Friday, December 29, 2017

New Year Back-to-School Ideas


I've always found the irony in that I get to experience the back-to-school nightmares and butterflies twice a year since I teach on a block schedule. Just when this introverted teacher gets to know and feels comfortable with my fall semester students, it's time to learn 75 new smiling faces in January!

My traditional back-to-school ideas never seem quite right in the new year, so I've come up with back-to-school ideas that are better fitting for returning January. If you are lucky (or one could say unlucky?) enough to teach the same students after Christmas, these ideas can help you reconnect and set the tone for the rest of your year as well!


1. New Year Conversation Starters- Last year I found some free NYE conversation starters on Pinterest and had them setting out on desks when students arrived back for their first day of the new semester. We didn't use them until later in the class, so this gave students lots of thinking time before we needed them as group talking points. While these conversation starters worked in a pinch, I wanted to take this idea a step further by incorporating Growth Mindset into our discussion. I created 40 New Year Growth Mindset Conversation Starters that serve as icebreakers as well mindset promotion.


They can be used as posters too for your New Year Bulletin Board!

2. Growth Mindset Get-To-Know-You- Instead of doing my traditional get-to-know-you survey, I want to incorporate growth mindset for the new year. There's so much you can learn about students by their mindset, and I truly believe that helping students change their mindset from fixed to growth could be the single most important factor in their future success. To help my students visualize this change, I came up with a color-coding activity. Students reflect on their "black and white" fixed mindset and work to change this to a "colorful" growth mindset.



This video gives you a visual of how to use this resource digitally:

3. Making Reading Resolutions- One of my back-to-school stations includes choosing a free-reading book for our daily reading. To make this more fitting for the new year, I made some New Year Bookmarks and a Reading Challenge to inspire my students to read more in the new year.

You can get these bookmarks and reading challenge for free by signing up for my newsletter here:


Cheers to a new year! May 2018 be filled with lots of love, laughter, and BOOKS! 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Classroom Kindness Ideas for the Holiday Season



Kindness is cool year-round, but it is especially important to promote kindness during the holidays when examples of goodwill can be found around every corner. Therefore, I have teamed up with teachers who want to help you promote kindness in your classroom this holiday season!

We used the hashtag #ClassroomChristmasKindness on Instagram to spread the kindness love, and here is a round-up of our ideas for easy reference:

Classroom Kindness Ideas for the Holiday Season: 










3. A Kindness Cube gift for a friend by PrestoPlans




































Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Hygge in the Secondary ELA Classroom




Have you heard of hygge yet? It's a Danish word pronounced "hue-guh" and is used to acknowledge that feeling you get when you are cozy and safe and have a "warm and fuzzy" feeling that fills you with joy.

Since I'm participating in a 12 Days of Christmas Blog Hop Giveaway with the theme of "Comfort and Joy," I thought Hygge would be a perfect topic!

I initially picked up this adorable little hygge book because I wanted to practice more hygge within my home, but as with most things, I immediately began thinking about how my classroom could benefit from the elements of hygge as well.

While the book goes in depth about the Danish culture of hygge and its entire meaning, I'm only going to highlight the parts that lend well to creating a cozy classroom full of comfort and joy.



7 Hygge Ideas for Your Secondary ELA Classroom: 


1. Thoughtful, Soft Lighting- The Danes place a huge emphasis on lighting. Danish light fixtures are not only stunning, but they are placed in homes so that they provide warm pools of light exactly where they are needed. While I can't replace my harsh fluorescent lights, I can add lots of thrift store lamps and string Christmas lights (I always stock up on these when they are half price after Christmas!). These light choices help to create a homey and happy classroom.

A book speed dating activity that you can read more about here: Book Speed Dating 

2. Natural Materials and Items from Nature- Schools can be very sterile and are normally furnished with synthetic materials. Unless you bring in natural elements, your classroom will feel cold and disconnected from nature. One way to do this is to slowly add wooden furniture over time as you can afford it. As the author of The Little Book of Hygge explains, "Wood makes us feel closer to nature; it is simple and natural, just like the concept of hygge" (Williams 100). For some amazing wood tone inspiration, check out Write On With Ms. G's classroom! She won a grant to purchase flexible seating, and I absolutely love the homey feeling it created!

Another way to bring in natural elements is through plants. Plants have a way of cleaning the air, lowering stress, and giving students something to care for. Sadly, I don't have any windows in my room, but I do bring in bouquets as often as possible and designed these Nature-Themed Literary Device Posters to display in my windowless room.



3. An Impression of a Fireplace- Because of their primal ability to promote togetherness, fire and candles are key components of hygge in Danish homes. While these would be a fire hazard in schools, there are ways to incorporate this key element of hygge without burning down your classroom. ;) First, you could find a light only faux fireplace or make one yourself using a Christmas lights and some branches.




A faux fireplace I found for $5 at a yard sale 

Another option for creating a fireplace in your classroom is one that I am constantly telling people about because IT IS SO AWESOME.

Behold, a Harry Potter Ambient Sound YouTube Station 😍: 

Almost every Harry Potter room on this YouTube station has a fireplace and lovely fireplace sounds. They are also seasonal, so I always choose ones with snow during the winter. :)


4. Smells of Love- We all know that smells have an uncanny ability to engage the memory recall in our brains, so the Danes use smells to evoke happy memories which is a key component of hygge. Why not apply this phenomenon to teaching as well? If you have ever used scents in your room, then you know that's the first thing students notice and comment on when they walk in. I use a cheap essential oil diffusor as a subtle indicator of how our lesson will go that day. For example, peppermint oil is great for keeping student alert when learning a new concept and lavender is a nice oil to use when a more mellow vibe is needed. My students love this diffuser because it changes colors and puts out smells that aren't too overwhelming.

My classroom diffuser is on the bookshelf to the left. 


I also love the idea of having one signature classroom smell every day of the year so that students automatically feel "at home" and comfortable when they walk into your classroom each day.



5. Activities for Togetherness- Numerous studies have shown that Danes are possibly the happiest people in the world, and a key component of hygge--togetherness--might explain why. Williams reports, "in all the work I have done within the field of happiness research, this is the point I am surest about: the best predictor of whether we are happy or not is our social relationships"(34). Therefore, if social relationships are a certain predictor of happiness, it is important to design lessons that promote togetherness.


Ideas include: 
*Games (Quizlet Live and Kahoot Teams are great fun and promote teamwork)
*Organizing a charity goal to work toward (Mud Ink and Teaching has some ideas for you!)
*Hosting respectful and productive class discussions (How to Liven Up Your Socratic Seminar)



6. Making Time for Books- Taking a break with a good book is a picturesque component of hygge. While this is a controversial topic in regards to how precious classroom time should be spent, I'm a HUGE proponent of carving out daily reading time for myself and my students. My classes are 90 minutes long, so I devote the first 10 minutes of class time to free-choice reading and vocabulary acquisition. You can read more about that here: How to Incorporate Free-Choice Reading with Older Students 
Follow me on Instagram @BsBookLove



7. Relaxing Strategies- Hygge is all about creating space and time in your day that is stress -free and relaxing. While this is better achieved at home and not in a classroom where one should be productive, I do feel that it's important to combat the overdrive of stresses that our students face on a daily basis. Relaxing strategies can include classroom literary yoga and coloring for comprehension (that las link to The Language Arts Classroom who has a ton of grammar coloring pages!)


As you read through this list, you probably recognized hygge things you already do without even knowing you were doing them! Now there's a researched book to prove what a wonderful classroom environment you are creating for those special students in your life. 💓 Do you have any other ideas for fostering hygge in your classroom? Comment below!

Don't forget to visit our 12 Days of Christmas Blog Hop and Giveaway for lots of prizes and ideas for your classroom!

*This post contains affiliate links* 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

You can find this here: Student Infographics

You can see this digital resource in action here: 

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


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

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


Monday, June 19, 2017

Yard Sale Finds for Your Classroom



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

Yard Sale Finds for Your Classroom: 

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

I love how these look hung up! 

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


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

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

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

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