Benjamin Michael

Hey there, friends!  I'm going to get a little personal with you for just a second.  I wanted to share with you why I've been kind of MIA the past month.


5 Tips to Getting a Donors Choose Project Funded

Are there things you need to make your classroom run smoothly?  Do you need basic necessities for your students to learn?  Or do you have a special project in mind that requires specific materials? Like you, I have answered yes to all of these questions at some point in my teaching career.  We all know that district and school budgets are tight, but there are other options.  What, you say?  Donors Choose!

The Best Read Alouds for Halloween

As you all probably know, I LOVE picture books.  I love reading them and sharing them with my students.  I think October has some of the best seasonal/holiday picture books around.  I'm going to share with you some of my favorite HALLOWEEN books and how I use them in the classroom.


How to Keep Your Students Engaged Before Halloween

It's OCTOBER!  Where did September go?   As I think forward to the end of the month, I'm already thinking about how to keep my students actively learning around the craziness that is Halloween.  Unfortunately, this year, Halloween is on a Monday, so that means I have a full week of keeping them engaged and learning after a late night of trick-or-treating on the first day of the school week.  Fingers crossed that our city schedules trick-or-treating for over the weekend.  Even if they do, it's going to be a LLLOOOONNNNGGGG week.  Well, I'm here to help you! Let me introduce you to the Pumpkin Investigation!
How to keep your students engaged before Halloween with a pumpkin investigation


How To Print On Sticky Notes In 3 Easy Steps

Have you ever wondered how people print on sticky notes?  Well, it is one of my favorite things and I'm going to give you step-by-step directions.  Ready for your life to be changed forever?  Then keep reading, it's really very simple. 


Make Your Own Reading Expectations Anchor Chart

Do you do independent reading or read to self in your classroom?  I do and I love it!  As you may know, I use the Units of Study Reader's Workshop curriculum and the heart of the curriculum is independent reading.  I'm not going to get too much into it, that's for another day, but essentially, the idea, is that if you want kids to improve their reading, they need to be READING!  Because it is such a large part of our day, I decided to create an easy-to-make reading expectations anchor chart.


3 Reasons Why You NEED to be Doing Interactive Read Alouds

Interactive Read Alouds are one of my favorite things to do with my students.  If you follow me on social media or you know my TpT products, you might already know that.  I love to talk about them.  Do you know what they are?  Do you do them with your students?  I'm here to help!  Read on to learn more about them. 


The Best Resources for Back to School

Are you ready for your BEST YEAR EVER?!?!  If you want to make it a great year, check out these top selling products you're going to want for your classroom.

Here are some of my products that I count on to start the year.

Do you know the book Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud?  It's a great book to teach being respectful.  These activities are great to go along with that book!

Starting the year with reading surveys is a GREAT way to get to know your students.  This includes one for K-2 and 3-5.  
Teaching partner reading from the very beginning is KEY to a year of quality partnerships.  Use this product to help you get started. 
Use this to teach or review all of the letter sounds.  Great interactive activity. 
Start the year off with a routine for teaching phonics.  Use this short a pack, or the rest of the short vowel packs in my store to teach these important phonics skills. 

There you have it!  These are my favorite products for starting my BEST YEAR EVER!!  If you're an avid TpT shopper to begin with, don't forget to give feedback on your purchases to earn you credits so you can buy more.

Please pin and share if you found this helpful.

I hope you have a great beginning of the year!


School Wide Tournament of Books for K-5

Do you want to do something awesome for literacy week?  Check this out!  Your students are going to love it and everyone is going to be pumped for your school wide book tournament. 
Hi!  I’m Jeanette, a second grade teacher!  I am so excited to be guest blogging to share with you all about our School Wide Tournament of Books for K-5. Our school has done this the last three years during literacy week and it quickly became an all school favorite.    
I usually start planning for the tournament in early February to be ready for Literacy Week at the beginning of March.  It begins with talking to the school librarian to help with book selection.  She pulls around 30 newer picture books from our school library that she knows will be popular with kids but haven’t been discovered yet.  This year we asked her to include some award winners and culturally representative books as well. She always includes a few wordless books too.  Then I work with the reading specialist to narrow the books down to our Sweet 16 that will begin the competition.  We consider titles that will appeal to students K-5, the time it will take teachers to read them aloud, the number of copies we can get of each title and good match-ups.  Our librarian then reserves multiple copies from around the district and we rubber band the competing match-ups on a special cart in the library for teachers to grab from.  

Now the fun begins! I share the list of books with teachers the week before Literacy Week. Sixteen extra read alouds is a lot to fit in around books you may already be reading to support curriculum so we want to make sure to give plenty of time.  Our librarian is always willing to help out classroom teachers by reading a title or two during her time with students as well.  
This is also the time we put up our school-wide bulletin board to promote the Tournament with students. We put it on a wall near the office in the middle of the school so it can be viewed by everyone.  The bulletin board looks like a March Madness bracket and displays each set of competing books with a copy of their book cover.  The conversations we hear kids having around this bulletin board discussing their predictions is one of the best parts of the Tournament of Books!  

Here's the bulletin board ready to go. We have used the same materials for all 3 years, which makes it really easy. All we have to do is copy the book covers.

Each classroom teacher gets a Sweet 16 ballot during Literacy Week.  In my classroom I read a competing matchup (2 picture books in the same part of the bracket) and we have a class discussion about what we liked about each.  I love hearing my students talk about their opinions of each book and encourage them to support them with details from the book (It’s great practice for our upcoming persuasive review writing unit!). Finally I take a traditional eyes closed, hands up vote on their favorite.  I circle my classroom winner on our ballot and continue this process throughout the week until students have heard all 16 books and have voted on their 8 favorites.  At the end of Literacy Week the Sweet 16 ballots are due.  The favorites from all of the classrooms are tallied and the Elite 8 books moving on to the next round are revealed on the school announcements and on the bracket bulletin board.  

The Tournament of Books continues through March with the champion book revealed right before Spring Break.  Since teachers have less books to read and don’t necessarily need to reread all the remaining books (although most of the time the kids beg for it), there is a shorter turnaround between the remaining rounds.  About 4 days to vote on the Elite 8, 3 days for the Final 4, 2 days to narrow it down to the 2 books in the Championship Round and then 1 day to vote on the Champion book.  It wouldn’t have to be exactly that time frame but that has worked for us trying to finish before Spring Break.  Before each new round teachers are given a new ballot with new match-ups.  The books moving on in the Tournament of Books remain on the special cart in the library but I update the competing matchups and remove the titles that didn’t win.   If teachers don’t want to reread all the remaining books or just don’t have time, I send out a document with pictures of the competing titles for teachers to show kids before voting to make it easier to remember each book.  This is the process we have used the past 3 years but next year we are planning to try voting through Google forms to streamline the voting and reduce the number of paper ballots to keep track of.

Another fun addition we do to foster excitement about the Tournament of Books is a picture book raffle.  We purchase many of the Sweet 16 titles competing in the Tournament and each day a classroom is picked to choose one of the books to keep in their classroom library!  This year I Yam a Donkey by Cece Bell was our champion!  A Perfectly Messed-Up Story by Patrick McDonnell and The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt were the winners from previous years.  At our school the funny ones always seem to be the favorites!  I would love to hear how this goes at your school and which book your students pick as the champion!

I also just came across this website, where you can create your own bracket.  All you have to do is type in the book titles.  That would be a lot easier than putting in the book images like we did.  Although ours is geared to K-5, so the images were great for our younger students.  Check out the website!  

Here are pictures of our school-wide bracket bulletin board throughout the process. 


For easy pinning, I've created the image below.  Click on the picture to repin.

Thank you so much for stopping by.  Have you done this in your school or with your class?  I'd love to hear, please share in the comments below.  



Elementary Bloggers Tribe Facebook Group & Giveaway

I am SO VERY excited to share that Sarah Barnett from Mrs. B's First Grade and I are launching a new Facebook group called the Elementary Bloggers Tribe!  In this group, we hope to share, connect and collaborate with other elementary teacher bloggers.    

The purpose of this group for elementary school teacher bloggers is to:

*Share your expertise and ideas for blogging.

*Connect with other bloggers.

*Collaborate in an attempt to create positive relationships with other members of this tribe.

1. Only content related to teaching blogs will be allowed.  Please do not promote your business. 

2. Be encouraging, friendly and responsive to other members in order to create positive relationships with others in this tribe. 

3. DO NOT share your blog posts, except during our weekly blog post share. 

4. Have fun, be true and be you.  We are building relationships to better our own teaching tribe. 

This group was created by:

If you have questions or comments, please contact us.

Paige Bessick (

Now for the GIVEAWAYS!

We are offering 2 giveaways.  You could win...
A FREE blog design from Jessica at Pride & Primary 
Blogging supplies: blogger cup, folders, notepads, pens and pencils. 

Enter in the raffle copters below.  Good Luck!  We will pick a winner on Sunday, July 3rd. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Easy Word Work Activities with Word Wizard and EPIC!

Hello there!  My goal this summer is to catch up on blogging.  I have so many ideas that I want to share, it's just a matter of getting them all down.  So, I'm starting with an easy one.

Phonics or word work, whatever you choose to call it, is one of my favorite things to teach.  I love taking my first graders from writing and spelling 3-letter CVC words to teaching them word families, blends, digraphs and eventually long vowels at the end of the year.  We do a lot of fun phonics activities but this is one of their favorites and one of the easiest to plan too.  AND I see some of the best results after doing this with my class.

You can see how I introduce and teach a phonics pattern in this blog post here.

I will typically do this activity after I have taught a skill and they have practiced it for a few days.  We're going to use the LONG U pattern as an example throughout most of this post because the pictures I have are from when my class was working on long u.

The first thing I have the students do is make the words.  There are three ways you can do this:

1. Use letter magnet tiles
Before I had 1:1 iPads we used our letter magnet tiles all the time.  I like the sets where each kid gets their own full alphabet.  That way you don't have to hand out each letter to each kid.  The only problem with these is that there are typically only 1 of each letter.

If they are using letter tiles I'll give them a word like cute and have them make the word.  I'll be walking around the room monitoring that everyone has spelled it correctly and then I'll have a student spell it out loud for the class.  Then I'll give them another word and they add or change the letters to make the new word.

2. iPad app Word Wizard  
Now that I am 1:1 with iPads instead of getting out our letter tiles we use the app Word Wizard.  This app has a movable, talking alphabet.  If the word is a correct word it will say the word and light up white.  If the word is spelled wrong and not a real word it will light up red.  I usually have them do this on the floor, and then they will just turn their iPad around so I can see their word.  I'll then call on a student to spell it out loud for everyone to hear.  I'll then move onto the next word, but have them keep the other words they spell on their iPad so they can see a pattern.

3.  Write on paper or whiteboards
This is probably the least exciting, but will get the job done in a pinch.  I'll give students a word to write like tube and then they write it.  I'll walk around and monitor and assist them until they have spelled the word correctly.  Then I'll call on someone to spell it out loud for everyone to hear.  They can then erase or keep writing the words, it's up to you.

I believe that having students manipulate the letters provides for better lesson so I will not typically have them write but this does work when you need it to.

Here a student is using the app Word Wizard and making the word flew.  

After each word I have them spell, I write the word under the correct phonics pattern.  I stick with one pattern for 3-4 words then move onto another pattern.  You can see an example from our long e poster below.  I wrote the first 4 words, the kids wrote the rest (I'll get to that part in a little bit).
I go through all the patterns for the phonics skill we're working on and we'll talk about the patterns they see.  For example with the long e, for the ee pattern, they notice that words either end in ee or there is usually a consonant at the end.  They notice a lot of patterns, I reiterate the important ones. :o)

After we make the words, we keep out our iPads and use the app EPIC! This is one of my favorite apps that I will write a blog post on soon.  For teachers, this is a FREE resource with FREE books that your students can read.  If you're not familiar with it, definitely check it out.

Anyway, the kids open this app on their iPads and pick out a book.  As they are reading that book, or having it read to them, if they choose a read aloud book, they look for the phonics pattern we are working on.  Even if each student doesn't have their own iPad, students can work with a partner or in small groups on iPads to search for words too.
Here is a student reading a book on EPIC!  
Some boys reading their books and checking out their profiles on EPIC!

If you don't have iPads or a way to view EPIC! you can have your students use any books for this.  They can use books in their book bags or boxes or books you provide for them.  Using the iPad always makes it fun, but regular books will work too.  

As students are reading their books on EPIC! they are searching for words that fit the pattern we just worked on, in this case, LONG U.  When they find a word, students raise their hand, tell me the word, where it would go on our chart and then come up and write it with the correct color.

This is the best part!  The kids LOVE to add their words with their own handwriting to our chart.  I let them search for words for as long as we have time for and I typically like to find 3-4 more words for each pattern.  Some are easier to find, like the oo pattern, so once we have a bunch, I say that pattern is closed and they have to search extra hard to find the other ones.  It's a challenge and the kids absolutely love it!

Here are several examples of students adding their words to our chart.

You can do this with ANY phonics skill you are working on.  I use it at the beginning of the year for word families, all the way to the end of the year with our long vowels.  It's great practice and the kids love it too!

Click this image to pin.

*I was not paid to promote the apps mentioned above.  They are just apps we use in my classroom that I love.


Flexible Seating in the Primary Classroom: Your Questions Answered

We made it to the last week!  Only 4 more days of school left!  

I dove head first into Flexible seating after spring break this year.  I blogged about getting it started and my beginning thoughts.  

Since starting it, I've had a lot of questions on social media and from teachers in my own building.  I thought if they had those questions, then others probably did too and I wanted to make sure to help anyone who is thinking about starting it.  

So here you go, this post is for you.  The most asked questions about flexible seating, answered. 

1. What do you do with your supplies?
I have always had tables and shared supplies in my classroom.  At the beginning of the year, I collect everything except markers.  So the supply situation was not a huge deal when we changed to flexible seating.  All of my tables already had shared supply bins with pencils, pens, crayons, colored pencils, glue sticks, scissors and erasers in them.  When we went to flexible seating, those school supplies stayed the same.  You can see the colored supply bins in the main picture above on each table.  Here's a picture of a close up of one of the supply bins on each table.

Those that choose to be in a rocker or on a yoga mat for the day could grab a mini supply bin.  This was just a regular pencil case with pencils, pens, sticky notes, a glue stick and a pair of scissors.  That way they had everything they needed and didn't need to move to a table when they need supplies.  It was all right there for them.  

Now, I'm sure you're wondering about all of our other supplies.  This didn't change much either.  Because I have tables, each of my students has a book box.  In that box they keep their book bag, word work journal, daily work folder, writing folder and other random things like their own pencils, number scrolls, and sight word bags.  In the picture below, this is the book boxes lined up at the end of each day.  During the day, the book boxes stay at their seat.  

The rest of our supplies are kept in our cubbies.  That is where our math journals and markers are all housed.  See these pictures below. 
You can see their two math journals above and below the containers.  They fit perfectly!
2. How do kids pick their spots?
Every morning when the kids come in they get to pick their home base spot for the day.  After they do their lunch choice and grab their book box they find a seat that will work for them that day. This is their base spot where they keep their supplies.  In the beginning, the rockers were definitely a favorite and we had to rotate them through everyone with a system.  Now that they are used to them, I implemented a rule that they cannot have a rocker 2 days in a row.  That has seemed to work for now.

Here is a picture of the system I used to rotate between rockers at the very beginning.  These pockets are used for my behavior system so it worked well to put these sticks in them too.  Every day I just moved the sticks to the next students.  

When they choose their spot, this is their base spot.  If they feel like they want to move around for certain activities, that have that option.  If they want to stand during our word work, or lay down during our reading time they can make that choice.  That's why it's called FLEXIBLE SEATING. :o)

I also want to mention that a couple students do have assigned seats.  I have 1, sometimes 2 students, who have routinely showed me that they cannot choose a good working spot for them so we talked, came up with the best spot for them and that's where they stay for awhile.

3. How did you come up with the rules and expectations?
When I first implemented flexible seating, I brainstormed with my principal about how to introduce it to my students.  I thought I would want to state the rules right away, but while talking with my principal, we decided that it would be good for them to help come up with the rules and expectations.

So the first couple of days, there were things like snack and independent and partner reading and science, that I just wasn't sure how it would work, but I left it up to the class to brainstorm ideas.  We tried different options on those first couple of days and then came up with what worked best for our class.  I really left it up to them to come up with what worked and what our rules and expecations would be.

In the end, we came up with a chart similar to this one from the fabulous Angie Olson at Lucky Little Learners.  She has a fabulous post about flexible seating too.

Here's a picture of my quick chart.  Next year, I plan on making it a little nicer.  Once they learned the expectations though I took it down.  We didn't have this chart up for long.

You can also read more about my adventures in starting with flexible seating in my first post here

4. Do they fight over spots?
If students are fighting over a seat or spot, neither of them gets that seat for the day.  Earlier this week, I actually had 2 friends play rock, paper, scissors to see who got a spot and that worked well for them.  There are more than enough seats for everyone so this really isn't usually a problem.  It may be different with a different group, but for now, there is very little fighting.  It's first come, first served.

5. Which seating option is most popular?
Like I said above, the rockers are definitely a favorite!

Another favorite is the pillow table.  Students definitely have their own favorites and tend to go between 1-2 seat options every couple of days.  In the beginning, I made each student have a different spot for a week just so they could try all of the different places.  We then talked about why they liked or disliked spots and how it worked for them that day.

I have found that those that are tardy have the last choices of where to sit.  It has gotten some of my friends to school earlier just to pick the seat that they want.  If they are late, they are stuck with whatever is left wherever it may be, usually the standing table.

Here are a couple of pictures of students hard at work in their spots.

The wiggle seat table. 
The standing, kneeling on a chair table. 
The beloved rocker!

6. What if they need to be at tables?
There are some times when you just need to be at tables, like for science and when we are doing experiments or some art projects with shared materials.  When that is the case, students who are on the floor or in a rocker just find an empty spot at a table.  It works out that I have enough table spots for 18 students and that's what I have.  If they need a table spot, it is their responsibility to ask and look around to see if anyone is already sitting there.  If so, they find a different spot, if not, they may sit there.

We are not all at tables a lot but definitely something that we had to come up with a solution for at the beginning.  

7. How do you manage snack?
Snack is a time where I require everyone to be at a table.  With our milk and snacks, I've had more messes on the floor or mats, so everyone needs to find a table spot to eat snack.

8. How do you keep your room from being a mess?
I had to let go a little bit for this and it has been my biggest challenge in changing to flexible seating.  I've always been the teacher who has a place for everything and everything in it's place so this has been a big change for me.  I feel like there is always stuff everywhere.

One way I have managed this is that when we gather on the carpet for a mini-lesson or leave the classroom, everyone needs to make sure their spot is neat and tidy.  If something is a mess, I send them back to clean it up and we do not get started or leave until it is cleaner.  They have gotten pretty good at checking their spot because they do not want to be late for lunch, recess or specials.  This picture below is what a clean yoga mat area should look like.  I shared this with my class and they know what I expect for a clean spot.  
When students are working or collaborating at their spots, I don't mind that everything is all over.  It means they are focused on their task and using their tools and supplies so this doesn't bother me.  It's when we go to leave and during my prep I'm trying to get to my cabinets and I'm having to step over everything.  We came up with our neat and tidy spot rule pretty quickly.

I also want to throw in a picture of what it looks liked cleaned up at the end of the day.  Our custodians want to be able to sweep quickly and easily everyday, so everyday I have my students clean up their spot so most of the floor is clear.  Mats, rocks, stools, chair and wiggle seats all get put up on a table or in a bin.

9. Will you do it next year? 
YES!  There are definitely some things that I will change and a lot that I will keep the same, but giving my students choice in the classroom has been a game changer.  So many of my students don't have control in other areas of their life and allowing them that control in the classroom has seemed to help them tremendously.  

10. Overall, what do you think? 
Overall, I LOVE it!  When trying to decide if I was going to go for it, I did a lot of reading and research on what's best for students.  I decided that students just don't learn like they used to and requiring them to sit at tables, in chairs or at desks was not what was best for their learning.

Like I said above, so many of my students are grasping for control of anything in their life.  If I can provide them opportunities to feel that sense of control, I'll do everything I can to give it to them.    

I am so glad I had the support of my principal and took the plunge to try flexible seating.  If you are thinking about it or questioning it, don't' be afraid to search around and ask for help.  There are a lot of teachers who are trying it out.  If it doesn't work for you or you don't like it, you can always go back to what you had.  

If you are looking for some funding, check out Donor's Choose.  It's an easy way to request some funding for your classroom.  I got my wiggle seats and stools from a Donor's Choose project.  Don't be afraid to ask your students and their parents too.  They may have extra pillows, mats, stools or rugs they are looking to get rid of that they would be more than happy to donate to the classroom.   The rest of my seating options, mats, pillows and rockers, were bought with PTO money that we get every year.   

When in doubt, go for it!  You can always go back.  

For now though, good luck!  And please reach out or comment below if you have more questions.  We are a teaching tribe trying our best to help our students and each other.  

Now, onto enjoying my last 4 days with my group of firsties.  Whether you've started summer or will soon, I hope it's a time for you to relax and recharge. 

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