Check out this low-cost teaching unit for one of my favorite books, Little House in the Big Woods!

Little House in the Big Woods Novel Unit

Books available here!

10 Tips for Finding Free Resources

Do you need to introduce or reinforce a skill?  Are you teaching American History for the first time?  Are your classroom materials outdated or incomplete?  Do your lessons just need a little pizzazz?   There’s a goldmine of ideas out there, once you learn a few tricks.jpg_internet031

1.  We all have “go to” resources.  I like Teachers Pay Teachers and Super Teacher Worksheets.  I often find free or low-cost materials that can be immediately printed out and put to use.  Start with your own tried-and-true resources.

2.  Successfully searching the Internet is part luck and part finesse.  Select your favorite search engine– I like Google— and type in key words.  Be specific.  Instead of typing American History, try War of 1812 worksheet fourth grade free.

3.  Before clicking on any links the search turns up, check the web address.  For example, if Amazon is in the address it’s probably a product for sale.  If it ends in .com you may be required to log in to the site before accessing the material.  And, if it’s part of a larger site there may be a lot of pop-up ads.  You can’t avoid these entirely, but you can save time by carefully choosing which links to explore.

4.  Narrow your search.  Use additional key words or use the search tools at the top of the screen.  You’ll be amazed what a search for War of 1812 PowerPoint will unearth.  Or, try War of 1812 word search or War of 1812 webquest.

5.  Don’t reinvent the wheel.  Check the favorites tab on your computer.  At some time in the past you probably found a great resource and bookmarked it.  You didn’t have time to explore it then, but you knew it might be helpful in the future.  The future is now!

Pinterest Image

6.  Check out Pinterest.  If you don’t have an account, it’s easy to get started.  This rapidly-growing resource provides quick access to most any topic you can imagine.  Searching War of 1812 lesson I found “pins” with pictures and short descriptions of each resource.  Each “pin” links to the resource described as well as the “board” it came from.  Sometimes the source board turns up additional time-saving links.  Follow “boards” that specialize in areas of interest to access all current and future “pins.”

7.  Don’t overlook blogs.  We’re all pressed for time.  When you find a blog that reflects your interests and needs, sign up to receive notification of new posts.  It’s a lot easier to unsubscribe later than it is to try to find the blog when you go searching the next time.

8.  Organize your favorites.  Take a few minutes to do it on your computer or, once you have a Pinterest account create boards to store your links.  You can get to Pinterest with any device that has online access.  For example, I have a board for graphics, TpT, and free teaching resources.  I also have a few private boards for links to resources I haven’t yet explored.  Honestly, I’m not getting any kickback from Pinterest, I just think it’s a great tool.  It helps me organize and access all kinds of information.

9.  Open your school closet.  Look on the shelves near your desk.  There’s a lot more in those teacher manuals and supplemental books provided by the publisher than you remember.  Crack one open and look for extension activities and online resources.  For example, Harcourt Trophies has online lessons that students can use in school and at home.

10.  Finally, don’t overlook the teacher next door.  Sometimes the easiest solution is the most obvious.  Ask your “neighbor” if he or she has any good ideas.  Send out an “all call” email to the other grade-level teachers in your district requesting ideas that have worked for them.  Reach out beyond the four walls of your classroom to the greater educational community.  Collaboration is the most valuable resource of all.

Click here to check out Super Teacher Worksheets, a FREE resource I use all the time.

SuperTeacherWorksheets-homepage-header                    Teachers Pay Teachers has over 80,000 FREE resources.                      Here’s the link to my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

TpT logo

Should students grade their own work?

happy_good_grade from wpclipart dot comYes.  Students get immediate feedback when they grade their own work.  They take ownership of their progress, or lack thereof.  Students are able to ask questions and get clarification, right away.  Worried about students cheating?  Spot check a few papers each week.  Confront students immediately and follow up for a few days.  Don’t let a few poorly-graded papers keep you from using this time saving approach.

Set expectations for grading and follow through.  Students in my class must use red pen and only mark incorrect answers.  Students record their score as a certain amount of points over the total.  This method puts the focus on the number correct.  When students ask, “What’s my grade?” I show them how to divide the number correct by the total number possible to get a percentage score.

Another approach is to have students work in pairs to correct their completed homework before handing it in.  They learn from each other, make changes, and hand in their best effort.  This approach to grading is even simpler.  Once the work has been handed in, award a small number of points for timely completion.

Not sure if this is a good approach for your classroom?  Start by grading one less set of papers a day.  You’ll be amazed how liberating it is!

Read more here: Benefits of a Student Self-Grading Model -or- How I Grade (by skills or standards) -or- The 3P Grading System.

Need a quick grading rubric?  Check out Teacher Planet‘s rubrics like the one below for all grades and subjects, or you can generate your own.

Teacher Planet has rubrics for all grades and subjects, or you can generate your own.