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Making Room for Independent Reading: How

Welcome to the third post in a series on Independent Reading.  You can catch up on the other posts below:

Making Room for Independent Reading: Why

Making Room for Independent Reading: When

You COULD just tell your kids to go read for 20 minutes, and then you could grade some papers. It would be great for catching up on that never ending stack of grading, but it's not the best strategy if your goal is to increase your students' reading ability.

Making room for independent reading: what do with the time during the most important component of your literacy block.
So, how are you going to get the most out of your independent reading time?  I'll be honest with you, for the majority of my classroom experience, I announced that it was independent reading time and expected them to get busy.

They didn't.

I spent time way too much time managing the behaviors.  You might recognize a few of these from your classroom:

1. Staring everywhere in the room except the book in their hands.

2. Emergency bathroom use.  Daily.

3. Book shopping that filled 99.9% of the independent reading time.

4. Random page flipping accompanied by fake reading.

5.  Miscellaneous off task behavior-talking, roaming around the room, etc.

A significant amount of time and energy was spent managing behaviors without ever addressing where these behaviors came from.  I was treating them as classroom management behaviors rather than reading behaviors.

Whoops.  So how do you create a shift in your classroom?

My literacy block underwent a radical change when I read The Daily 5 (affiliate link) by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser.  Their lessons on building stamina and teaching kids HOW to read independently was a total game changer.  I only hate how common sense the lessons are because it makes me feel like a big dummy for not figuring it out on my own.

You can read tons online about the Daily 5, but none of it will replace reading the actual book.  Do yourself a favor and invest the time to read it.  Even if you don't fully embrace the model, the idea of teaching kids to be independent will rock your literacy block.

Helping my kids know what to do with that time and how to use it made a HUGE difference in the quality of our independent reading time.

And now that I know how to teach the kids what to do, I am learning what to do with that time as a teacher to help students grow.  Some time ago, I purchased The Reading Strategies Book (affiliate link) by Jennifer Serravallo.  It's simply an incredible book.  The strategy lessons (300 one page lessons!) are perfect for whole class, small group, or individual instruction.

I've been in love with the idea of focusing lessons on the individual student based on self selected texts.  I think it's an incredible way for students to learn, but I just could not wrap my head around it.  I was recently able to attend an all day workshop with Jennifer Serravallo, and it was a total game changer.

I'm a see it in action kind of gal.  There are tons of helpful videos from Jennifer Serravallo on Heinemann's YouTube Channel.  I think if you start to work this into your independent reading time, you'll find tremendous value in it.  Even to the point where you would start to shorten your small group time and start allotting some of that time to your individual/small group strategy lessons (which sure would help with Part 2: When)

Next up on my reading list is No More Independent Reading Without Support (affiliate link) by Debbie Miller and Barbara Moss.  At 96 pages, I think it would make a great book study for a school.
How are you getting more out of your independent reading time?  Any tips for me or must read books?

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So You Bought Some Clipart . . .

I get tech help requests quite a bit in my Teachers Pay Teachers store’s Q and A section, so I thought it might be time to start a series of some quick tutorials.

Tutorial for teachers on how to use PowerPoint to create a sign and other classroom resources.

If you’re having an "I just bought clipart, what do I do with it?" moment, here are some tips and tricks to get started.  This tutorial focuses on how to create a sign like this one:

Tutorial for teachers on how to use PowerPoint to create a sign and other classroom resources.
Want to see it in action?  Click here to watch the tutorial of how to make a sign in PowerPoint using my School Days Jumbo bundle.

1.  Open up PowerPoint
Believe it or not, PowerPoint is a super easy way to create.  Many Teachers Pay Teachers sellers use this for product creation.  It’s easy to insert text and graphics in layers without having to deal with the learning curve of a product like Photoshop or InDesign.
**Be sure to resize your PowerPoint slide size by going to File-->Page Set.  It is set for optimal PPT size, and you’ll want to change your size to 8.5x11 for printing.

2.  Add the top border of digital paper
Insert shape-->rectangle
(Right Click) Format shape: Fill-->Picture
**Check the box that says tile, so your image isn’t distorted.

**PowerPoint has a line and shadow turned on by default.  You’ll need to go to these two areas to turn them off once you fill in the paper

3.  Add the blue border
Insert shape-->rectangle
Format shape: Fill-->Color (again, turn off line and shadow)

**Select More Colors, then use the eyedropper tool to select the color you want from the digital paper

(Right Click) Arrange: send backward

4.  Add Welcome to First Grade
Insert text box-->add text
Highlight text: Font color dropdown-->More Colors-->Use eyedropper tool to select color

5.  Make text rainbow
Highlight individual letter: Font color dropdown-->More Colors-->Use eyedropper tool

**As you select colors, they appear in the area under Recent Colors

6.  Add paper clips divider
Insert picture-->add saved image

**Got a divider you want to use, but it’s too long?  After you insert the image, click on the crop tool to shorten it.

7.  Add chevron divider
Insert picture: select saved image
Resize and use crop tool
Insert shape-->Lines
Select Freeform tool: create shape to cover unwanted area.

Format shape: Fill-->Color (you will also need to turn off the outline and shadow)

Click here to watch the video of how I made this welcome sign in PowerPoint using my School Days Jumbo bundle.

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Making Room for Independent Reading: When

If you’re not already on board with the value of independent reading, hop on over to part one of this series.  To be completely honest, if I had to choose between all whole group instruction or all independent reading and conferring with the teacher, it would be independent reading.  It’s that important.  It’s important not just to my teacher heart but is also supported by reading professionals and research over the last several decades.

Making Room for Independent Reading: Why

Catch up on Part 1 HERE

When are you going to squeeze this into your day?  Instructional minutes are precious gold to teachers.  How can you make the magic happen?

Making room for independent reading: how to find time to make room for the most important component of your literacy block.


Don’t squeeze it in.  Plan your time for independent reading first, and then make everything else work around it.  Making independent reading the cornerstone of your literacy block.  If you truly believe, as Donalyn Miller says, that, “No exercise gives more instructional bang for your buck than reading,” then making space for independent reading should be your first priority.


Once you make space for independent reading, where can you shave off some minutes from your other instructional segments?  If you’re using whole group and/or small group reading, reduce the number of minutes in each by 5-10.  It’s not that those aren’t valuable,  but you’re adding a top tier instructional tool, so it’s okay to cut back in those other areas.


Stop thinking about how many minutes each part of your day should take and start thinking in percentages.  What percentage of your literacy block should be writing?  Independent reading?  Whole class instruction?  Small groups?  Once you assign each part of your block a percentage, use that to figure out how many minutes it gets.

You may find you’re giving something more minutes than it’s worth.  For years I used a Daily Oral Language model for grammar and punctuation.  Then I realized by the time I taught this well, it was taking up way too much time for what it brought to students.  I switched to mentor sentences to teach this and to make space for independent reading.  Mentor Sentences is a faster and more effective way to teach grammar and punctuation AND addresses craft, also.

Want to learn more about mentor sentences?  Check out Ideas by Jivey for tons of resources and how to’s.  She has posts on her blog, webinars, Facebook live lessons, and there’s even a Facebook support group.


Are you taking whole class bathroom breaks? Give that time to independent reading.  Yes, I know they’re still going to need to use the restroom.  Here are my simple rules:
You can read more here about how I let anybody go to the restroom {almost} whenever they want without it being a disaster.


Make a schedule and stick to it.  One of the best purchases I ever made for myself was one I thought was for my students.  I bought a Time Timer for my class because I loved the idea of a visual cue for passing time since most of my kids had a poor concept of time.
(Affiliate link)

Turns out, while it was wonderful for them, it’s greatest value was keeping me on track.  I’m a rambler (especially in guided reading lessons.  Seriously, the worst.)  Having the Time Timer helped keep me conscientious of the time, and I stopped cutting into my other lessons so much to keep up.  There are smaller versions, too, but I found this to be the best for whole class use.

How do you make room for independent reading?  Any tips for finding those extra precious minutes?

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September Desktop Calendar

Happy September to you!  September is always an exciting month.  It brings at least the hope of cooler temperatures (even this far down in Texas), college football, and the settling into a new school year.

September 2016 Desktop Calendar Free Download

Here’s a soft and pretty background for your computer with a sweet reminder during a time of year that can get a little stressful.  These graphics are from Octopus Artis.  That beautiful script font is Malisia and the serif font is from the Latype font family.  (<--Affiliate links) Click here or on the image to download.

September 2016 Desktop Calendar Free Download

Hope you have a wonderful September!

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August Favorites

My a new cleaning tool I never thought I’d love, some formerly blank spaces and more favorites from August.

Hey, y’all! August is winding down, and we’re headed straight towards September and fall!  Unless you live in Texas like me.  Somehow every fall I still think September is going to bring me cooler air, cardigans, and falling leaves.  This never happens.

Here are a few of my favorites from the past month.  Hope you’ve had a great August!
I'm starting this month out with a bang because this is by far THE BEST thing that happened to me in August.  I got a Roomba.

(We were concerned Ruby was going to try to murder the Roomba, but she is completely unbothered by it.  Murray, not so much.)

Let me first say, I have never pined for a Roomba.  I was chatting with a friend who is both thriftier than I am and has higher cleaning standards than me.  She raved about her Roomba, and I thought it would be worth a try.  This is why I have to work.  When I’m home in the summer, I will buy ALL THE THINGS.  Anybody else suffer from this phenomenon?

Here’s the one I bought.  I actually bought mine from Target because I was there, but I could have saved more money by buying it on Amazon or Bed Bath and Beyond with a coupon (be careful-their coupon doesn’t work on all Roomba models.)  Affiliate link:

This SUPER fun shirt from the Loft is going to be one of my favorites this fall.  I love the fun florals that are in style right now!

We finally got around to hanging some pictures in our new house.  By we, I mean my husband hung them, and I obsessed over making sure everything was lined up and centered correctly.  We’re still married though, so it all worked out.

This giant area over our fireplace has made me crazy since we bought our new house.  I’m glad to finally get it filled in.

One of my most favorite things are the pictures in our bedroom.  Each time we go on a trip, I purchase a print from Etsy when we get back.  Here is one of the little groupings in our bedroom.  I love waking up to these memories!

We took a super fast family vacation to Chicago before school started.  I love going there.  There’s a ton to do, it’s easy to get around, and so much good food.  We got to catch the last night of Newsies before it left town, and it was amazing.  It was only mildly embarrassing that my older daughter and I managed to pack nearly matching dresses to wear to the show.  Like mother like daughter.

We gave in and let this kiddo get two goldfish (but only after she completed days worth of research and a 50 slide PowerPoint on how to take care of a fish, the equipment necessary, and information on the type of fish she wanted.)  While I did not feel like our house needed one more living thing to take care of, how sweet is this smile?  And I’m please to share that Kevin and Shakira are doing well in their new home.

Now let’s bring on September and the dream of cooler weather!

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Classroom Websites in a Snap!

Oh the class website.  Sigh.

You’re required to have one, but let’s be honest.  Do many parents ever check it?  My last few years in the classroom, I had a Blogger site for one reason and one reason only.

Follow by email.

Feel like nobody checks your classroom website? Use Blogger and the magical Follow by Email gadget to stay in contact with parents.

Y’all, parents are not going to check to see if you’ve updated your site.  Maybe a few will, but this parent almost never does.  (Hangs head in shame.)  I check it and it’s not updated, so I check again in six months.  Whoops.

I’ve sent home paper newsletters, sent emails, had sites on school pages, but this worked the best.  When parents follow by email, they automatically receive an email when you publish a new post.  Parents have it in their email, but they also know they can go check the site if that email gets buried under a million others.

I’m excited to add Classroom Websites in a Snap to A Bird in Hand Designs.  The designs are $40.  You get to choose from 5 different font combinations and 5 different color palettes.  Your design includes a header, signature, sidebar divider, favicon, mobile responsive template (super important), and installation.

Interested in learning more? Hop on over to A Bird in Hand Designs to read all about it!

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Bathroom Status: Under Control

Two things that no one tells you about teaching: keeping up with your kids and dealing with the bathroom is HARD.

You know it’s harder than it sounds to keep track of your students.  When I taught third and fourth grade, I had two sections with 22 kids each.  People were going to the restroom, the nurse, the library, tutoring, speech, dyslexia intervention, etc. all day long.  That's a lot of coming and going to keep track of and, say, teach at the same time.  However, “umm” is not a very professional answer to “Where is little Johnny right now?”

I also realized I did not care when my kids went to the bathroom.  As long as it wasn’t the middle of a lesson and they weren’t working with a group/partner, it was good.  The only problem is it can’t be good for 14 kids at the same time.

Tired of managing your students' restroom breaks?  Use this chart and some simple ground rules to free yourself from ever hearing, “May I go to the bathroom” again!

After 400 years of teaching (at least it felt that way), I was able to solve both problems with a simple bathroom rule and a chart.

Here’s a picture of my Where Are You? chart in my old classroom:
Tired of managing your students' restroom breaks?  Use this chart and some simple ground rules to free yourself from ever hearing, “May I go to the bathroom” again!

Each student had a class number.  You could put names, but I had two sections and that’s what worked for me.  The last two boxes were the most important: Restroom/Water Girl and Restroom/Water Boy.  Going somewhere? Move your magnet.  Back? Move your magnet.  The end.

I cannot tell you how much easier this made my life.  I could keep track of my people without the constant bathroom/water questions.

When I made my chart, I knew all my Type A friends were going to want to make one that exactly fit their needs AND their classroom theme.  Put up a hot pink and turquoise chart in your super hero themed room?  HECK NO.  (Type B friends-I know you’re laughing at us right now.)

Tired of managing your students' restroom breaks?  Use this chart and some simple ground rules to free yourself from ever hearing, “May I go to the bathroom” again!

You can buy the editable chart here.  There are different layouts with different numbers of boxes.  You can edit the text, fonts, and colors of the grid and background.  There are even a couple of options for background patterns.  I had it printed on 11x17 glossy card stock at Office Max for about $1.50.

As long as you feel comfortable working in PowerPoint, this should be good for you.  I even made a video on how to make the changes.
Tired of managing your students' restroom breaks?  Use this chart and some simple ground rules to free yourself from ever hearing, “May I go to the bathroom” again!

In the spirit of honesty, here are some things that take time to workout:

•You tell students the bathroom rule, but they don’t believe you.

If your kids have never walked out of the room without checking with a teacher, they’re not sure that you’re really telling the truth.  Here’s a chart you can download to send them to.  DON’T TELL THEM THE ANSWER.  They will keep asking your for the next 179 days.  Lovingly tell them to check the rule chart to see if it’s a good time.  Here’s one you can download for free:
Tired of managing your students' restroom breaks?  Use this chart and some simple ground rules to free yourself from ever hearing, “May I go to the bathroom” again!

•Kids come back from the restroom but don’t put their magnet back.

It takes a little time for this to become a habit.  Plus, there is no rage like a nine year old who has been waiting to go to the restroom when she could have gone 10 minutes ago.  Your students will pretty much solve that problem for you.

•You put your magnets in a color pattern.  Someone changes them everyday.

Give up.  I am a super observant person.  My students swapped their magnets out ALL THE TIME, and I never saw one kid do it.  I had to let go on this one.

•But it’s an emergency.

You know what?  Sometimes it is.  But sometimes kids want to go to the bathroom 47 times a day.  If I feel like someone is taking advantage of the system, I gently pull them aside and share my concern  that here may be something wrong if you need to go to the restroom four times in an hour.  I also let them know if it keeps happening, I may need to call mom about getting you to the doctor to make sure nothing is wrong.  That usually takes care of it, though I have had called home two or three times to share my medical concerns.

**Don’t just blow off avoidance though.   Sometimes it is as simple as I don’t feel like doing this assignment or they’re just drunk on new bathroom freedom.  Often, there are some bigger academic or behavioral issues that this is a symptom of.  Solve the bathroom problem but also address the source of these kids' needs.

Got any bathroom management tips for me?  I’d love to hear them!

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