Saturday, August 5, 2017

Get-to-Know-You Activities for Secondary Language Arts Class



The first day of school is equally my favorite and least favorite day of the entire school year. It's my favorite because there's just something magical about a fresh new start in a clean, welcoming classroom full of new students that I haven't yet had the pleasure of meeting. It's my least favorite because even after nine years of teaching, I still get major anxiety and butterflies right before I meet said students. 😅

Over the years I've tried to minimize that anxiety by making sure I have my first day planned in a way that will show students my teaching style and procedures right from the beginning. As always, I try to blend fun with rigor and make sure my students' voices are heard. 

Here are some fun get-to-know-you activities for your first day: 

1. Past, Present, and Future Book Banners: Put old books or dictionaries to use by creating word search buntings. This is a simple, fun, and decorative get-to-know-you that students love. All I did was tell them to rip a page from a dictionary (old books would work too) and draw attention to three words to represent their past, present, and future in an artistic way. You can also do something like "three words to describe you" or "three words that you connect with" etc. 

2. English Language Arts and Literature Specific Profiles- I designed this fun little ELA profile page for my email subscribers as a back-to-school gift. One is for English Language Arts classes and the other is for Literature classes. I love that it highlights what ELA class is all about while also providing quirky details about students. 

If you aren't on my email list and would like to receive this gift, you can sign up below. This resource will be delivered to your email!


3. A Digital Student Infographic and Informational Text- I added this to my first day activities last year because my school recently went 1:1, and I wanted to get my students started with our technology procedures from the very first day. Plus, this serves as a quick and visual way to learn about my students and assess their informational text reading skills.

You can find this here: Student Infographics

You can see this digital resource in action here: 

As a last note about first-day activities, I would like to add that I've been using stations on the first day of school for two years now. I have become a huge cheerleader for stations in secondary classrooms, so I want to show my students how active my class will be from day one. We spend about 5 minutes on each station so that only half the class is taken up with these activities. The other half of class is spent filling out their infographic (see above) and becoming familiar with our technology procedures. While I don't have anything formal for you to print out, here is a list of the stations I used last year. I hope that these inspire you to make some stations of your own!


Station 1: Book Banner (see above)
Station 2: DO/WHAT with the syllabus (this is an informative reading strategy in which students list all of the verbs on one side of a T chart and explain what to do with them on the other side). You can kind of see this on my board here:
Station 3: Sign up for random things I use such as Remind101, StoryboardThat, and StoryBird
Station 4 :Fill out a learning profile or ELA profile (see above)
Station 5: Check out a book from my classroom library or discuss book recommendations with group members.
Station 6: Various tasks such as learning where things are located, getting assigned a textbook or novel, or exploring their digital notebook.

I hope that you have a great start to the year!
-Ashley


Monday, June 19, 2017

Yard Sale Finds for Your Classroom



Some might call me cheap, but since I'm an English teacher, I will use the more flattering synonym, frugal. 😜 Because of this miserly trait, I'm a huge fan of yard sales and thrift stores--so much so that I always look at these places first before paying full price for anything! This includes shopping for items for my classroom as well. Here is a list of classroom items you are almost guaranteed to find on any yard sale shopping day. 

Yard Sale Finds for Your Classroom: 

1. Poster Frames- These make AWESOME dry erase boards if you simply turn the poster that's on the inside to the blank backside. I have two of these in my room and are on the hunt for more! They can be used for so many things like stations and group meeting spots. 

2. Lamps- Correct classroom lighting is essential for creating a welcoming atmosphere in your classroom. I have never purchased a lamp anywhere else other than yard sales. They are SO easy to find, and you can spray paint them to match any classroom decor. Just do a quick "lamp revamp" search on Pinterest for all kinds of pretty lamp ideas!


If you want to see a tour of my Harry Potter classroom, you can find that here: 

3. Flexible Seating- I personally haven't been able to jump on the flexible seating train yet, but I'm already planning out my new flexible seating classroom design for when I return from my travel sabbatical. If I had a place to store some furniture items, I would have already bought five or six yard sale pieces for my flexible seating plan. While I've had some serious furniture FOMO, I know that I will be able to find lots of stuff when it's time to set up my classroom again because these type of items are everywhere!

For example, here is my biggest nonpurchase regret: 
Ok, so this isn't the exact sofa, but it was the same color. It was in far worse shape than this one so it was only $50. I know. I'm cringing right now as I type this for not being able to buy it yet. Maybe the classroom gods will send me another one for next year. 👼

If you need some thrifting inspiration, search the hashtag "flexibleseating" on Instagram and you will see just how many teachers are finding lots of budget-friendly classroom furniture at garage sales and thrift stores!



4. Books- This one is kind of hit or miss, but I have found lots of YA books at yard sales throughout the years. One time I purchased about 5 YA books at a yard sale and just happened to mention that they were for my classroom when I was paying for them. About a week later, the sweet lady at the yard sale brought me an entire box of YA books to my school and left them in the office for me! If you don't find any books that can use on your bookshelf, you can most certainly find books for other purposes. For example, I use old dictionaries as a fun first-day activity as well as for making a decorative banner for my classroom.
Follow my Instagram @BsBookLove  for more inspiration 

I love how these look hung up! 

If you can't find any YA books, think about other books that students would be interested in. For instance, I did a "future ready" display and was really surprised by the interest in these how-to and self-help books! I found almost all of these second-hand.


5. Play Props- Clothing, costumes, hats, and toys are popular yard sale items. Instead of passing these up, think about how they can be used for learning! Of course younger students love dressing up, but it has been my experience that my high school students have fun with dressing up as well! Things like fabric samples and Halloween decorations go far with acting out reading scenes, plays, and historical settings.

Props for Macbeth 
Hats and Props 
Scraps of fabric I used for students to put on a finger puppet play 

So tell me, what is your BEST yard sale or thrift store find for your classroom? Leave a comment below or join in on the discussion on Instagram @BsBookLove 

Here is my best find thus far: 
A "working" fireplace and mini mantel for $15! It works as a lamp as well as sound ambiance and goes perfectly with my Harry Potter classroom


Friday, May 19, 2017

Harry Potter Home Office



My husband and I moved into a tiny cabin in the woods almost a year ago, and part of the charm of this property was a very old smokehouse located right across the creek from our cabin.


While it looked cute from the outside, the inside was a disaster. 


However, we've never been ones to shy away from a good DIY flip, so we remodeled this space to create our very own Hagrid's hut inspired home office.

Our budget was basically zero for this project, but I went over by about $200 😉 . That's still not bad for a complete room remodel though!


Here's the price breakdown:


Pallet Wood Focal Wall- $0 but hours of work. We got pallets from a friend and used some old barn wood we had lying around our property as well.
You can follow along at BsBookLove on Instagram 


DIY Standing Desk- $12 for the wood from Lowes (**Tip** If you get a piece that has some splits or blemishes in it, they will give it to you at half off)  and the brackets were around $5 each at Lowes. 


Lighting and Lamps - The main light was $50 from Lowes and it included the cool bulbs. The desk lamps are from a discount store (Ross) and were $30 each. We spent around $110 total for lighting and these pieces are SO worth it. They really make the space what it is. 



Office Pegboard - $0 because we found it in our barn and painted it white using leftover paint. We also used scrap wood from the barn to make a huge frame around the pegboard. If you have to buy a pegboard, they are about $15 for a huge sheet. I really want one in my classroom now. 

I stole the huge writing scroll from my classroom and you can see how I made it hang in my classroom here: Harry Potter Classroom. For this space, I didn't need the track ceiling hangers, so I just used regular curtain rod hangers to anchor it to the wall. The roll of paper is from our local newspaper office (they sell these remnants for $5 each!) 


No Harry Potter office would be complete without a little potion mixing and diffusing! I LOVE my little diffuser I ordered from Amazon years ago because it changes all kinds of magical colors and has a nice wood tone to it. 
I couldn't resist adding in my Harry Potter Literary Device Posters to my new work space!


Furniture- The furniture was mostly free except for the two matching chairs which I found at Target for $40 each. If I had been more patient, I could have found some at yard sales or thrift stores, but it's really hard to find a matching set of small chairs, so I gave up and bought the blue ones pictured. 
 I wanted to add some fur elements to bring in a little more Hagrid into the space, so I recycled a fur scarf that I quit wearing. I'm not too proud to say that I found this stool at our local trash dropoff. My husband threatened to drive off if I jumped out to get it, but I called his bluff. ;) I cleaned it and simply took the seat off (it was super easy because it was attached from the bottom with 3 screws), cut the fur scarf into three sections, stapled the fur over the seat, and put the seat back on. It took all of 10 minutes to do. #wifewin 
I made my husband pose so that I could bask in my dumpster diving win. :) 

Pillows- I found every pillow for $3 each in the "new" section of our local Goodwill store. I think they really add some color and softness to the space. 


Miscellaneous- My favorite part of creating this office was adding in little Harry Potter touches without going over-the-top.
I spray painted these toy dragons with copper spray paint then added moss and the finished dragon into this little $2 ornament I found at a local craft store. I can't find these exact ones online, but here are some super cool teardrop ones that would probably look even better! 
Here's what they look like finished! 

I used the leftover dragons to make some magnets by hot gluing magnets to the back of the painted dragons. I used to the left over copper spray paint to recoat these file folders that used to be bright green. I used the leftover moss to make the numbers on the entryway. 
Another cool touch came from these cheap little skeleton keys I found on Amazon. I knew that I wanted to give a nod to the "Keeper of the Keys" so I took chalkboard labels and added the names of some of Hagrid's magical creatures. I also made some really simple artwork with the keys. 
All I did was take an old picture, spray paint it white, and hot glue the keys on there. 
Though it's not pink, I had to add in an umbrella somewhere! 

I made a Harry Potter wreath out of sticks and a hoop from the craft store

I added "The Owlery" to an old mailbox we had and grouped together our collection of birdhouses from around our property. 
I'm so happy to finally have this space finished so that I can get to work creating resources again! 

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up Your Classroom


The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up Your Classroom

Anytime a book has "life-changing" in the title, it warrants the side-eye from me. Yet, I kept hearing from so many blogs and people that Marie Kondo's book The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up will indeed change your life, so I had to give it read. 

That was three years, financial freedom, a half-size house, and an impending online teaching and traveling sabbatical ago. So yeah, I would definitely say that this book changed my life. 
If you want to see more about our little house, you can look through the pictures here: Making Thoreau Proud. If you want to hear more about how my husband and I are taking an online teaching and travel sabbatical, you can follow along at TeacherTravelSabbatical. We are starting a blog and will have our first post soon! 


While I fully embraced the KonMari method outlined in the book for our home, my classroom was a different story until spring cleaning fever hit me a few weeks ago. 😱
The life-changing magic of tidying up your classroom
You can follow my classroom at BsBookLove on Instagram 

I worked a little on decluttering and cleaning every day (by little I mean trash cans FULL for two weeks straight), and I can already feel the difference it's making in my classroom as it did in my home. 

How to apply the KonMari method to your classroom:

1. Declutter. I believe that teachers are natural hoarders, and I was no exception. I've tried decluttering in the past, but mental blocks always held me back. "What if I need this one day?" "I could make so and so craft with this!" "This cost too much money to throw away!" and so forth.  This is where The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up excels. The way Kondo explains how the Japanese view objects really hit home for me and allowed me to rewrite the narrative I told myself when trying to declutter. 

*Start with nonsentimental items. Don't go straight for student projects, notes, awards, or books. You have to build up your decluttering muscles before tackling sentimental items. 

*Do one cabinet or drawer at a time. Take EVERYTHING out. This part is very important. Your mind will see a clean slate and will automatically not want to clutter it back up by filling it with junk (This is also how I've saved so much money since reading this book; I think long and hard before buying anything now).

*Declutter as much as possible. As Kondo explains in the book, our need to tidy will continue as long as we allow clutter to live in our lives. It's impossible to keep mountains and mountains of items organized day in and day out. The less you have, the tidier your room will be. 

*When dealing with paper items, discard almost everything. If you are in a paperless classroom, then you are well on your way to achieving this lofty goal! While I grade on Turnitin and use Canvas for assignments, I'm still giving my tests on paper. However, one thing I love about using ZipGrade to grade paper tests is that it scans tests and keeps the "copy" in the app and in the cloud. Therefore, I can scan tests and throw them out right away.
Use digital solutions to cut down on paper clutter


*Throw out PD material that you never used. That PD served you in some way at the time, but if you have never used or reviewed the copies or brochures, they no longer serve a purpose. By getting rid of old material, you will create space for new, better-serving material and ideas to arrive. This rings true for all items in your life which bring me to my hardest category... 

*When cleaning out your bookshelf, ask yourself, "What GPA do I want my bookshelf to have?" For example, we all know those 4.o books that we can't keep on our shelves because they are constantly checked out. These are the ones are worn from so much reading love. These 4.o books bring up our total bookshelf GPA. But what about the lonely classic you keep hanging around because you are hoping you will get a mini you as a student one day (still waiting 10 years later...)? That poor book would be a 4.o on my shelf at home, but it's bringing down my classroom's bookshelf GPA. My students deserve the highest GPA bookshelf I can afford, so I want to keep the best books on the shelf. If my shelf looks empty after I've purged, then so be it. The universe just might fund a book grant for me to fill it back up with 4.o books. :) 

*Get students involved. Cleaning, decluttering, and getting rid of papers in your classroom is a HUGE undertaking, and you shouldn't have to go at it alone. Here is a little freebie I created that both you and your students will love. It says end-of-year, but it can be used any time the cleaning bug hits you! 
Student jobs, End-of-year gifts for students

2. Keep Joy You will need to read the book to get the full explanation of how to be in tune with joyful items, but for most things, this will be obvious. 
The life changing magic of tidying up your classroom
The life changing magic of tidying up your classroom
The life changing magic of tidying up your classroom

*Throw away, donate or recycle all of the things that do not bring you joy (the book reiterates this constantly). 

*Do not transfer your discarded junk on others. Whenever you ask someone if they would like something you want to discard, they feel obliged to take it. It might make you feel better to believe that it will be used, but all you are doing is transferring the burden of an object onto someone else. Instead, put a box outside of your classroom door and send a picture of it to the staff. Tell them that you plan on donating it this evening so come get anything you want before it's gone. If teachers are truly in need of the items, they will make the trip to your room after work. 

*Once you make it to the sentimental items in your room, consider how each item is best honored. If it's truly something precious to you, how should you display it so that it gets the recognition it deserves? Most have heard of the tip to create a feel-good-file for your most thoughtful student notes. However, to take this a step further, I've started taking pictures of these notes (hiding the student's name) and tagging them with a personal hashtag. That way, I can search this hashtag any time I feel like reminiscing. 
Teacher feel-good-file

*Add things in your classroom that make it a more joyful place to be. So far, this post has leaned heavily on getting rid of things in your classroom, but it's also acceptable to add things in that bring you and your students joy. Actually, that is the entire point of the book. You should get rid of things that are weighing you down, causing you guilt, or hindering your best self so that you can highlight and appreciate the things that bring you joy. For me, this is my Harry Potter decorations. This corner of my room is my happy place. 
Harry Potter Classroom
You can read more about my room here: Harry Potterish themed classroom 


3. Organize by Use- Once you have decluttered, it's time to put things back in an orderly way. I personally didn't buy expensive organizing containers to do this because all of my stuff is hidden behind a cabinet. Although, Kondo advises not to be frugal with things if they truly bring you happiness, so if pretty containers are your thing, go for it! I simply grouped things according to their use. You can see in the pictures that I have plenty of open spaces which are waiting for my year-long replacement teacher to use for his or her liking (Not going to lie, I'm feeling super territorial over my room, but I want my students to have an amazing teacher for next year, so I need to leave room for that in my heart ...and shelves).



Sidenote: The headphones in this last picture are SO adorable and CHEAP. You can find them here: Koss Headphones 

As you can see, my room is far from minimalistic, but the things that are left in here are useful and bring myself or my students joy. Clean classrooms are happy classrooms!!!


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