Saturday, March 26, 2011

How to Get Free Books For Your Classroom

Back in the day (aka high school) we all had to take a test that tapped into our inner being and determined the career that would best suit us. I’m not sure exactly how many impressionable youths were led to their life’s work through this assessment, but clearly it was lacking.

According to the lengthy questionaire (which for the record I did complete truthfully), I was perfect for not one, but two job titles.

I could have been a beautician or a forest ranger.

Let me repeat that..

a beautician

or a forest ranger!

Considering that I went through most of high school with my hair in a pony tail and have made it my goal to avoid nature as much as possible, I opted to go with what I had known I would do since I was in 2nd grade and checked of “education” in the “desired major box” on my college applications.

I did have a runner-up career in my mind though: advertising

I thought it would be fun to write jingles and funny commercials. I also enjoy marketing and sales. I was the type of kid who set sales quotas on my Girl Scout cookie sales and attempted to open many a lemonade business.

So you can imagine how serious I take my monthly Scholastic orders. I get giddy when the colorful, new catalogs arrive. I flip through them over and over like a young kid with the Toys R Us catalog in December. I circle. I highlight. I add post-its to mark selections.
This photo represents one month of my Scholastic orders. I'm, like, salesman of the year or something.

Scholastic is great for building your class library for little or no money. When the students place orders, you earn bonus points which can be used to get books, CDs, and software. Many of you are already familiar with Scholastic so I’ll cut to the tips on how to increase your orders and thus earn more bonus points:

The key is getting the students to look at the catalog so that they don’t just get discarded. I have created several activities that allow them to practice language arts and math skills using the catalogs. This greatly increases the amount of books my class orders because it generates interest in the books. The activities are also excellent to use as time fillers when you have a sub or if you find yourself with a few minutes to spare. The pages make great homework assignments too. I just added the complete set to my online store. For only $5.00...the price of a cup of could bring quality literature to the homes of deserving students and earn yourself a boatload of bonus points as a result.

See, I told you I was meant for sales and marketing ;P

Be sure to follow my blog and store  and Facebook Page for notification of the FreebiesClick here to access a collection of Teacher Tips or tour my Classroom Makeover here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Ultimate Teacher Organizer Tool

This week I am going to focus on helping you set up THE ULTIMATE TEACHER ORGANIZATION TOOL from scratch.

Come on folks, you know you want to play along at home.

What if I promise you that this tool is going to rock your teaching world? Because I'll not only promise that, but I'll pinky promise.

And a pinky promise is serious business around here.

So here's your homework: Obtain a 3-ring binder in a color that makes you happy. It must have a clear outer layer that will allow you to slide papers and whatnot into the front and back. I wouldn't go smaller than a 1", but 2 inches just feels big. I would probably buy a 1". You can always upgrade.

DAY 2:
Did you obtain your super-cool, new, 3-ring binder yet?

I heart binders. The main reason is that they are so flexible and forgiving. You can add to them. You can subtract from them.

It's OK if you didn't. You can still play along. This week we are going to be building (insert announcer voice) THE ULTIMATE TEACHER ORGANIZATION TOOL.

There are several components to it. Today we are going to focus on the PLAN BOOK part.

{You may also be interested in my ink-saving Planbook that is part of my Blackline Design collection.}

I've tried keeping lesson plans in one of those traditional books. I've tried doing them on the computer. Both had pros and cons. What I have found to be best is to customize and create my very own binder that houses lots and lots of information and tools to keep me on top of things.

You can create your own on the computer, copy a favorite version you have found or better yet, purchase the one I created at my store for only $10.00 by clicking here. I told you I was busy creating this weekend.

Whichever option you decide to go with, you will probably want to include the following components or some form of a variation of them. I like to start with the big picture and work toward the details from there. I start with...

This is a snapshot of the year, but with less details. It's great for recording special projects, themes, author studies, etc.

Create a row for each week of the year (should be 40) and columns for the different subject areas. I made one sheet that I can print several times so I can use specific categories for language arts like spelling, word study, comprehension skill, writing, etc.

This takes on the look of a traditional plan book. The left column has the days of the week with space to write the date and the number that corresponds to the day of school. This feature comes in especially handy in the spring when you start your countdown to the next summer vacation. C'mon, you know you do!

All you need is one template. You can then copy/print as many as you need for the year. Hint: add in the recurring items like specialists, lunch, snack, etc. before copying to save yourself time.

Now that we have the plan book foundations down, let's move on to the "extras." These are items that are normally found in a commercially-made plan book so I keep them in this section of my binder as well.

It's important to have a calendar that is separate from your planning calendar to record meetings, conferences, assemblies, holidays, and those sorts of things. The one I designed has empty boxes to fill in the dates so that I can just print new ones for the next year. If you are going to take the time to make one I suggest doing that to save the hassle of recreating it next summer.

I number my students so I like to have a column for numbers next to the name. I also include parent names, home addresses, email addresses, phone numbers and cell phone numbers.
I use this section to house specific medical concerns about students as well as general school info regarding policies and the nurse.

I designed two versions of this. I plan to leave one in my plan book and hang the other by the door for easy reference.
It's nice to have all the birthdays at a glance. I do have a chart in my classroom for this purpose, but I also include coworkers on the one in my plan book.

We actually do our attendance online, but I found I missed having my own records in writing so I keep this as well. It's helpful to reference in a conference or student meeting.
I also have a grade book on my computer, but again prefer to have the original on paper. This allows me to correct papers anywhere and record the grades.

You need a cute cover. There are the three I designed to include in the teacher plan book set. I used the middle one for myself. I am making a collage of personal photos for the back sleeve.

Be sure to include your name and contact info in the book so that it can easily be returned to you if it is misplaced.

When I sent you off to get your binder yesterday, I probably should have told you to get page protectors and tabbed dividers as well. You might want to think about getting those.

It's time to get cracking on the first section of your binder. Decide which of the components you feel you need to include and design away.

...or have I mentioned that you can click here to purchase ALL of the items pictured for only $10.00 at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store?
keywords: teacher organization how to make a plan book grade book teacher binder classroom organization

Be sure to follow my blog and store  and Facebook Page for notification of the FreebiesClick here to access a collection of Teacher Tips or tour my Classroom Makeover here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Planning for a Substitute Teacher

Last summer I did a blog series on how to plan for a substitute teacher. More importantly, it focused on how to set up plans so that you were prepared in an emergency. I've reprinted it all below in an easy to read format. My emergency sub plans can be purchased by clicking here: PRINTABLE EMERGENCY SUB PLANS FOR ANY DAY


There are days when you have conferences, workshops or scheduled doctor appointments planned and you know you will be out of the classroom. There are days when you are feeling under the weather and suspect you will be out the next day. Then there are days when you are unable to attend school with little or no warning at all.

Once upon a time I was sitting in my living room feeling fine. Within minutes I was in the worst pain of my life thinking I was in labor and wanting to die. (In my defense, I was 8.5 months pregnant so labor was a possibility). Turns out it was a kidney stone and I was completely useless for about 7 hours.

In case you were wondering, they do not give epidurals for kidney stones...though I think the should.

Food poisoning, car accidents, family emergencies and toddlers who decide to projectile vomit their breakfast as you are set to drop them off at daycare are just a few other examples of times when you have every intention of being in class and have no notice or ability to prepare for your sudden absence.

This week we are going to put together a sub binder and resource center that will make it easy for you to be out of the classroom without the added stress of worrying about what will happen to your class for that day.

We will be able to put the majority of this project together right now. It will be a work in progress because some of the items that need to be included will come into play once school starts.

We are going to start today by “gathering” activities that can be used on any day of the year for each subject area. Today you need to gather at least 5 activities for reading, writing, word study/spelling and math. I have spent the past few days creating some activities for each of those subjects using the guidelines below. You can purchase the ones I made through my store, gather them from other resources or create your own.

Create a folder on your computer titled SUB PLANS. Be sure to save all of the files to this folder and back it up. If you purchase my emergency sub plans then save them to this folder once you print them.

After you gather them, you’ll need to slide them into plastic sheet protectors (back to back) and create a tab for your binder labeled Master Copies. Put them into the binder and you’re all set until tomorrow.

Here are the guidelines:

You do not want these activities to be a complete waste of time or busy work, but in my experiences it has been best to not have a sub introduce a new concept. Review is important and this is a great chance to review key concepts.

The activities should be open-ended whenever possible. By this I mean that the students could continue to work on them for a substantial length of time without a specific completion point. You want to avoid having the students rush through an assignment that is designed to take 30 minutes in 5 and tell the sub, “I’m done.” Open-ended assignments will allow the sub to instruct them to “add to the list” or “find more __.”

Try to minimize the need for additional materials. You want both the children and the sub to have an enjoyable, stress-free day. Asking a sub to have children cut and glue could hinder this objective.

Find activities that can be repeated so that you may use them on multiple days. This is especially beneficial because the students become accustomed to the “sub routine” which makes future absences even easier.

If you are going to do a reading extension activity, be sure that each child has a copy of the text. Having a sub read aloud a book and then asking the class to complete a story map is setting the sub up for chaos. EVERYONE (rather they need it or not) will be asking to get out of their seat to see the book. It is also setting children up for failure and frustration if they are not able to recall details from the read aloud and do not have access to the book. My suggestion is to access reading A to Z and print a copy of the book for each student or use a story that you have already covered from your reading basal that each child will have a copy of. By selecting activities that go with EVERY book as opposed to a specific title, you can also differentiate instruction for the class but providing varied levels of text for each student. If you do not have a basal or class set of books then today would also be a good day to access the free trial membership to reading A to Z and print a copy of a few good fiction books to use.

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Sub Binder Day 2

Let’s start with a true story.

Because I swear I could not make this up.

This past school year we had a very nice man who would occasionally sub at our school. One of the first grade teachers was absent and he filled in for her. She had quickly written down sub plans for the day and next to 11:45 wrote, “Eat my lunch.”

You know, because 11:45 was her scheduled time to go to the teacher’s room and eat her lunch.

Well, this gentleman (who was apparently channeling his inner Amelia Bedelia) took it literally. He went to the classroom fridge, opened the door and found a lunch inside (which incidentally belonged to the classroom aide who was out of the room at the time covering lunch duty and scheduled to eat her delicious home-cooked meal a bit later).

He ate the lunch and wrote a note thanking the teacher for making him a lunch.


Today we are going to work on the “SCHOOL INFO” section of your substitute teacher binder. You want your binder to be thorough and complete, yet simple to use so that a busy sub can find things easily.

Check with your school to see if there are any specific requirements.

Some schools actually put together this information for you so that it can be passed out to any sub that comes in. If that’s the case, your job today is quite simple.

If not, then here is what I suggest you include:
  • a map of the school (mark: your classroom, the office, the bathroom that they may use, and the teacher’s room). The kids can show the sub where music, gym, etc is. You just want to mark off anything that she may need to find on her own. I also mark where the sub will need to meet the class in the morning.
  • a directory of the staff members that she may need to contact (nurse, principal, secretary, social worker) along with where they are located and their phone extensions
  • a copy of any school-wide rules
  • instructions for emergency lock downs, fire and tornado emergencies and crisis evacuation plans
Create the SCHOOL INFO TAB for your binder and add the above info into that section.

You should be able to complete this section before school starts. If at any time you find there is information that you are unable to include until school starts, simply write down what is missing on a post-it note and place it in the spot the info will eventually go in the binder.

If there is anything else that you feel should be included in the SCHOOL INFO section, leave a comment.

And check out my emergency sub plans here.

Today we are going to add the CLASSROOM INFO section to the binder. This part may be a bit trickier because a good portion of the information needed won’t come into play until school starts.

But, it’s a catch 22 because when school initially starts you’ll be so crazy busy that it’ll be hard to find the time to do this. So we are going to get as much as we can into it. And for those items you don’t have access to right now, simply add a page protector and include a Post-it Note marked with a reminder of what you need to add.

Here’s what I include:

  • a photo directory: head shots with their names

  • a seating chart

  • class schedule

  • pull-out / in-class support schedule

  • classroom rules and behavior management plan

  • signals you use to get their attention

  • procedures for: attendance, lunch, recess, lining up, bathroom, dismissal and what to do when they finish their work

  • a list of 2-3 reliable students

  • a list of any medical issues that they would need to know about

  • any additional student info that would be helpful (who will require extra help, who may try to act silly and how to deal with it, etc)

I also a include a brief list of things that I know kids will try to get away with (using the electric pencil sharpener, asking to go to the nurse 80 million times).

Create a tab that reads, "CLASS INFO," add it to the binder, put these items in that section and call it a day.

Is there anything else you include?

Who wants some freebies?

Come on now all of your hands should be waving high in the air. Because I love you all so very very much, I've made you a few gifts.

Included in your from me to you with hugs and kisses package is:

an adorable cover for your sub binder

an even cuter template for your sub to fill out at the end of the day

an "at a glance" page for your sub that highlights the key things they need to know and serves as a directory

Plus, they match the 24 pages of EMERGENCY SUB PLANS that I designed.

You have purchased the emergency sub plans kit, haven't you?

Because for only $5.00 you can save yourself tons of time and energy and free yourself up for more poolside time.

Click here to buy the sub plans.

Click here to print the FREEBIES for your sub binder.

We've been rocking our binder this week.

Today you need to:

make a cover (or use mine)

make a template for the sub to fill out (or use mine)

gather a bunch of generic sub plans for science and social studies

My advice on the last part of your assignment would be:

Access the free trial at reading a to z dot com and print off some age appropriate non-fiction texts for both science and social studies. Either use their extension activities or create your own to go with them

Leave Time for Kids or Scholastic News for the sub to use during Social Studies

Find a few educational videos with science and social studies content...Magic School Bus is great for this.

Have the children write a list of questions they may have on a science or social studies topic.

OK folks, Do your homework and tune in tomorrow because we are going to wrap this puppy up!

We left off having completed the following:

a binder with a cover

tabbed sections for: classroom info, school info and masters of the activities for each subject

Let's wrap this puppy up.


When it comes to writing sub plans my advice is to prepare for a sub as if he/she has never subbed before...or been around children...or lacks ALL common sense. Chances are your sub will be a professional who will do a stellar job, but preparing for the opposite end of the spectrum will help to ensure that things will run well in your absence.

The bad news is that we are going to write very detailed plans for each day of the week.

The good news is that it isn't nearly as hard as it seems.

Start with your longest day. Yes, school starts and ends at the same time each day, but you know those days without prep certainly feel longer than others. By writing out the plans for this day first, you can make some quick changes on the computer and have your other days banged out pretty quickly.

In the lesson section I include specific instructions as well as a "script" for the sub to say to the students. This is not to micromanage the sub, but rather to make sure the little cherubs know that I have communicated the expectations to the sub and that he/she knows the drill.

It is very effective.

I try to think of the typical things a 3rd grader would do in my absence and include it in the "script." For example: "As a reminder, if your pencil breaks you will need to raise your hand. No student should be using the electric pencil sharpener."

The fourth column is for notes. I include page numbers that the sub could find more info on as well as notes about students who leave for services and teachers who come in for services. I also include any other info that pertains specifically to that time of day.

After you have created a very detailed plan for your longest day, save it to your hard drive with the name of that day of the week.

Next, edit the document to make the changes needed to reflect every other day of the week.

Print each set.


After you have planned out an entire week, make any copies that are needed for each day.

I like to use Post-its as tabs to divide the piles of work.

Place each day's worth of materials into one of the plastic drawers with the lesson plans on top. Let the sub know that she can write on this copy.

Label the drawers with the days of the week.

If you bought the kind like I have you will have a total of 6 drawers. I fill the top one with general activities that can be used in a pinch (word searches, crossword puzzles, math drills) and a couple of picture books the sub could read.


Include a copy of each day's plans in the binder.

As an extra I print out a couple of sheets of large labels with the students' names that the sub can use as name tags.

Include a note so that the sub knows where to find the materials for the day.

Show everything to several colleagues. They will be great resources in the event of your absence. They should know where to locate the binder and the materials.

By following all of these steps, you could miss an entire week without worry. A sub would simply need to start with the first day's plans and work through the days in the drawers. By keeping the masters in your binder, anyone could make additional copies as needed.

Be sure to replenish the drawer as soon as you return. By doing so you will always be ready.

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Be sure to follow my blog and store  and Facebook Page for notification of the FreebiesClick here to access a collection of Teacher Tips or tour my Classroom Makeover here.

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