Aug 29

Morning Bootcamp: Getting Back to the School Morning Routine

Morning Bootcamp

After a summer of long, luxurious mornings there are few things as discommodius as the stressful, time-crunched, bleary-eyed mornings that accompany the start of the school year. Fear not! This year I have a plan.


  1. A week before school starts sit down with your kids and write down a routine that works for your morning.  Together my kids and I listed all of the “doings” that need to be taken care of each morning. We thought about how long each task takes and set a time we want to be heading out the door.  Then we worked backwards. This allowed us to know what time each child needed to get up.
  2. Using the key events that were discussed, I typed up a schedule with corresponding times. This way each child can check the clock and see if they are on schedule.  Jolee's Morning Routine3
  3. A week before school starts run a test drive of your morning routine. I bought special alarms for my older children. I also told my kiddos that we would treat ourselves to hot chocolate at a local restaurant if we could manage to get out the door at the agreed upon time.  It’s amazing how motivating sugar can be!  Our test drive was completely successful!  
  4. While enjoying the treat have your kids draw pictures of the different tasks on their morning schedule.Morning Routine Training 1
  5. Place their schedule somewhere they can access easily and practice it a few more times before school actually begins.  We placed ours in the nightstand drawer and my kids will pull it out every night when we set the alarm so it is ready for them to reference the next morning.  


True, getting up at 6 am after weeks of 8 o’clock mornings is still about as disagreeable as going to the dentist or doing a set of burpees, but after a little pre-event conditioning hopefully you will find your morning a little bit less DISCOMMODIUS!

Jul 25

Combinations of 10

Combinations of 10

Why Learn the Combinations of 10

Students who are able to commit the number combinations that add up to 10 (0 + 10, 1 + 9, 2 + 8, etc.) to memory will be more adept at performing mental calculations in the future. Instant recall of these number combinations is fundamental to not only learning the basic math facts, but also to assist with multi-digit addition and subtraction later on.  

My daughter and I recently played a card game in which knowing these combinations of 10 gave each player a decided advantage.  JKid (alias) is 6 years old and it quickly became apparent that she was not yet a “combinations of 10” expert.  What to do?


One Solution

I quickly set Grandma Fritzi to work making a simple Combinations of 10 Printable Combinations of 10and had JKid make a necklace with 10 beads. The necklace quickly became known as her “counting necklace.” The fact that she made the necklace was a big part of the success of the activity.  JKid was very motivated to use the necklace in a purposeful way. We then decided to make a video to showcase her interaction with the necklace and how she used the worksheet.  




I was thrilled with the outcome.  By the time she completed the worksheet with the use of the necklace she was rattling off combinations of 10 like it was no big deal! So simple, yet so effective!  


Our First Attempt at Making a Video

Here is the link to the video:  Combinations of 10


FYI: A couple of people have suggested to us that maybe we should try our hand at videos as an addition to our blog.  Such a venture is a little out of our comfort zone, but we are usually up for a challenge!  We realize that our video skills are not quite perfection… YET!  The video we are presenting to you was after 5 takes and our wonderful little actress was getting tired! There was a 6 am flight in her future the next day so it was now or much later! Not only is the video our first attempt, but hers as well.  You will notice that little sister got involved at one point- much to JKid’s distress!  For those of you who have siblings you will understand completely!  Enjoy and stay tuned for future attempts at this video thing.  We appreciate your patience!  


Clip Art  and Font Credit

Hello Literacy

Ashley Hughes


Jul 02

Spelling Problems Solved!

It always feels incredibly nice when something seemingly completely unrelated suddenly becomes the perfect solution for a nagging problem.  For instance, a random rubber band becomes the perfect solution to opening a persistently stubborn lid on a jar of pickles.  Or a stretched paper clip becomes the just right answer to an accidentally locked door.


The First Light Bulb Blog PhotoSuch was the case earlier this spring when a problem presented itself.  My daughter, a kindergarten student, just could not pass her “wh” spelling test. Passing this test with a perfect score was a requirement to be able to move onto the next spelling list.  Despite ardent visits to “Spelling City” on the computer, the marriage of “w” and “h” in words like “what”, “where”, “when”, “who”, and “why” continued to elude her.  And then… a seemingly unrelated solution presented itself.  

For Easter this year I created and blogged about an Editable Preposition Scavenger Hunt using a word-shape font.  One afternoon, as I was organizing files on my computer I came across the Preposition Scavenger Hunt and it dawned on me.  Why couldn’t I use that same word-shape font to create editable spelling practice for my daughter?  With such a form I could easily type in her spelling list using the word-shape font each week and perhaps this would provide the scaffolding she needed to finally remember that sneaky “h”.  And so I set to work!  As I am sure you have already guessed, the word-shapes worked!  

Happy schoolgirl jumping high on white background

The following Friday her feet had barely left the bus steps when she kneeled in the grass, unzipped her backpack and proudly presented a slightly crumpled, but otherwise perfect spelling test. Now we practice spelling this way each week. Below you will find an outline of the practice schedule we use and pictures of the editable word-shape spelling practice that I created for my daughter. You can find these editable forms at our YouCan2 store.


Creating the practice:  As soon as my daughter’s spelling list comes home on Monday night I have her read the words to me and then I quickly sit down and type them into my editable spelling forms.  Once printed, I place them in a clear page protector.  I recommend using a high quality page protector for durability.  I buy mine at Costco and they work great.

Personalized Spelling Practice Front

Personalized Spelling Practice Back




















Day 1:  On Tuesday morning, I always have my daughter’s spelling practice waiting for her beside her breakfast.  While she is munching away on banana waffles she practices tracing and writing her words using a dry erase marker.  Before rushing upstairs to brush her teeth, she wipes the page protector clean.  

Day 2:  On Wednesday morning, she traces and writes her words again and then I have her flip the page protector over.  Next, I give her a mock text using the word shape boxes.  

Day 3:  On Thursday morning we repeat Day 2.

Day 4:  On Friday morning, I pull the word shape test out of the page protector and I fold it in half.  I give my daughter one last test using the word- shape font.  She uses a pencil to write in the letter boxes this final time. Next, I correct it and then we flip the folded paper over.  I then give her the test without the word-shape font.  When finished, she opens the folded paper and corrects her work.  I always have some fun stickers set out that she proudly adheres next to correct words.

Editable Spelling FIRST

Editable Spelling NEXTDay 4 Spelling Practice Last


The Second Light Bulb Blog PhotoAfter seeing how well this worked for my daughter, a second light bulb went off.  I should be using this in my classroom!  Next year, I plan on sending each student home at the beginning of the year with a page protector, a dry erase pen and parent instructions (these instructions are included with our editable spelling test product).  I am excited because the editability of the spelling practice will make it easy for me to send home differentiated lists of words. Of course, this spelling practice could be done in class with a spelling buddy as well.  

Next year, I will be teaching a 3rd/4th combination class.  The practice I made for my daughter was great for her as a Kindergartner, but I knew I needed something more advanced for some of my older students. So, I began work on intermediate and advanced versions of my spelling practice.  Some of my students still need handwriting practice, but others don’t so I created versions that did not include a dotted mid-line.  I also created versions that had smaller font and spaces for more words.  Check out the images below for examples of our Advanced Spelling Practice in action.  This practice is also available in our YouCan2 store.  

Editable Spelling Intermediate Front

 Editable Spelling Intermediate BACK

Editable Spelling Intermediate FirstEditable Spelling Intermediate LAST

Editable Spelling Intermediate NEXT1

The Third Light Bulb Blog Photo


Last year after watching a second language learner in my class fail their weekly spelling test again and again, I had another aha moment.  Why not create a spelling test for him using the word- shape boxes?  And so I set to work again creating an editable word shape test that could easily be typed into each week.  These editable word-shape tests are now a part of both of our editable spelling products. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ 

The Fourth and Fifth and... Light Bulb


Now the aha moments just keep coming!  I started using these editable sheets as synonym and antonym puzzles for students to solve.  By filling in some of the letters in the boxes, students are challenged to find synonyms and antonyms for any given word.  We have a word of the week in my classroom and this has been a fun way for them to think about the word.  At the end of the school year, we went on a class fishing trip and I created an synonym/antonym sheet for the verb “fish”.  They worked on this sheet on the bus trip there and back.  Check out images of these sheets below.

Editable Spelling Antonym PageEditable Spelling 6

These sheets could also be used to emphasize content area vocab, help young children learn how to write their name or practice sight words.  The boxes once written in could even be cut apart to create letter puzzles that students must unscramble.  I am positive there are many more ways that these editable spelling forms could be used.  We would love to hear from you if you come up with something new!  

notepad and pencil isolated on white background. 3d rendered image



May 30

Paleo-friendly, Kid-approved, Work-morning Breakfast… Is that even possible? YES!

Alarm Clock.

We attempt to eat Paleo at my house.  Let me rephrase that… I attempt to eat Paleo and everyone else is forced into submission because I’m the cook. However, I have to admit that even though I am the cook my success rate is not exactly 100 percent! My husband has been known to completely boycott entire meals (the eggplant lasagna didn’t go over well). My children, as many children do, turn up their noses at all sorts of things that I think are pretty fabulous.

However, I would venture to say that breakfast on a work morning is the biggest challenge of all when it comes to eating Paleo!  In order for such a meal to be successful at my house it must be kid-approved, convenient, quick and still include no grains or dairy.  It has taken me a couple of years, but I have finally come to a happy place in this realm of my culinary endeavors. Never mind that my husband still has his “hidden” box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch stashed behind the serving platter on the highest shelf.  Somethings you just have to let go!  So… today, I offer to you a list of Paleo breakfast ideas (the culmination of years of Pinterest scouring) that can be prepared quickly, with minimal clean up AND will have your kids wishing that they didn’t have to rush upstairs to brush their teeth because they REALLY, REALLY want seconds!

Blog Waffle PictureGRAB and GO Paleo WAffles:  This is my ultimate Paleo breakfast of choice. The waffles are fairly convenient to make the first time around, but the true beauty is their ability to be saved in the fridge and popped in the toaster when needed.  I usually make them up fresh on Sunday mornings and then store them in the fridge to be toasted later in the week. EASY!  

COOKIES! … For Breakfast?!:  These no processed sugar (aside from the optional chocolate chips), grain-free, dairy-free, egg-free wonders can be made when stress levels are low.  They can be saved in the cupboard or frozen to suddenly appear when the morning craziness has returned. I use these on mornings when the best I can do is offer my children an enroute meal.  They think they are getting a treat and I feel good that they got a low-sugar, healthy-fat, high-protein Paleo breakfast.  



Check out the recipes below and the links from which my stress-free morning inspirations first began.  

Stress Free Paleo Morning

Download and Print Recipes

While the waffles and ,secondly, the breakfast cookies are my general go to choices for stressful mornings, it must be additionally noted that I have found two other recipes that also are fabulous make-ahead Paleo breakfast options.  

Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Mini Blender Muffins can be found at:

These are great for those mornings in which you are required to bring a breakfast dish to share with your child’s class or any group for that matter.  I say this because they very successfully compete with the token donuts and Costco muffins that almost always appear at these kinds of functions. They taste great and are the first to go in my daughter’s kindergarten class (even before the donuts!).  However, they are secretly a much healthier option and Paleo (if almond butter is used).  

An amazing Paleo Cornbread recipe can be found at:

This cornbread is great anytime and even non-Paleo people love it!  However, my daughters beg for it for breakfast too.  I often double the batch if I make it for dinner and then we can enjoy the leftovers for breakfast for a few days into the week!  Double duty!  

Thank you to the following clipartists:  

Prettygrafik for the gingham background on our recipe cards

Trioriginals for the border on our recipe cards

Hello Fonts for the fonts used on the recipe cards

May 19

Father’s Day Design Challenge 2016

Father's Day Design Challenge Blog Photo3

Mistakes… I spend a great deal of time helping my students embrace them. At home, I have sat with a teary eyed child on my lap a countless number of times reminding that mistakes are a good thing.  They are opportunities to learn, to grow, to become stronger. Besides that, they are an inevitable part of being human. I know this. However, I am reminded every time I make a mistake that embracing them is easier said than done!  True?!  


So, yes, I made a mistake.  Quite unintentionally, I sent home my students’ carefully crafted Father’s Day gifts an entire month early and completely unwrapped.  These things do happen occasionally when you are team teaching. And yes… I did feel bad about it, but then I decided to heed my own advice and see this mistake as a gift, a chance to grow.  Without my mistake, Father’s Day Design Challenge 2016 would never have been born.  Time to celebrate!

When reflecting on Father’s Day gifts of years past (Mother’s Day and Christmas too, for that matter), I realized that a recurrent chain of events took place.  It seemed that each year I spent a great deal of time scouring PInterest looking for that perfect gift, THEN I spent an exorbitant amount of energy rounding up all of the necessary materials and THEN there was the agonizing over the perfection of the end product.Father's Day Design Challenge Blog Photo4  This took place in my classroom and also at home.  The end result was always something less that the children had created  out of love for that important someone in their lives and something more that I had created. The children just happened to put their names on it. Sad, but true.  It was time consuming, expensive and mostly something for me to be proud of.  With the blank slate I had created with my aforementioned mistake, I decided this was the year to make a change!


I started small.  I actually challenged my three girls at home to create something for their grandmothers for Mother’s Day.  They could create anything they thought their grandmothers might like, however, their creation had to be completely upcycled.  Every material used had to have had another use in a previous life.  We went “shopping” in our home looking for inspirational things that could be fashioned into something else.  They settled on a half empty bottle of barbecue sauce.  We emptied its contents into a small container and voila- a vase!  Next, we sketched up some ideas for beautifying their vase and then got to work.  We found tissue paper from my recent Anthropologie visit, Mod Podge left over from a previous project, and a handpicked bouquet of flowers from the backyard.  At that point, my six year old took a step back and declared that some additional bling was absolutely necessary!  After locating some string and a couple of beads from a broken necklace, she tied a laureate around the neck of the vase.  Next, she designed a tag for the vase on the computer and we printed it out on a scrap piece of card stock.  The finished product was attractive, completely free and completely theirs.  Better yet, my daughters learned a lesson in upcycling and the design process.  Father's Day Design Project Blog Photo

Now… onto bigger things!  In hopes of meeting the NGSS Engineering Design Standards this year, I have provided my students with many opportunities to work through the design process.  The design process I use in my classroom has four parts: Ask, Plan, Create, and Test.  Students work through the process as many times as necessary until the desired result has been created.  I just started using the design process with my students this year and I have noticed a huge increase in student engagement. Exciting stuff! Students that once balked at math are now gladly playing with numbers as they use them to meet a real need. Check out YouCan2’s Design Notebook for a way to help students organize their thinking and a way for you to assess their work as they work through the process.  

Design Notebook Square Cover Jpg

Then it occurred to me… why not have students approach the creation of their Father’s Day gift in the same way?  This year my students will apply the same design process to the creation of their gift as they have to fashioning pom pom catapults and solar ovens.  The first step of the design process “ASK” invites students to contemplate a problem they are faced with.  They must consider the criteria to be followed and the constraints they must work within. A quick search “children’s Father’s Day gifts” on Pinterest leads to ideas about picture frames, bookmarks, key chains and coffee mugs, just to name a few.  As we peruse, students could be thinking about what their father would like and how they could create it within the criteria and constraints of the project.  Next, a “Plan” must form.  This is where students sketch ideas, list needed materials and annotate their thinking with numbers. Students will go home that day with a paper bag, a letter home (addressed to Mom) and their PLANS.  Students will need to collect various upcycled items and place them in the bag to return to school.  The letter ensures that a little guidance and understanding is happening at home just in case a kid decides that mom’s jewelry box is fair game (after all her jewelry is used)!  Check out our letter home along with a Design Challenge handout available at our YouCan2 store for FREE.   Father's Day Challenge Square Cover JPG

I will also make sure that I bring my recycling bin to class just in case students find it difficult to obtain the items they need from home. The next day students will “CREATE.”  Just like my six year old when she stepped back and examined her vase, the students will most likely find that their plan needs alterations and adjustments as they “CREATE” and “TEST” which will in turn lead them back to “ASK”… What can I do to make my design better?  In the end, the finished product should be environmentally friendly, free and most importantly truly from them.  

Apr 03

Not Just for Easter: A Preposition Scavenger Hunt

It was 11:39 on a Wednesday night and I sat wearily on the edge of the bar stool at my kitchen’s island.  My laptop glowed in front of me.  With a final click, I sent my Amazon order into cyberspace. “Done,” I thought to myself with satisfaction, “another item to check off my list.” With Easter quickly approaching, I had admittedly procrastinated on getting my three daughters’ Easter basket items ordered.  Now three thoroughly researched children’s books, a new family game and a Snow White DVD were on their way! However, my feeling of satisfaction was short-lived when I glanced at the order confirmation on the computer screen.  There it was written in bold red letters. “Your items will be delivered on Monday, March 28th.”  Amazon Prime had failed me OR perhaps it was already Thursday in their world.  Regardless, my daughters’ Easter baskets would be empty if I didn’t think fast.  What to do?… I could rush to Target and buy some less well researched items. But then I would have to deal with returning everything to Amazon.  No, I needed another solution.  Read on to find out what I came up with. Sometimes the best ideas come from necessity!  

So… I did go to Target after all.  Aside from boxes of raisins, three pair of Easter socks from the dollar section and, yes, a little chocolate to put in their baskets, the only thing I bought was a package of plastic eggs.  Are you curious?

Back at home, I went to work on clues.  I used the Kindergarten common core standard CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.K.1.e “use the most frequently occurring prepositions” to guide me as I wrote the clues.  This standard is appropriate for my daughters (ages 2, 4, and 6). Each clue begins with a frequently used preposition.  Next, I cut the letters apart for each clue and put them inside the eggs.  On Easter eve, I placed an egg with letters in each of their baskets along with a slip of paper that they would glue the letters to once they had unscrambled them.  See photo for clarification.

Preposition Scavenger Hunt Blog Photo 2  

Easter morning arrived.  I could see that although the girls weren’t quite sure what to think they were definitely intrigued.  Actually, if I am to be completely honest, Haslyn (age 2) was much more interested in the chocolate.  But, Jolee and Shae, my older two, were anxious to unscramble the letters right away!  Preposition Scavenger Hunt Blog PhotoFirst, we made a list of all the prepositions they could think of on our chalk board. This made it easier for them to proceed successfully.They opened the first egg and got to work.  They knew that the first word of the clue had to be a preposition. They used the preposition list and the shapes of the letters to help them solve which one it might be.  After about 10 minutes of rearranging and talking it through they discovered that on Tuesday morning there would be a surprise “on the fridge.” At this point, I asked if they were ready for their Easter breakfast of French toast.  No, they certainly were not!  They wanted to solve one more puzzle.  I could feel my sense of satisfaction returning!  With all the clues solved the girls could hardly wait until Tuesday morning to find out what awaited them… under the couch, behind the house, through the secret door, and on the fridge.

Preposition Scavenger Hunt Blog Photo 4Preposition Scavenger Hunt Blog Photo3

 With a little more thought, I realized this activity could go beyond the realm of Easter.  Preposition scavenger hunts could be created and used either at home or school.  The plastic eggs are a great way to contain the letters regardless of the time of year.  A preposition clue in one egg could lead to another preposition clue in another egg.  Kids would be learning about prepositions as they looked under, behind, on top, below in search of their next clue.  A surprise need not be at the end.  The scavenger hunt itself might be prize enough.  Kids or teams of students could race to get through the clues first. You could even take this task a bit further and have kids write the preposition clues for someone else.  So many options!  Follow this link to find a free editable preposition clue creator at our YouCan2 store.  ENJOY!  

Mar 01

Love the List

Love The List Blog PhotoLast week was a bad week. After receiving an angry letter from the library about some admittedly very overdue books, missing the due date of an important assignment in a class I am taking and realizing at 4:50 on Thursday evening that I had forgotten my daughter’s dance class that started at 4:45 I felt as if I might officially be losing my mind! While I do forget things from time to time, I am usually able to manage to keep up with life. What was going on? Luckily, my mom was able to straighten me out.  “Do you have a list?” she asked.  

I am a notorious list maker.  I love the feeling of scratching out finished items as they are completed.  I have even been known to write something down on the list I have already completed just to get the immediate gratification of crossing it out.  However, things have gotten so busy for me as of late that I didn’t think I had time to make a list. Obviously, I was wrong.  I didn’t have time NOT to make a list.  After internalizing my mother’s words of wisdom, I sat down and penciled out my first list in a couple of weeks.  Instantly, a sense of calm washed over me. The list was (and is) very long, but at least now I knew what I needed to get done.  I wasn’t juggling it all upstairs in my very crowded head.  

To Do List Blog PhotoIt was during this moment of list-making inner peace that it dawned on me.  I should be sharing the power of list-making with my children and the students in my class! I immediately set to work making a cute, kid-friendly to do list template. Check out our YouCan2 store for a free copy.  

The next day, during our classroom meeting, I sat down with the kids and shared my bad week: forgotten assignment and all.  Then I pulled out my list and showed it to them.  I talked about how I was using the list strategy to make sure I remembered what I needed to do.  Later, I passed out the new kid-friendly lists.  The kids were very willing and eager to give them a try.  

Because we are nearing midterms, many students have unfinished work and loose ends to tie up.  With this in mind, each student created a list.  To facilitate this process I had posted missing work.  I also had a new list of a few other things such as a math measurement game, coding on the computer and our poetry partner activity for them to include.  

We talked about prioritizing and I admitted my difficultly with this.  Sometimes, I shared with them, when I have a moment to work I end up doing the things I want to do instead of the things I need to do.  For instance, I made the cute, kid-friendly to do list template for the class instead of paying the garbage bill… tsk tsk.  I suggested they put the things they need to do first on the list. Missing work, for example, should come before the measurement game.  One student called me to task.  He very politely asked if this was something I would be working on!  Good for him!  My answer was a resounding “Yes!”

The students really loved making and using the lists and the feeling of “in control” that it gave them.  They also, like most of us, loved the sense of satisfaction they got when crossing a completed task off of their list. What’s next? Giving this strategy a go with my six year old daughter!

Update:  Yesterday, I sat down with my daughter and helped her make her list. Like everyone else, she LOVES THE LIST.  As she completed something on the list she would run down the stairs to check it off.  Never once did she drag her feet about completing her chores.   She was a very happy girl when her list was completed.  And… upon completing the list, she asked… “Mom, when can I make another list?”  Music to a mom’s ears!  

To Do List 2 Blog Photos

Feb 26

Exit Tickets: New Spins on a Tried and True Method

Did they get what I just taught them?  It’s a question educators are continually asking themselves.  Exit Tickets are a powerful interactive student response system intended to give the teacher at any grade level a quick “snapshot” of what students have learned, what they are still questioning, or even what prior knowledge they might be entering a lesson with.  Many educators are already using Exit Tickets, but after scouring the web I have compiled a list of new spins on this tried and true method that I hope will be useful.  

Use Exit Tickets to… activate prior knowledge.         At the end of the day or class period, suggest a concept or topic word to students that you plan to cover in the next day’s class. Ask students to jot down on an Exit Ticket any words or ideas that come to mind relating to the presented topic. After class, quickly record students’ ideas on a poster-sized concept map. Reviewing student ideas in this way will provide a plan on how to proceed the next day.  In addition, students will see that their thinking has been incorporated into the lesson which will encourage student ownership and enthusiasm.  Both good things!

Use Exit Tickets to… form groups.  Before an upcoming group project, ask students to use the Exit Tickets to share topics of interest or to answer a content related question.  With Exit Tickets in hand, you can quickly organize students into groups either by interest, by ability, or both, making sure each group has a strong mix of experts and novices. You will also be able to ensure that students are working in the company of students with interests similar to their own.  I see a productive group in your near future!  

Use Exit Tickets to… focus conversation during independent conference time.  After a reading mini-lesson, ask students to connect the core idea of the lesson with what they are currently reading. Once the Exit Tickets have been collected you can quickly identify two things: which students are in most need of an immediate one-on-one conference and a direction for individual conference discussion with each student.    

Use Exit Tickets to… survey student opinions.  What do students think about a main character’s reaction to something in the text?  Or how do they feel about the staff’s decision to ban microwaves from the lunchroom?  You or your students can tally up student responses and create percentages and fractions with the data.  This will provide students the opportunity to use math in an authentic way while acknowledging every student’s voice in the classroom.

Use Exit Tickets to… generate ideas.   Ask students to free-write about a given topic on their Exit Tickets for the last several minutes of class.  The next day use what ideas they have generated as the beginning of a writing piece you have planned.  Asking students to freely write, for instance, about what they thought about the results of a science experiment is much less intimidating than requiring them to write a final conclusion of that same science experiment.  The sense of urgency at the end of class accompanied with the low-stakes of an Exit Ticket make it easy for student thinking to flow. The next day, return their Exit Tickets and notify them that they already have their very first rough draft of their science experiment conclusion. Oh happy day!

Use Exit Tickets to… help students self-evaluate.  Using a scale of your making, ask students to rate how well they understood the material that day or ask students to rate how hard they worked.  You could also ask students to think about what they could have done during the class period to help themselves learn better.  Use what you glean from these Exit Tickets to devise mini-lessons on learning strategies that you think would be beneficial to your students.  Teaching student self-awareness is a great way to help students become more responsible for their learning.  

Use Exit Tickets to… provide an avenue of communication for your students to let you know what you’re doing that is working for them and what you’re doing that isn’t.  You could specifically ask a question like: “How did the note taking today help you understand the content?” Or consider asking more open-ended questions like: “What is something I could be doing to enhance your understanding?”  While you may hear something that is difficult to acknowledge, asking these questions gives you some very important feedback and sends a very important message to students.  All of us are learners in the classroom.  Even the teacher!   

Use Exit Tickets as Entrance Tickets!  Who says Exit Tickets can’t be Entrance Tickets?  Using this system at the beginning of a class or class period has the potential to captivate student interest and at the same time provide information on the students’ level of understanding going into a lesson or activity allowing for customization of instruction.  An example: Just last week I knew we would be solving a math problem about the distance between earth and the International Space Station.  Upon entering the classroom, I asked the students to make an educated guess about this distance. The students were instantly engaged and anxious to do the problem in order to find out how close their estimate was.  In addition, this information was useful to me. I quickly had background information to guide me in delivery of the lesson.  

Exit Tickets Park It Poster Blog PhotoSome final thoughts…

One of the appealing benefits of the use of Exit Tickets is that the participation of every student is much more likely.  When we call on raised hands or even pull a popsicle stick out of a jar we are still only involving a very small part of the class.  

Wondering how to collect those Exit Tickets?  In my classroom, we use something called the “Park It” PosterEach student has a place to “park” their thinking. I love it because I can quickly glance at the “Park It” Poster and know immediately who has participated or not.

I also use the “Park It” Poster as a middle of the class check. Before I send students off for independent practice I might ask them to respond to a related question. After quickly reviewing the “Park It” Poster I know who I need to see right away for individual work and who might be a great go to expert if a student needs help and I am helping someone else.

We were inspired by Rebecca Alber from Edutopia when writing this post. Check out her post on Exit Tickets.  

Happy Parking!  

Jan 26

Visualization: 3 Things You Need to Know

Visualization2As a fairly new teacher, I will never forget the look on a certain student’s face when I suggested that a movie plays in my mind every time I read a book.  This student, a member of my high school Title One Reading Class, was a bubbly, lovable girl who often had plenty to say, but at that particular moment was speechless. Temporarily surprised by her response, I was too! You see, I have always been a good reader and for as long as I can remember I have seen elaborate sensory images in my mind every time I read.  As a beginning teacher, I assumed that my students must be doing the same thing. But… obviously, they weren’t.  After the student recovered from her long moment of slack-jawed silence, she informed me that she had never once seen a picture in her mind while she read.  And so began my journey of learning about the power of visualization and how explicitly teaching it to my students could make a significant difference in their comprehension of both fiction and nonfiction texts. 

Visualizing, the act of creating sensory images in the mind while reading, is a particularly important reading strategy.  There is much research that demonstrates the benefits of purposely teaching readers to visualize. It is one of the skills that make comprehension possible.  However, it is important to remember that not all visualization instruction is created equal.  What follows are three things you need to know about training students to visualize. Read on.  


This is something I worried quite a bit about at the beginning.  I can remember when I first started explicitly teaching the strategy of visualization. I asked students to do a lot of drawing.  I wanted them to communicate visually what they were seeing while reading.  Admittedly, I was a little concerned that someone would walk in, especially at the high school level, and think that my teaching wasn’t rigorous enough.  After some thought, I got over this. I reminded myself that visualization is a very important piece of the comprehension puzzle and drawing is a worthwhile tool in the process. I knew I had more to learn, but I was headed in the right direction.   

Try this:  Close your eyes.  Visualize the color green. Now try visualizing the color lime green. Did your visual picture change after you read lime green?

This is a very simple way of demonstrating how the text adjusts the images in a good reader’s mind and how this helps a good reader draw conclusions about what they are reading. Of course, good readers are doing this on a much more complicated level each time they sit down to read. Entire mental worlds are formed and altered as their minds adjust to new information on the page. Your time with students is valuable and there isn’t enough of it, but spending time helping students learn how to visualize is time very well spent. 


Visualizing isn’t just about seeing a picture.  When I first started teaching students how to visualize it was all about what they “saw” in their minds.  While this was helpful, it really isn’t the whole shebang of what visualizing can do for a reader.  After reading the book, Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmerman, I realized that visualizing entails the mental production of a whole sensory experience.  By doing this, a good reader expands on the author’s words and adds depth to what they are reading.  

Try this:  In picking up where we left off…visualize the color lime green. Close your eyes if you need to.  Now go beyond just what you see.  What do you smell, taste, hear, feel and what emotions are you experiencing?  

I do this same activity with my students before reading the book Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger.  While I am now a fourth grade teacher, I feel this activity would have been just as effective with my high school students.  It is amazing the kinds of sensory experiences each student has to share after they close their eyes and spend some time really experiencing the color. Each student’s experience and response is varied, nuanced and slightly changed by each individual’s prior experiences.  I especially love the addition of emotions to the sensory experience.  Students really enjoy attaching an emotion to the color they are seeing and it truly does add depth to the author’s words.  

If you are interested in helping students create multi-sensory images while they read, check out our Visualizing Squares product in our YouCan2 store. This product invites students to elaborate on the author’s words and go deeper into the text.  When using the Visualizing Squares with a class select a poem or passage to spend some time with. Have the students close their eyes and mentally “walk around” in the scene the author has created for them.  It will quickly become clear who is comprehending the material and who is not.  I often use a poem about a child sledding down a hill at night.  See an example below.  Many students, after spending a minute or so “walking around” inside the poem, jot down that they see things that the author’s words did not explicitly suggest, but are still supported by the text. For example, they might say that they saw a cabin on a hill with smoke curling from its chimney, that they heard the sound of snow crunching underfoot or that they saw the light the moon cast on the snow. It is obvious that these students are using visualization and inference to create a deeper world from the text thereby enhancing their comprehension. However, there are always a handful of students who don’t seem to have read the poem at all.  For instance, they might say they feel the heat of the sun.  These students are not yet able to use visualization techniques to support their comprehension. This is an important reminder that while we want to use visualization to elaborate on the author’s words we still must use the text as the foundation for our visualizations.  I am able to learn a lot about each student’s ability to visualize when using the Visualizing Squares.  Visualizing Squares Blog Photo (1)


This final thought is one that, at last, is becoming real for me as a teacher. Using visualization to comprehend nonfiction text, at first, seemed unnatural to me.  However, as we all know, the Common Core asks us to focus more on nonfiction text and, with this in mind, I started really thinking about how I personally use visualization to comprehend this broad genre.  This thinking has really opened up a completely new world for me in regards to how I teach the reading of nonfiction and how I also, as a side benefit, have enhanced my own skills in this area.  

Alan Paivo’s research on dual coding reminds us of the importance of using visualization while reading nonfiction text.  In his research, he states that thinking consists of both a verbal and a nonverbal system.  When a reader creates a mental image that relates to what they read they make abstract ideas more concrete, memorable and meaningful. When reading nonfiction we are often reading for a purpose and we often hope to retain or remember certain information. Good readers create mental images that help them retain this information and understand the author’s message more clearly. For instance, a reader might create a mental picture of steps and arrange the information in a hierarchical way to understand the organization of the text’s ideas.  I have found that having students draw the organization images they are seeing to be a very effective study method. My class just finished a nonfiction book about growth mindset and what happens inside our brains as we learn new things. Together we visualized by making a mental picture in our minds of what our brain looks like as we learn.  Now, every time they need a little growth mindset reminder, I ask them to recall the picture we made. It has really helped make the the text more memorable and less abstract. These are skills that will help students throughout their lives to be more effective readers and learners.

On a more personal note, I have learned to practice visualization in my daily life outside of the classroom.  When cooking, I visualize myself performing each step of a recipe.  This has been hugely helpful!  I am actually able to remember what to do as three children are pulling on my pant legs and are doing their very best to distract the cook (me)!  Go visualization!  

Jan 07

A 5-Step Toy Detox

Young woman kneeling at container with toys and assembles strewn toys. She looks like thought about something. Front view.

Ahh… the start of a new year!  The promise of a clean slate!  Another chance to get it right. You know the drill.  Thankfully, there is an abundance of magazine articles, pinterest pins and blog posts all dedicated to helping us put the right foot forward as the new year starts.  Today, I offer yet another way to start fresh as you begin the new year.  No doubt about it… refining your diet, sleep, and workout habits are noble goals.  However, I urge you to consider purging another area of your life:  the toy wasteland that may have become your home during the holiday gift binge.  If you are finding it difficult to recall what your floor looks like or if your child’s bedroom looks more like an obstacle course than a place to sleep then this detox is for you! Read on! 



I came up with the idea of assisting my children in the purging of their toys a few years ago after reading the book Simplicity Parenting by Kim Payne. Payne offers a persuasive argument about the need for children to have one or two cherished playthings.  He maintains that children are over-stimulated in today’s world and this over-stimulation has led to rampant behavior problems. Adults purchase toy upon toy with the intent to engage, delight and educate children.  However, in Payne’s opinion, the mountain of whizzing, whirring, flashing and moving toys only serves to create children who do not know how to entertain themselves and who are completely overwhelmed by the constant choices they are presented with.  No doll is special if a child has 15 dolls.  Reading Payne’s book led me to transform the toy landscape of my house.  While this change earned me the title of “Toy Nazi” from my husband, it has dramatically changed the way my children play and, thankfully,… the way my house looks!


STEP 1:  Build Toy Mountain

To begin, we put every toy in the entire house in our living room.  There were toys everywhere:  under beds, behind couches, buried in the dirt outside. Together, with the kids, we collected every last toy.  This took a great deal of time and effort. Persevere; it is worth it.  At last Toy Mountain stood prominently in our living room.  It was truly an awe inspiring sight!


STEP 2:  Engaging Toys Vs. Passive Toys

The next step is to rid your house of toys that are truly counterproductive to your child’s growth.  Toys should ask something of your child.  The child should need to engage with the toy; not be passive recipients.  Blocks are excellent toys, doll babies that talk and wet probably aren’t.  The toy should stretch a child’s imagination and require them to do something new.  You are going to want to do this step when the kids aren’t around.  I did it when the kids had gone to bed, but if one of your new year’s resolutions is to get more sleep you better come up with another plan.  I was up until the wee hours of the morning.  Maybe have your spouse take them out for the day or have them spend some quality time with Grandma and Grandpa.  Whatever it takes. If your kids are present they will begin pleading with you as to why EVERY toy holds special significance.  That toy that was buried in the dirt for a year was not at all significant yesterday, but somehow now that it is in their hot little hands there will be tears about parting with it.  Once the kids are gone, split the toys into two piles:  Engaging Toys and Passive Toys.  Get the passive toys out of the house as soon as possible.  Taking them to a donation center is one option. This should cut your mountain at least in half.


STEP 3:  Host a “Giving Night”

You will need to do a lot of purging, but your children can (and should) help with this next step.  I planned a “Giving Night.”  I read a book about generosity and the power of giving.  The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is an excellent choice although I am sure there are many others.  If you have suggestions be sure to put them in the comment section so others can benefit.  Then, we looked at our mountain and I gave each child 3 grocery bags.  They had to fill each up with toys they were willing to donate.  This is a very powerful lesson for children and helps them to be a part of the detox experience.  Next, get in the car and take them to a favorite donation center.  Have the kids physically donate the toys.  There were some tears in the car, but everyone felt great afterwards. It did help that we celebrated by stopping by the local ice cream shop on the way home!  At this point, your mountain should be a manageable hill!  Progress!  Giving Day Celebration Blog Photo


STEP 4:  Creation of Toy Library

Toy LibraryAfter putting the kids to bed on “Giving Night”  I stayed up and moved the rest of the toys and all of the children’s books in the house into a closet that I had cleaned out specifically for the purpose of creating a toy library. Finding such a spot is not easy. It might require some rearranging of your things, but this step is essential.  This needs to be a closet or space that is definitely off limits aside from a special check out time that you agree on with your children.


















STEP 5:  The Nuts and Bolts

Toy & Book Storage Boxes in Play AreaThe next morning I supplied my children with two boxes.  We made labels for the boxes that identified the boxes as that particular child’s.  Each child has a box for toys and a box for books.  We then sat down and together crafted the toy library rules.  I have included a copy of the rules my family agreed on at the end of this post. When organizing the toy library I created several different bins.  There was a bin for each of the following:  dolls, stuffed animals, random toys, dress up, games, instruments, and activities/crafts.  My children and I decided theyBlog Photo Shopping would be able to check out one doll, one stuffed animal and three random toys each week.  They keep these items in their personal box.  They are also allowed to check out 7 books.  They keep these in their book box.  The other items, dress up, blocks, etc.  stay in the toy library permanently. They are allowed to check out these items any time they desire as long as everything else is put away in their boxes (this task is much more manageable for them now). Some items are permanently out of the toy library.  All the doll accessories (bottles, blankets, diapers, etc.) have a special box out of the toy library so they can access these items no matter which doll they have chosen for the week.  Legos also have a special box in their play area.  My kids also have a giant dollhouse that would be very impractical to move in and out of the toy library so it always stays in their play area and all of its furniture stays inside.  They also have a play kitchen and the food and dishes stay in bins inside this toy as well.  You will have to experiment with things until you find a system that works best for you and your family.  Every Friday after school my kids look forward to “shopping”  in the toy library by bringing their boxes from the play area and exchanging the toys and books for new ones.  


Since implementing this system I have noticed a number of positive changes in my children’s behavior as well as mine when it comes to toys.  The kids respect and care for their toys in a way that they did not before.  They play and engage for longer periods of time with single toys and have developed a greater attachment to a specific toy or doll. Picking up is not the fight it once was.  The task is now manageable for them (not saying this is perfect, but definitely much improved).  It has also dramatically changed my frustration level as I am not constantly picking up and tripping over random, abandoned toys.  



Every year, two days before Christmas, we clean the toy library.  If a toy hasn’t been checked out for a very long time we put it in a special donation box ready for the donation center.  We also spend all of Christmas Eve completely toy-free as the kids check all of their toys into the toy library. This makes space for the new toys that are arriving the next day and gives the kids a mental break before they are bombarded with new play things.  On Christmas Eve afternoon they receive a new board game, a special new book, and a movie.  We spend the day as a family enjoying these new items together with no other distractions. 

Although I haven’t done this in the past, I think I might begin mimicking our Christmas routine before birthdays as well.  Having a day before their birthday toy-free provides a break for them and creates a special place for their new toys.  Additionally, it will reinforce the act of giving to others before they receive gifts themselves.  

We have a lot of holiday related toys and books.  I pack these up in a special location outside of the toy library.  Before Christmas, I pull out all of the special Christmas related toys as well as the stack of Christmas related books.  I do the same for each holiday.  In this way I don’t have to search through the toy library before each holiday for the items I think my children might enjoy and it builds a sense of excitement around these toys.  Usually, the week before the holiday the kids don’t check anything out from the library and just enjoy these special toys and books.  

Hope this 5-Step Program helps you through the toy detox process!  We would love to hear how this goes for you!  

Toy libary rules and regulations

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