Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Classroom Decor for Back to School!

 Looking for a cute new look to your classroom? Wanting to try something new this back to school season but don't know where to start? 

Last year I began teaching for the first time in 10 years! I wanted my classroom to be a space where I could relax and unwind, and an inviting space for my students. Teachers work long hours, so I knew this would be my home away from home.


First things first, I purchased a little coffee Keurig on sale with the themed color of my classroom. I needed to stay caffeinated for sure! :) The palate of my classroom is white, black, and succulents. Teal/turquoise is used as an accent color. The succulents have a splash of purples and greens as well. I didn't want to venture too far off from that palate. 

I created numbers for the backpack hooks, as well as inspirational posters (available in English and Spanish), as I know that Growth Mindset is a focal point of classrooms and of life in general these days. Both of these products can be found in my TpT store, Teacherof20.


I documented my back to school classroom set up journey in a newly created Youtube channel where I often look back nostalgically. I like to watch it and see how much I have accomplished since then, and what I experienced my first year back to teaching after a hiatus. 

It has been such a rewarding experience for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I got to bring my own kids with me to school. It has been such a blessing, and I have so many new ideas for this new year. Perhaps I will document those on my Youtube channel as well! Cheers! And best of luck with your classroom decor this back to school season!

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Summer Fun With a Digital Escape Room

Kids love playing escape room games. So do I! This digital escape room is a great way to wrap up the school year or use it on some of those rainy days. 

Breaking Into Summer is an escape room loaded with puzzles for students to celebrate heading into summer in an engaging, and interactive way. Students must solve 6 clues to unlock the codes that will help them 'break into summer'. 

How does it work?
Students begin on a webpage with the scenario. They follow the directions given in the underlined letters. They are then taken to the digital escape room. Students click the start button for the first lock and the first clue. There are six clues and locks in all.

Clues include

  • solve a maze and use the letters for a code word
  • find the hidden words for a code word
  • solve a jigsaw puzzle for a secret number code
  • total the Scrabble tiles for a number code
  • play a memory game for a scrambled sentence code
  • watch the blinking lights for a sentence code

Check out this video for a preview:

This escape room should take your students approximately 30-45 minutes to complete, depending on student ability levels. A time limit may be given, but this can cause stress so determine what is best for your class. Some of the benefits of kids using these in teams are:

  • Develops teamwork and collaboration
  • Builds critical thinking skills
  • Promotes problem-solving skills
  • Promotes communication
  • Paperless and No Prep
  • Reinforces concepts
  • Engaging and fun!

Click here to get started breaking into summer!

Monday, June 8, 2020

Using Google Slides to Make an Awesome Memory Book

Hi friends,

If you are still in school, I know you have to be thinking this is the longest year of your life. However, this crazy school year is about to finally come to a close. I'm so proud of all you teachers out there! I have heard all sorts of amazing stories about what teachers have done for their kids and it makes me smile. Just a little longer and you can breathe a little easier.

Every year, I love making yearbooks with my kids. So I decided I would make one for use with Google Slides. It's a lot of fun and I've even included a video for the kids to help them learn to insert pictures, edit them, and play around with the slides.

Check out this short video to give you an idea of what is included with this memory book.

If you would like one of these awesome memory books to use with your kids, just click here or click the pic.

Oh, and by the way, when you download this resource you will need to give TpT permission to drop it into your Google Drive. It does NOT give them permission for anything else!

Have a wonderful and relaxing summer. Stay safe and be well!

Monday, March 9, 2020

St. Patrick's Day Fun with Digital Resources

Digital escape rooms are all the rage and I finally took the leap and made one. I think it was really worth the time it took me to learn how to make it because the kids went bonkers for it. I flat out asked them if they liked it and they shouted 'YES' with enthusiasm. LOL That's what I like to hear!

Escape Rooms or some call them breakouts are usually made for small groups of students to work together to solve the mystery. The kids worked together at their tables, but they wanted to each have their own computer to work on. I don't have a problem with that!

I gave each student a planning sheet to use to write their codes on. I would say about half the kids used the planning page, but the other kids just went back to the main page on Google Sites and recorded their answers.

For the early finishers, I made sure they knew what they could work on while the rest of the students finished their adventure. Once everyone had a chance to find their way to Lucky the Leprechaun's party, we celebrated with little lucky lollies! (suckers)

This first digital escape room is called The Case of the St. Patrick's Day Party just in time for St. Patrick's Day. I hope you decide to check it out!

AND, if you are a math mystery fan, I've begun making my math mysteries digital! Fun, right?! Since it is March, I started with The Case of the Mixed-Up March Madness for Third Grade.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Make Learning Fun This Winter!

What if there was just one thing standing between you and a fun winter filled with students happy about learning?

I know it seems hard to believe but hear me out…

Interesting lessons that are fun for you and students don’t just happen from a teacher’s manual on most occasions.
(Wouldn’t that be nice!)
You have to decide what you’re teaching, choose what needs differentiated, gather all the supplies, run the copies, and then prepare everything. Not to mention lining it up with all your standards. And the domino that starts it all is knowing what you’re going to teach. In other words, the path to instruction begins with a plan.
I'm going to share some ready made resources that will get me through the winter, and have my kids engaged in learning to get them (and me) out of the winter slump that usually comes with the last half of the year.

For my classroom personally, my students have benefitted from the hot chocolate blends game.

They choose the marshmellow that matches the picture in the cup, and write the blend and the word on the recording sheet! They ABSOLUTELY loved this center activity! And it gets them practicing their blends, much needed at this time of year!!

My second activity that I came across is the Word Work for January, but you can keep using it well into February! It focuses on 20 winter words, and teaches them by having fun games that reinforce the vocabulary. There are activities for the entire month! The games are so easy to use, and self explanatory.


The subtract the room game helped me reinforce math facts, while students got up and moved around, and most importantly, HAD FUN!! Post the cards all around the room, and students walk around with their recording sheet, and write the equation with the corresponding letter next to it, and solve it!

The activities shared above are part of a complete planning solution made up of 20 classroom resources, which are all winter themed, including Valentines Day, Groundhog Day, Black History Month, and more.
Each bundle contains classroom manipulatives to print and cut, games, puzzles, mini-books, assessments, decor, and ready-made lessons plans (and even slideshows!). No matter how you plan, there are multiple resources that are perfect for you and there are two buying options:

Option 1: Choose ONE bundle that is targeted close to your grade level: PK-2 or Grades 3-5.

Option 2: For less than the price of two separate bundles, get the ENTIRE package with about 2,000 pages of made-for-you lesson plans, so you’ve got total control no matter how your grade level and curriculum needs change from year to year for grades PK-5.
You really can have winter fun and learning at the same time in your classroom, starting today.
Make those dominos winter by picking up your copy of the CF Collective Winter Bundle right

If you purchase any of the bundles above, please treat yourself to a complimentary NO PREP Valentine's Day Pack from me in addition! Just fill out the form below to grab this freebie!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Getting Organized for Student Conferences in Reading and Writing

Getting Organized for Reading and Writing Conferences with my students has always been a bit of a challenge for me.  I always have good intentions, but they don't always pan out the way that I would like them to!
Because I do reading and writing conferences with my students every day, I really needed a way to stay on top of things!  Keep reading to see how this unorganized teacher found a way to organize for conferences!

Organizing for reading and writing conferences!

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I usually start with small groups, then move to individual conferences.
I take notes during both.
That is where my Reading and Writing Conference Labels come in very handy!  You can read about them HERE!

I have a conferencing notebook that I LOVE!  It is a clipboard/binder all in one.  It is thick enough to store all of my paperwork for reading and writing conferences.

Organizing for reading and writing conferences!

It's not the prettiest thing in the world, but it is very functional. 

Organizing for reading and writing conferences!

On the left side of my binder, I have bookmarks, small group planning forms, and my reading/writing conference labels.  In the binder rings, I have my student's conference forms.   There are reading and writing forms for each kiddo, with extras at the back so I can add them easily if I fill up a page.

The page to the right is where I keep track of my reading conferences. It is color-coded to help me see at a glance the students who need more conferencing than others.  Pink=way below benchmark, Yellow= below benchmark, Green=Meets benchmark, Blue=above benchmark.  
I usually plan my conferences when I plan my small groups for the week.  I always check my list to see who needs a conference.
For writing conferences, the kiddos usually let me know who needs a conference when I do a check in when I walk around the room.  I have a few kiddos who always need a little extra help at the beginning of Writer's Workshop, so I usually start with those kiddos.

When my students go off to read or write, I pull the labels that I need to take the notes that I want, write the kiddos names on the labels, then call them over to our conferencing table (which in my classroom is named Mars).  

Organizing for reading and writing conferences!

Let me say that I used to go to the kiddos for conferences.  It is a little less disruptive.  That being said, I am no longer a new teacher.  Getting up and down off the floor is...amusing.
So, I have admitted defeat and I conference here.  I have to say that I love Mars.  It is in front of my CAFE board, so the kiddos can easily reference the reading strategies that we are working on.
Everything I need for reading and writing conferences is right there!

Organizing for reading and writing conferences!

The drawers to the left hold games, writing materials, whisper phones, etc.  Everything I might need for conferences or groups.
The drawers on the left are color-coded to match my group colors.  When I do my small group plans, I put everything that I plan to use in the drawer for the group.
When I am done, the materials get filed away in the crates on top, or in the drawers!

I have my labels clipped to the front of my binder, so I just have to glance at the label to keep me on track!
Each kiddo has their own section in my notebook.
I have different forms for reading and writing conferences.
Organizing for reading and writing conferences!

I use the labels to take notes during my reading and writing conferences.
Then, when I plan my next conferences, I can see who I have recently conferenced with and who still needs a conference.
I don't put labels on the kiddos individual conference forms until the end of the week. I can check for who I already conferenced with, who still needs a conference, or who I want to check in with during conference time.
That is really about it!
If you are interested in the binder that I use, you can find it on Amazon (affiliate link):

Like what you see?  Want to see more?  Join my e-mail list to keep up with everything going on here at Primary Planet (including exclusive freebies!)

This post first appeared at Primary Planet!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Teaching The Author's Point Using Video Games (Plus a Giveaway)

As a literacy coach teaching persuasive reading and writing to elementary age students, I recently tried to find a topic that my students connected with and had an author’s point of view in which they might disagree.  Because let’s be honest, the ones on recycling and water are just…old.  I wanted fresh material.   

And any time teachers need fresh material, what do they do?  We steal, borrow, and take good ideas from real-life experiences - and sometimes our friends and colleagues. Well, I happened to have the real-life experience of strongly disagreeing with my teenager step-son on one particular point. (Most of us probably do with our teens)

You see, three years ago, I got a step-son who lives for fast internet and all-night playing of video games.  Since knowing Drew, I have slid in comments here and there about the negative effects of video games.  I assumed my comments would trigger his hormonal, irrational mind into thinking - Wow.  She is so smart.

This didn't happen.

But from conversations with Drew, I did realize that video games was a wonderful topic to engage my students.  And because I wanted to connect and relate to them, I decided to write a "letter" asking the principal to allow video games in school.  (You can find the letter here.)  I know!  You all thought I was going to go against it.  So did my students.

 At first, as I sat down to write my letter request and the reasons they should be in school, I literally thought “Nothing.  Nothing good comes from video games.”  

But I knew this wasn’t true.  Nor was that making an interesting letter.
So I fought to see it from Drew's perspective, and I was shocked with what I learned.  I not only discovered that kids could learn "soft skills" valued in the workplace, but I discovered how I could be a better parent to Drew and be a better teacher.

By putting myself in Drew’s (and my students’) shoes to make the point that video games should be allowed in school, I was pausing to consider what is important to them.  I looked for the things that they love about gaming that would also be considered a benefit to an adult.  

What I Learned
  1. Video games challenge their brains. There is a lot of action going on in those games.  Gamers must think through decisions and problem solve.  They are trying to create, build, and conquer.  This takes problem-solving skills.  There are also other players moving in real time.  As the players are playing, they are being challenged to work as a team.
  2. Video games engage children. Therefore, it cuts down on misbehavior in classrooms (and in homes).  Children & teens want to be engaged!  They want their brains to be focused and challenged.  When they are, they don’t think about snacks, water breaks, or how many students they can make laugh. Ever notice how in the middle of talking, a student will ask to go to the bathroom.  But the minute you hit play on a video, they no longer have to go?  Same thing.  Video games are engaging them because they’re focused on winning. 
  3. Video games teach perseverance. They play.  They lose.  They play again.  The cycle continues as they get better and better and work towards winning.  It’s something we appreciate in athletes and mathletes.  We should appreciate it in gamers too.  This is literally the whole growth-mindset & grit theory that is trending now.  Students feel they are defeated for a millisecond when they lose, and then it’s back to another game to try again. 
How do these things make me a better teacher and/or parent?

The short answer is I realized the value of putting myself in my teen's shoes for a moment.  How often do we all need to pause in our own crusade and consider the perspective of the opposing argument?  This skill alone is something I want to teach all children to make a better world.

Specifically as a teacher, I reflected on the three things video games offer that captivate my students.  They want to be challenged.  They want to be engaged.  They want to persevere, get better, and win.
It’s my job as an educator to help facilitate these three things each day in the classroom. My instructional practices should include these things as much as possible.  Don't I want to be challenged, engaged, and grow myself?  I want to offer that to my students.

Misbehaving students aren’t always a result of my instruction, but when I have misbehaving students, I must stop and reflect.  Are the students engaged?  Are they feeling challenged, but not defeated?  Are they learning to persevere so they can win?

As a teacher and parent, I need to stop and reflect.  It’s so easy to think our kids are acting crazy/disrespectful/fill-in-the-blank and not see the situation from their perspective.

In the end, I wrote a letter "from Drew" with an author's point, reasons, and evidence that would convince a principal to allow video games.  (You can find the differentiated passages here.)  My students loved it so much, I then wrote one "from Mara" (my step-daughter), asking the principal not to allow video games in school!  These can be found here.

I truly believe RI 8 (Author's Point, Reasons, & Evidence) and W1 (Opinion writing) are two of the most important standards we can teach.  Persuasive skills, considering other people's point-of-view, and debating are skills they will use in almost every relationship, job, and stage in life.  We need to make sure we are equipping them for these life skills, and not just checking a box.

Teaching this standard made me a better teacher, and I hope it grows you as it grew me.

It also made me a better bonus mom. Truthfully, I may not ever fully get on "Team Video Games".  But I always want Drew to know I am on "Team Drew".

You can find my Author’s Point, Finding Logical Connections, and Differentiated Reading Passages & Activities “Video Games In School” at my TPT page.  The "No Video Games" will be FREE for the first week this is posted as a gift to the readers!

Follow me on TPT (Mrs. Wilson Wonders), Twitter @NatalieWilson43, Instagram @NatalieWilson2012, or at my own blog – Freshly Designed.