5 Easy Ways to Kick off the Year with your Best Foot Forward

Pencil.pngAs you’re prepping to head back to school, here’s a few tips to make your life easier and set you up for a successful school year! These five tips should help you prepare your classroom before your students arrive and start the year with high student engagement.

  1. Beautify your classroom walls with a purpose Search.png
    • Motivational posters are a great start, but the walls of your classroom are also valuable real estate to reinforce the most critical content for students — using anchor charts allows you to reference core concepts constantly and train students to independently seek answers when they are stuck.
    • Make Life Easy Resource: Bundle of 15 Anchor Charts for Middle School ELA 
      • This includes anchor charts you can print as posters (or handouts for students) about the rhetorical triangle, author’s craft, writing process, being specific in writing, parts of speech, comma rules, figurative language, and many more!
  2. Change up your regular routine for getting to know your studentsGame-Controller.png
    • Instead of handing your students that age-old questionnaire asking about their favorite experiences from the summer and academic strengths, why not turn this activity on its head to get the information you need from students in an interactive, engaging way?
      • Try using a game like Scoot or small groups to get students up and moving to reinforce your classroom management skills and expectations of students in the first days of school.
    • Make Life Easy Resource: Scoot Get to Know Your Students Game 
      • Use a game of “scoot” (students answer a question taped to each desk on a  bingo-like board as they silently move around the room). This resource includes the questions, game board, directions, and more!
  3. Invest your students in real-life outcomes related to readingBookmarks.png
    • As a language arts teacher, it’s critical to engage your students in reading from day 1; I’ve found that students who aren’t typically interested in reading respond well to real-life data/outcomes about reading — things like how much more money “good” readers make in a lifetime.
    • Make Life Easy Resource: Why Read? Back to School Reading Investment Lesson
      • I use this PowerPoint as one of my first lessons after going back to school. It’s a non-traditional way to engage students in a meaningful conversation about their future goals and how there’s a clear link to reading for almost all measures of success.
  4. Don’t waste time on grammar concepts your students knowMagic-Wand.png
    • Instead of starting the year by re-teaching basic concepts like nouns and pronouns, intentionally figure out what your students do and don’t know so you can remediate appropriately.
    • Make Life Easy Resource: Grammar Skills Formative Assessment 
      • I use this 55-question “test” as a formative assessment at the beginning of the year. It includes over 10 critical grammar concepts and materials for students to self-grade and identify skills they need to work on. Use this to customize and differentiate instruction, while also empowering students to take ownership of their learning.
  5. Shake up (or solidify) your beginning of class routineCheckmark.png
    • Setting up a consistent routine for the first few minutes of class has consistently been the most important aspect of my classroom management — if my kids come in calm and know exactly what I expect them to do at the beginning of class, the rest of the period goes smoothly. I do this with a daily routine based on the day of the week that cycles through bell ringers, journaling, and Greek/Latin morphemes.
    • Make Life Easy Resource: TNReady RI + RL On the Road Bell Ringers 
      • If you are a teacher in Tennessee, you understand the importance of integrating TNReady-aligned questions from the beginning of the year. I love these bell ringers because students have a workbook they use throughout the semester (or year) to record their question answers + explanation of why the answer is correct. The “on the road” theme is a fun way to start exposing students to TNReady content.

Final Push to Finals: Test Taking Strategies

PencilYou spent the whole semester teaching content. From commas to compositions, your students have the skills, but do they have the skills to successfully navigate your final exam?

I’ve found it difficult to balance the need to teach students content with the need to teach students how to demonstrate they know the content. Assessment is a reality of life; from state tests to college entrance exams, students will face tests throughout their lives. All this to say, teaching students explicitly how to successful navigate a test is critical to their success.

Top 5 Test-Taking Skills to Teach Before Finals

  1. slide1Preview the Test: Spend a couple minute previewing the test before starting to get a sense of the question types, length, and difficulty
  2. Annotate Passages: Write a gist of the main idea next for each paragraph or the entire passage depending on the length and task associated with the passage
  3. Circle Key Terms in the Question: Teach students to circle key words that help students identify what they are/aren’t looking for; this helps avoid selecting distractors that are unrelated to the question
  4. Eliminate Distractors Before Selecting an Answer: Teach students to eliminate answers before selecting the correct one. It’s also important to teach students the different types of distractors.
  5. Budget Time: Do you have students who perpetually run out of time on tests? Teaching them to budget time is a skill that has to be built. Help students build the habit of skipping and coming back to tough questions.

Learning test-taking skills require lessons of their own. Students need strategies, resources to reference, and practice. Remember, this is not a natural skill. It takes time, explicit instruction, and lots of practice. The Test Taking Strategies Anchor Chart in my TPT store is a great place to start in teaching your students test-taking skills.

Best TNReady Resources on EduTools

As this semester winds down and you’re getting ready for the spring semester, now is a great time to take a second look at TNReady standards and resources to ensure your units and lessons for the spring are closely aligned.

Remember that all resources for educators are now on eduToolbox and TNCore is no longer used. Tennessee tools for ELA Literacy Assessments are available by grade herescreen-shot-2016-11-12-at-11-14-57-pmOnce you select a grade, you will see additional resources, tasks, and scoring guides for your grade.

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These links aren’t the easiest to navigate and there’s almost too much information available. The vast majority of resources are downloadable documents, and a large amount are rubrics and scoring guides.

There aren’t nearly as many item samplers and practice questions to use in your classroom, which I’ve found to be the most valuable state resources. Hopefully, there’s more to come in upcoming years. For now, I’m highlighting the best resources available through EduTools.

This list is specific to 7th grade, but there are similar resources across all grade levels:

Informational/Explanatory Rubric

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How to Use in your Classroom:

  • Give to students to use in peer-reviews and self-assessments of writing
  • Review the different scoring categories with students so they understand how their writing will be assessed
  • Make it a habit of using the names of the scoring categories in your daily instruction
    • Example: When teaching a skill-based lesson on prepositions, make reference to the Conventions category of the writing rubric and give students concrete examples of how they can use prepositions to improve their writing
  • Show students examples of essays with different scores and examine what differentiates the writing
  • Follow the same protocol for the Narrative Rubric  and the Opinion/Argument Rubric

Literacy Toolkit

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How to Use in Your Classroom:

  • Includes 8 Interim Assessments with passages, multiple-choice questions, and prompts from Pages 9-63
    • You can use these as interim assessments or extract questions for your own assessments, lessons, or bellringers
    • Given the lack of item samplers and practice tests this year, this is a great resource
  • Page 5 includes an overview of other resources where teachers can find assessment questions

Practice Writing Task: Informational Texts

Screen Shot 2016-11-12 at 11.39.50 PM.pngHow to Use in Your Classroom:

  • 2 practice tasks and 4 texts 
  • Use as a practice writing assessment
    • I’ve found it incredibly important to provide students with several opportunities to practice reading a response and completing an on-demand writing task
    • This is a tough exercise for anyone, so building the muscle memory of completing this task in ~45 minutes is critical
  • Use the informational texts to improve reading comprehension on informational texts
  • Additional Practice Writing Tasks:

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 For more no-prep TNReady-aligned resources, check out my Teachers Pay Teachers store, which includes assessments, lessons, projects, and more.