3 Thanksgiving Activities for Middle Schoolers

Thanksgiving is my favorite time of the year.  I love the focus on togetherness and family, the big meal of turkey and stuffing, the roots into history and our background as a nation.  It's a wonderful time to teach students about our past, the ideas of family and thankfulness, and build community. 

3 Thanksgiving Activities for Middle Schoolers

Whether this is your first year teaching, or you've been around the block a few times, having some Thanksgiving activities planned out, or waiting in your back pocket for when you need a quick idea for an alternative plan, is a great idea.  I hope you'll find some ideas in this post that you maybe hadn't thought of before.

Complete a Thankfulness Activity

Even if you teach middle school students, they still love a great picture book from time to time.  So grab a good one and read your students a story about thankfulness.  There are lots to choose from in this blog post, but I like Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts.*  This story focuses on Jeremy and his ideas of wants versus needs, and how those things change at different times and in different circumstances.  Towards the end, Jeremy realizes what his needs really are and just how thankful he is to have them in his life.  Once the story is over, have a discussion with your kids about their ideas of wants and needs and how they have maybe grown in this area as well.  *This is an affiliated link. I am an Amazon Associate and earn on qualified purchases.

Complete a Thankfulness Activity

Then, using an acrostic poem, a word cloud, a journal, or a craftivity, have your students write down items that they are thankful for in their life.  Depending on the story you choose, it could vary your activity quite a bit.  For Those Shoes, you might want to use pictures of shoes and have students write items on the shoelaces or in different places within the shoe.  If it's a story about Thanksgiving itself, you could use a turkey, and if it's about just the season of thankfulness, you might want to use cut-outs of leaves.  You can download a shoe and some leaves here, but there's no wrong way to be thankful.

Explore on a Virtual Field Trip to the Plimoth Plantations

Another option this season is to take your students on a virtual trip to the 17th Century English village of Plimoth Plantations.  View a nineteen minute long video on the journey to America, and the homes, gardens, store fronts, and fort that make up the re-created village of the Plimoth Plantations.  In this video you'll also hear from several character actors who play the roles of pilgrims in various positions, such as militia members, farmers, home-makers, gardeners, etc.  

Explore on a Virtual Field Trip

You can also view an eighteen minute video on the Wampanoag Homesite which is a re-creation of the Wampanoag Native American Village.  In the video they demonstrate their currency, homes, clothing, and toys.  They discuss the roles of men, women, and children, and the various duties in which they partook.  You get to look at their gardens, the animals they hunted, and the construction of a mishoon, a boat of the Wampanoag people.  It's a wonderful examination of Native Americans and a look at just one tribe of hundreds that first roamed this nation.  Your students are sure to learn a lot from this virtual journey to Massachusetts.

Take a Closer Look at the First Thanksgiving Dinner

Take a Closer Look at the First Thanksgiving Dinner
Along with a virtual trip to Plimoth is a look at the real first Thanksgiving dinner between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people.  Although often depicted as a great gathering of the two races at a long table, this is honestly not the case, and this History Minute First Thanksgiving Dinner Unit explores what the real first dinner was truly like.  Should you want to learn more about History Minutes, I wrote about them previously in this post.  

With an informative two-page reading passage, which includes a 5-part close note reading lesson, the true story of the first harvest is brought to life.  A fun geography page, and a comparative math lesson on traditional versus original meal calories is included.  With guided notes, smart scribbles, and word puzzles to go along with it, this is a unit lesson that your students are sure to love.  With little teacher intervention needed, students can complete a little bit each day over the course of a week, or you can give it to a sub to occupy several hours in one day.  It integrates language arts, social studies, math, and geography, and helps students to see the inter-connectedness of thoughts.  It's a great and innovative way to explore the Thanksgiving holiday.

If at first click this video does not play, please refresh your screen and try again.  Thank you!

Whether you choose just one activity, or tackle all three this Thanksgiving season, honoring this special time in the fall and in America's history is a great way to gather your students and work on building the classroom community while celebrating what we're all thankful for.  

How do you plan to celebrate Thanksgiving in your classroom this fall?  Let me know in the comments.

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Hands On Learning Isn't Lost With Digital Instruction

When the pandemic first hit and schools shut down, I panicked.  I felt like my love of hands on learning was lost and there was no way to get it back.  The need to teach digitally had come, virtually overnight, and with it, interactive, cooperative learning had died.  At least that's what I believed, until I had an awakening.

Hands On Learning Isn't Lost with Digital Instruction

Just because each student was holed up in their house, on their own computer, interacting with a keyboard and a mouse, didn't mean that lessons needed to be bland and independent.  Material could still be interactive, vibrant, engaging, and hands on if it was approached in the right manner.  And that is when Puzzling History began.

Puzzling History Together - A Digital Inquiry Interactive Lesson

History is like a puzzle...the more pieces you can assemble, the clearer the picture becomes.
Born from an idea shared in a Facebook group, and grown through discussions shared with other sellers and my family, I determined to create interactive puzzles that students could assemble on their own or with their classmates in an inquiry process that would help them see the correlation between puzzles and history while allowing them to explore landmarks around the world.

Puzzling History presents students with a set of four progressively more challenging puzzles, where students are given more and more puzzle pieces.  At first there is no way to solve the puzzle.  That is the point!  They have no idea what they are looking at.  Just like with history, when we have too few artifacts or clues, we have trouble making sense of that period or civilization.  We don't know what we're seeing.  Students are then given more pieces and more pieces until they can piece the puzzle together in its entirety, finally revealing what is going on.

Assign students 4 progressively more challenging puzzles.

For students who need more support, get frustrated easily, or may need assistance in the classroom, there are two different versions of puzzles for the teacher to choose from when assigning slides to them.  There is one slide where a picture of the final outcome is visible to help guide the student through the process, and there is another slide where, not only a picture is visible, but several pieces are already locked into place, making this assignment more accessible for all the students in the classroom.

Two puzzles are provided that lend support to students who need it.

Finally, a reflection sheet helps guide students through the process, asking them what they can contruct and visualize, and how this correlates to history.

An optional reflection sheet follows students through the process

Puzzling History - A Digital Inquiry LessonOn top of that, Google Slides™ allows you to assign slides to an individual or to a group.  This allows this inquiry activity to be truly interactive as the teacher can have the puzzle with 35 pieces go just to student A, but the puzzle with 54 pieces go to students A, B, and C, getting them to engage and work together to create the image.  Better yet, give the puzzle with 48 out of 54 pieces to several students and have them complete it.  Then have them discuss and deduce what is happening, what is missing, and what is truly going on.  How fun is that?

These Puzzling History Digital Inquiry Activities will allow students to get hands on and explore history with a new twist on learning.

For what historical location would you like to see a puzzle?  Let me know in the comments.

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5 Engaging Ways to Teach Mesopotamia

History can be hard to relate to for kids, especially when it is so old and they are so young.  They often don't see the connections to their own lives, or the impact it has had on society.  One of my favorite stories to share with students is how the size of the space shuttle is directly related to the size of Caesar's horses.  It's a fascinating one and shows how one decision can impact thousands of decisions throughout history.  So when teaching ancient Mesopotamia, a teacher just needs to make it relatable for their students so they begin to see how it affects and connect to their lives.

5 Engaging Ways to Teach Mesopotamia

Making things hands-on can entice learners to really take in their learning and understand it.  The student often must come to terms with the concept and understand it, in order to to manipulate it and build with it, complete it, or work with it, so more sense is made of the concept and how it fits in to history and the world around them.  This can be done in a variety of fun and entertaining ways that still teach history and get the point across.

Write an Epic Poem like Gilgamesh
1. Write an Epic Poem like Gilgamesh

Explain to your students who the Sumerians were and who Gilgamesh was.  Give them some background information on the epic poem of Gilgamesh and why it is important and has remained an important piece of history.  Then, read a bit of the poem to them, discussing it as you go.  Have your students then try their hand at writing an epic poem by picking a topic and writing.  Make sure to spend some time allowing kids to share their poems with the class.

Learn Cuneiform

2. Try Your Hand at Cuneiform

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite hobbies was to write love letters to my boyfriend in ancient runic.  He taught me the alphabet and only he and I really understood it, so we could write in a secret code that no one else understood.  Writing in cuneiform is much the same way and will give kids a fun, entertaining power, but teach them some history at the same time.  Explaining to students that cuneiform was originally a pictographic language, a lot like our emojis, that turned more complicated and complex over time, might help them to understand how languages evolve and change.  You can then show them the complicated cuneiform and have them try to write with it, or have them try to create their own language with emojis or some other form of signs, symbols, and pictographs. 

Explore the 7 Wonders

3. Explore the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World

The Seven Ancient Wonders of the World are seven incredible feats of architecture, built by the ancient civilizations, that amazed and bewildered society with their grand beauty, size, and structure.  Built by the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Mesopotamians, these 7 structures can still elicit beauty and wonderment today.  In Mesopotamia, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were a huge ziggurat of plants, trees, shrubs, and flowers.  These tiers of foliage ascended upwards, creating a large green mountain of mud bricks and plants.  Although the Hanging Gardens exist in the writings of 5 individuals, the exact location and/or some evidence of them has never been found, so some doubt that this wonder ever existed at all.  Having kids look at these seven wonders, examine their size and structure, debate their existence, and draw/construct a model of one for study is a great way for students to get to know the ancient realm and build meaning in their study of history.

Build your own Ziggurat

4. Build Your Own Ziggurat

Ziggurats were fortifications on which a white stone temple stood.  They were built to try to connect the heavens to the earth, so the Mesopotamians would make them as tall as possible.  In the time of ancient Mesopotamia, building methods were crude and so these ziggurats were not nicely sloped pyramids.  They were instead, stacked rectangles or trapezoids, that rose jaggedly up to the sky.  Students could use boxes, folded paper, or even 2-dimensional trapezoids on a screen to create their ziggurats.  I have this activity in my Governments of Mesopotamia lesson, where students can build a ziggurat in any number of ways.

Be the judge, like Hammurabi

5. Be the Judge, Like Hammurabi

Have your students read an article about Hammurabi and his penchant for law-making or simply discuss his nature for creating laws on how people should live their lives.  Then hand out some sample laws to your students and have them read through and share them together.  Take note of how barbaric they tend to be and how the punishments are very one-sided (death).  You might also want to point out how a lot of Hammurabi's laws dealt with property rights.  Prepare a couple case studies for your students where they can examine or simulate a case in Hammurabi's time, arguing for and against a certain outcome and the punishments that come with that decision.  When all is said and done, see if they agree with what they did and the laws they put forth or if they have doubts and reservations about the steps they had to take to follow the law under Hammurabi's rule.

There's lots of ways to bring history alive and make it more memorable for students.  Making it hands-on is just one way to accomplish this.  Do you have other ways to make learning about Mesopotamia memorable?  I'd love to hear them.  Share your ideas in the comments.

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3 Ways to Practice Geography & Map Skills

I can look at a map for a long time and be entranced by it.  How are the roads connected? What is the topography like?  Noticing how the river, railroad, and highway all run together until the grade becomes too hard for the train and it follows a new path.  Watching the place names change as the settlers who named them changed across a region.  Maps are marvelous, but I've come to know that my fascination with maps makes me a "nerd."  Most people see a map and want to sigh or hide.

3 Ways to Practice Geography and Map Skills

Map skills and geography don't need to be a chore or something we dread.  By using songs, puzzles, rhymes, interesting facts, and more we can bring out the fun in geography and see the world as an enchanting ball of mystery.  I have three ways, out of many, that may help you with this task.

Using Puzzles to Practice

Using Puzzles to Practice Geography Skills

Puzzles have been shown to improve memory and increase IQ.  They help with spatial reasoning and allow for teamwork and the exchange of ideas.  With large or small puzzles, students can discuss, debate, reason, and collaborate on the best placement of pieces.  Whether you have a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle of the United States or these puzzles on the flags, capitals, and countries of each continent, student's brains will get a workout throughout the process of completing them.

Map Skills Practice with Countries and Capitals

Another way we can practice our map skills and become more familiar with geography is to work with maps and learn our countries, capitals, major bodies of water, and other pieces of terrain.  Below is some map practice work in Google Slides™, Google Forms™, and in BOOM Learning with Boom Learning Cards.  You'll see how each venue offers the practice on North America in a slightly different form, even though all the questions are the same.

Slides and Forms do not offer immediate feedback, although Forms does self-grade to free up the teacher for more time spent elsewhere.  Boom Cards offers both immediate feedback and self-grading, and both Forms and Boom offer reports.  With more and more digital offerings being created, perhaps you can find the region you've been wanting your students to learn.

Interesting Facts & Map Work Offer Geography Enrichment Activities

Interesting Facts and Geography Enrichment Activities
Lastly, have you heard of GeoJunior Or GeoGenius yet?  These fun geography enrichment activities allow your students to explore a country in a new and fascinating way.  With GeoJunior, students are given a "Guess the Country" clue sheet to figure out the country of study.  Then comes a general location sheet to help identify where the country is located in the world.  Next, political and physical maps are presented with items to color and label.  "Fun Facts" follow with 5 interesting and weird facts about the country to help cement it into memory.  Lastly, everything is assembled together into a bookmark that students color where clues, facts, and more are captured to help them recall all they have learned.  To top that off, once a quarter, a GeoGenius with even more great activities on a continent is released.  This continues for an entire school year so you have something new to teach every other week all year long.  Best of all, it is free, just for signing up for the GeoJunior Geography Club.

No, geography doesn't need to be a dreaded subject any longer.  Perhaps one of these methods will help you and your students enjoy geography more.  I know I'll be there with my map in hand, ready to check out what interesting facts I can learn.  Do you love geography?  Let me know in the comments.

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10 End of Year Activities for the Upper Elementary Classroom

The end of the year is rapidly approaching and it's usually the best time of year. The class is gelling, the memories are abundant, and the warm weather has finally hit which allows you to get outside and enjoy some different activities. This year will be a little different with everyone completing online digital learning and away from the students they love so dearly, but that doesn't mean that the memories have to end.

10 End of Year Activities for the Upper Elementary Classroom

Thematic Days

Set up a day to culminate your curriculum and have a thematic day.  My daughter's favorite day in school was Renaissance Day.  They dressed up in costume, if possible, wrote with a quill, drew pictures while laying on the floor under their desk (tape the paper to the underside of the desk), and more.  If you can't come up with 4-6 activities for a theme day, then try a fun theme week.  Make Monday favorite outfit day, and Tuesday funny socks day.  Have a sports day, superhero day, and others.  Just make sure to think about the inclusion of all kids when you do this.  For instance, twin day is hard for those kids who are socially introverted and those who may struggle making friends for any number of reasons.

Countdown the Days Together

Digital Memory Wall helps students sum up the year.
When about ten days are left in the year, create a paper chain or balloon count down.  Each day have a random act of kindness, a shared memory, or a task for your students to complete, such as doing a mathematical coloring page, or filling out a survey on their year.  Build the drama and suspense each day and make it as fun as it can be without losing all control.

Memory Wall

Place a large piece of butcher paper up on your wall and give your students a few days to start noting down all their great memories from the year.  I've found that it usually takes a few days for the really great memories to start flooding back to them, so give your paper, or this free Digital Memory Wall, some time to brew.  Make sure you leave time at the end of the year to review everything that's been written, photographed, and shared, so you can have a few more laughs together as a class.

Memory Book

Memory books are another great way to capture your student's thoughts, ideas, and reflections from the year.  Each student can have their own unique memory book, or you can do one that is more general to the class as a whole with unique highlights throughout.  I used to make beefy memory books for my students and then my digital offering "way back when" was a DVD of all our photographs set to music.  It sure took a lot of time, but it was a labor of love and boy, did I love those books and DVDs.  Nowadays you can make a digital memory book much more quickly and assemble it so much easier.  A couple of my friends have some great options if you're looking to go with paper or digital with this task this year.  Joyce & Steve, over at 1st Grade Pandamania have a fabulous paper memory book for the younger crowd.  Parents love to see kids trace their hands, write their name, and more.  While The Craft of Teaching has an awesome digital version for this year.  Each grade (3rd-6th) has a book and students make it really unique with their memories from the year.
End of Year Memory Book K-2 Product                                                              Upper Elementary Memory Book Product

Field Day

Field Day is another end of year event that I just love.  We get to head outside for the day.  The kids are all relaxed and ready to have fun, and the P.E. teacher always has such a great day of activities planned.  I am all about sports and a total tomboy, so this day was always a blast for me, but one of the highlights of the day is eating a picnic style lunch together as a class and just talking about school, life, memories, etc.  We often get quite a few laughs together and it really proves to be a great bonding time.  Even though we're online learning this year, having a lunch with your kids, while online, is not out of the question.  You could even play some games online, like ArcademicSkillBuilders, Cool Math, Minecraft, or many others.  Enjoy the time you get with them before the year is over.

Class Shirts

Another thing I absolutely loved about field day was our class shirts and hats.  I would create a design, have all the kids sign it, and then take it to a local T-Shirt shop for production.  The first couple years I actually paid for the shirts and hats myself, as an end of year gift, but not too much later I started asking for the parents to chip in.  I even had a spot where parents could donate money to help those who were less affluent.  No one ever went without our class shirts.  Then later, seeing everyone all in a group, working together for a common goal, and sporting our class duds was so neat.  The pictures were pretty fabulous too.

Advice for Next Year's Crop

As the days dwindled, a great writing activity is to have your students write to an up and coming student.  Have them explain what your grade level is like.  Do classes rotate or are they contained?  What teachers do they see?  What lessons (life or otherwise) have been the most important?  What skills are needed to be a great student?  All these questions and so many more, can be answered in a letter to the new students.  Then save those papers and have one on each desk on the first day of the new year to help students feel welcomed, reassured, and ready to tackle the school year.

Clean Up & Pack Up Together

This necessary task doesn't have to be done by you alone.  Get your students to help by packing up their totes, cubbies, or lockers.  Have them clean out their notebooks, desks, and backpacks, and then wash those desks down with some shaving cream fun*.  I usually buy one can for every 8-10 students.  Give them a small pile on their desk and have them draw, answer questions, or just play for 10-20 minutes.  Then walk around with a spray bottle, add a little water to each desk and have them scrub it clean with paper towels or cloths.  You'll have a clean classroom and the kids will have another great
Assortment of Awards for Upper Elementary Students
memory.  *This is an affilliate link.  I am an Amazon Associate and earn on qualified purchases.

Hold an Awards Ceremony or Two

Each year as the days drew to an end, another event I would make sure to undertake and capture, was classroom awards.  I gave out awards for academics and effort, attendance and reading, and best of all character.  I'd usually do all my awards at once, but sometimes we'd have multiple award days, and you know what, there's nothing wrong with that.  Sometimes kids aren't celebrated and applauded enough.  My character awards have always been a true passion of mine.  I agonize for days over who should get which award and how to make sure everyone is included in the best way possible.  I then make certificates for my students, each with a unique quote about the character trait included.  Then usually on the last day of school I hand out my awards with a story and reason behind each and every one.  I love to share their deeds and accomplishments with them through my eyes, and have gotten teary-eyed, if not weepy, more than once.  The students are so appreciative and supportive of one another, that character awards are something I look forward to all year long.

Class Gifts

Definitely not a requirement, so don't feel obligated, but I always enjoyed giving my kids a gift at the end of the year.  Some years and some schools were more extravagant than others, but you really only need to do something small that reminds your kids that you care about them and will miss them when they move on.  I've given shirts and hats, as mentioned before, cups, water bottles, bubbles, small stuffed animals, and a mish-mash of little trinkets, but my daughter's favorite gift of all time was in 2nd grade when her teacher made her class bookmarks.  She had the whole class sign the back and then laminated them before handing them out.  My daughter used that bookmark for years to come.  1st Grade Pandamania has some adorable free bookmarks that can be used for many different grade levels, and Apple-y Ever After has some great pirate bookmarks that would make a cute end of year gift too.
Bookmarks for the K-3 Crowd
Pirate Bookmarks

However you decide to celebrate the end of the year and the special days you've shared with your students, it will all be good.  Kids just like to know that they mattered to you and that you will remember them.  And if they can remember you in the process with a token, certificate, or even just the memories they hold in their heart, they will take that with them forever.

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Distance Learning and You

We are entering an unprecedented time in our recent history.  Even in times of war, schools were still open and games were still played, but now we face a new challenge and one we must all face together.  We must do what is best for humanity by shuttering down our social systems and avoiding one another until this virus passes through and hopefully affects as few people as possible.

Ideas and resources to help with distance learning.

With this social distancing comes the need to perform learning from a distance, which is a challenge.  Will students have devices and Internet capabilities?  What about families with 4, 5, 6, kids and only one device?  What about families who can barely afford to put food on the table or can hardly function as a family, how can we expect them to undergo this latest challenge?  There are so many questions and so few answers right now, but the best we can do is to provide as many resources as possible.  Along with that, grace and understanding, flexibility and patience must be in our wheelhouses.  This is not going to pass without questions, uncertainty, trial and error, and many hiccups.  Be prepared to be unprepared and you'll feel less cajoled when the issues arise.

Teaching resources that are free during the pandemic.

I have compiled a short list of resources I have discovered over the past few days that are making your job as an educator hopefully a little easier during this tumultuous time.  Please use any or all of these that you can, and be sure to show them some appreciation when all this is over for helping you out.

  • Kahoot - Offering premium services for the rest of the year for free.
  • IXL - Is providing free access for 90 days.
  • Edmodo - Offering access for communication and learning during this time.
  • Discovery Education - Offering free access through the end of the year to affected schools.
  • Boom Learning - Offering free Ultimate subscriptions good through June 30.
  • Active History - Offering one month free trials upon request.
  • Kids Discover - Kids Discover Online is being offered to schools through the end of June.
  • Shurley English - Offering their program for K-8 for free, no code required.
  • Turn It In - Has a 60-day free trial.

A list of teaching resources that are free and always have been.

In addition, these great resources have always been free and continue to be so during this stressful time.
  • Big Blue Button - Webcams, whiteboards, and posted curriculum made for online teaching.
  • Zearn - A K-5 curriculum.
  • Khan Academy - Online lessons in a variety of subjects.
  • Wonderopolis - Short videos and readings that answer questions for students.
  • Xtra Math - Math fact practice.
  • Typing Club - Typing practice.
  • ReadWorks - Reading passages and lesson plans for students from K-12.
  • Math Celebrity - Math tutoring.
  • Quizlet - Practice and master content with quizzes.
  • HippoCampus - Free videos in 13 different subject areas.
  • Phet - Science and math labs.
  • PBS Learning - PreK-12 digital learning materials.
  • Fiveable - Free resources for AP students which includes trivia, study guides, and reviews.
  • No Red Ink - An online curriculum that builds better writers.
  • Go Noodle - Movement and mindfulness videos.
  • Dreamscape - Reading game for grades 2-8 that combines strategy, engagement, reading passages, and a game.
  • Class Tag - Communicate with parents and send home lessons and assignments.
  • Classroom Cereal - Grammar practice.
  • Collisions Chemistry - Digital games rooted in the rules of chemistry.
  • Arcademics - Arcade like games for math, language arts, and typing practice.
  • Museum Tours - Tour 12 museums for free with virtual tours.
  • Kids National Geographic - Geography, history, and science information.

A list of self-care ideas to help when you are practicing social distancing.

While you're busy taking care of your students, don't forget to take care of yourself as well.  It can be daunting to feel trapped inside or to have little social contact with others, so make sure to take some time for yourself and do what you need to do to protect yourself and your health and emotions.  Here are some suggestions.
  • Go for a walk - Even though we're supposed to be practicing social distancing, it is okay to get outside and get some fresh air.
  • Take a bath or shower - Freshen up and get clean with a soaking bath or a rejuvenating shower.
  • Read a book - Too often we don't have time to get lost in a novel.  Pick a book off your shelf and dive in to a great story.
  • Watch a Ted Talk - Whether to learn something or just hear some words of inspiration, a Ted Talk can give you a break and put you in just the right mood.
  • Meditate - Get a subscription to Calm or Headspace and partake in some meditation.
  • Pin It - Explore Pinterest and reconnect with your hobbies. As a teacher you rarely have time for you and your hobbies.  You may have even forgot what hobbies are.  Now is the time to reconnect with what you like to do.
  • Complete a Gratitude Journal - During hard times it can be difficult to remember to be grateful.  Completing a gratitude journal will help you to remember all the good there truly is to be thankful for.  I have this one and love it. This is an affiliate link.  I am an Amazon Associate and earn from qualified purchases.

I hope these lists provide you with some resources that you able to use to make your days easier as we all walk this new unknown together.  

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Are You a Genius When it Comes to Geography?

GeoGenius is a new line of geography magazines that allow you and your students to become experts in the field of geography.

GeoGenius GeoJunior - Are You a Genius When It Comes to Geography?

With maps, interactive activities, fun facts, and more, GeoGenius aims to get students interested in geography again.  It aspires to show students a link between the fun and zany side of the world and just how that connects to our knowledge of geography.  In addition, students are given real world activities to complete that give them a glimpse inside the country or continent at hand.

GeoGenius 1 - The Continents & OceansThe first GeoGenius features the continents and oceans.  You can get this free 22-page activity packet and lesson simply by signing up here.  GeoGenius Continents and Oceans should download immediately upon your confirmation, and then once every quarter, new free issues will arrive.  Expect to see issues on Australia (the continent), South America, and Europe.

As a partner to GeoGenius, are GeoJuniors.  GeoJuniors are short 10 to 15-page magazines that focus in on a specific country of study.  Each GeoJunior includes a location sheet, a guess the country game, maps, fun facts, and an infographic bookmark to help students retain the information that they've learned. 

GeoJuniors are meant to be taught all in a chunk or in small short bites, like a snack.  They're easily adaptable to fit your classroom and your lessons and are fun for kids with crazy facts, interesting maps, and cute graphics. 

GeoJunior EgyptFilling the gaps in between the GeoGenius magazines, GeoJuniors will arrive every two weeks.  You can expect to see issues on Albania, Bolivia, China, Djibouti, Egypt, France, Greece, Honduras, and others, as we jet-set back and forth across the globe, learning about the various nations that make up our world. 

All six permanently inhabited continents are covered, and GeoJuniors provide a great way to learn about other cultures as well as introduce other regions and new material.  Save a country until you're going to cover it, or use them to have a multi-cultural fair.  Encourage your students to make travel brochures on their favorite countries and explore more of what each country has to offer, or just use GeoJunior as a quick break from the curriculum from time to time.  The opportunities are endless.

Whatever you decide, GeoGenius and GeoJuniors, will help you become a GeoWizard!

The Colorado Classroom Signature - Brittany

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Starting the New Year off Right

As you head back to school after a long winter's break, it's a great time to handle some much needed items in your classroom.  Teacher materials may need reorganization, classroom routines may need a redo, and your students will definitely benefit from a refresher.  I've compiled my years of experience into this blog post which I hope will get your new year headed in the right direction.

Starting the New Year Off Right

Organizing your Teaching Life

When headed back after winter break, the schools I worked in routinely had a couple days of professional development before the students showed up.  Usually one of those days was taken up by meetings, planning, and new requirements and procedures, but one was given to us to work in our rooms and accomplish what we needed to before the semester got rolling.  Here's what I recommend for that day.

Organizing your Teaching Life

     1. Declutter your classroom

Go through your cabinets, closets, and shelves and make it a priority to start fresh and clean.  Get rid of old papers, books you're not going to use, those old VCR tapes that can't be put into any of the televisions at school, dead markers, glue sticks with no caps, and your well-intentioned snacks you're never going to actually open.  Look for ways to re-purpose or reorganize your materials to get the most bang for your buck and definitely don't forget to go through your desk or teaching table too.

     2. Prepare your planner

If you didn't complete it at the beginning of the year, go through your planner and finish writing in all the dates, upcoming events, scheduled meetings, testing days, and long range plans for the semester.  Make sure you also get all those holidays and PD days penciled in as well.  Get as much of the first month planned out as you can now, because those first days back are long and exhausting getting used to routines and schedules all over again.  Build in that grace you know you'll need.

     3. Leave time for copying

Lastly, make sure you leave time to copy all the things you'll need for as long as you have planned or mapped out.  Don't forget those things you know you'll need down the road.  Just remember to put them where you'll remember them.  More than once I've copied things over because I couldn't find or remember what I had done with the copies I had made, or I just plain forgot I copied them at all.

Reflect on Your Systems and Routines

Reflect on your Classroom

Take a moment or two and reflect on the first semester.  Are there routines in your classroom that need some reorganization?  Are there new systems you need to put in place?  What can you do to build morale, introduce more writing, encourage more teamwork, develop a passion for reading, set up more time for practice, or whatever it is that you want to accomplish with your kids and your class?  If you weren't brainstorming and dreaming up ideas over the second half of break, which is usually when my brain started to kick back in, take some time and some quiet space now to think about your true goals and objectives and how you can maximize potential and reach new heights.  It sounds cliché, but new years is the perfect time to reevaluate and make new goals.  Once you've decided on what you want to accomplish, begin to make the plans to make those goals obtainable.  This will probably take up the majority of your day.

If you're struggling with ways in which to set a positive classroom culture, I've got you covered in this blog post.  Although written from the first of the year perspective, it has ideas and tips you can implement at any time to help you make a positive transformation in your room.

Also, for those who struggle with classroom organization or those dreaded seating charts, I have a couple blog posts to help you in those areas as well.  If there's something else, let me know in the comments, and I'll see what assistance I can give you.

Give Those Students a Refresher

Refresh Those Routines

     1. Connect with the Students

When the students get back, don't dig in and get going too fast.  Take some time to connect about what they need to talk about.  Some might have had a great break, but others may have been longing for the security and structure of school.  Allow a chance for those who need to talk to you to do so, and make sure you're aware of those who seem to have something to say, but are too shy or concerned to voice it in class.  Check in with them later, when you can, one-on-one.  Also, let the students have a moment to decompress from the holidays, prepare for the new year, and evaluate where they want to head as well.

     2. Tour the Room

Give the kids a tour of what's new and different.  Perhaps during your reorganization you restructured their supply area.  Did you get any new furniture or decor items over break?  Maybe you're introducing a new behavior management technique or system.  If so, take time to explain it, how it will work, the benefits of it, where they can monitor their progress, and more.  This shouldn't take long, but helps to set expectations, new procedures, and alleviates surprises down the road.

     3. Review the Basics

Also make sure to take time to review important rules, procedures, and routines.  We can all forget what side is up over break, so try not to assume that the kids will just remember how to accomplish things.  Set them up for success by giving some time for this important crash course.  It will also greatly help any students who moved over the break and are new to your school or classroom.

     4. Make the Last Moment Count

Finally, leave time to bond with your kids as they depart from your room.  There's a lot of discussion about morning greetings, in fact I have a blog post here where you can read more and get a freebie if you're interested, but I don't think enough is said about sending off our students right as well.  Give them a high five, a fist bump, or a handshake as they set to leave.  Send them off with some encouraging or motivating words. Let those kids who need it, know you'll connect with them later.  This sending off time gives teachers a unique and important opportunity to have one more moment and impact on each student's life.  How cool is that!

Hopefully when all this is said and done and you're a few days into the new semester, you'll realize the fruits of your labor and be glad for your new approach, outlook, and daily inspiration.  If not, keep at it.  New habits take at least 21 days to take hold, and it can be difficult to start a new procedure or management technique.  The great stuff always takes time!

I hope you have a wonderful semester ahead of you.

The Colorado Classroom Signature - Brittany

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