Interview A Classmate (Back to School Printable)

Class icebreaker activities are always fun. Here’s a simple way to get to know your students while assessing their writing. It’s a simple “Interview a Classmate” activity, free over at my post on We Are teachers. Click here to hop on over there!

Interview a Classmate preview

Teacher Chat!

Teacher Chat - TealI’ve decided to start learning more from other teachers around me. I’m eager to start conversations with other teachers to learn from them. I’ll be sharing what I learn in a series called “Teacher Chat!”

Chat with Diane from the USA

What grade(s) do you teach/have you taught? 2nd & 3rd

What’s one thing you do to prepare for/get through parent-teacher conferences?

I have students write a fill-in-the-blank letter to their parents telling what they like about school, their hardest and easiest subjects, their friends. At the conference, that letter is the first item in their folders. I have the student read it to their parents which gives us a great starting point for talking about reading, or whatever their strengths and weaknesses that they wrote about.

What’s one of your favorite end-of-the-year activities to do with your class?

I love to give each student an award. (There is a great list on This is the last thing we do before they leave on the last day. We put the chairs in a big circle and then I pass them out, telling a little about what the student did to earn the award. We let each person determine which cheer they want us to give them for their award. It’s a super positive way to end the year.

 What’s one thing you do to encourage good behavior in your class?

Tired of tattling, I made a “Caught InThe Act Doing Something Good” spiral notebook. When kids notice someone doing something good, they write it in the notebook. I read it once a week, kids loved it!

Tell us about one thing you wish you’d known when you first started teaching.

I will never be “caught up” or “finished” with the things I want to do for my class. So, don’t stress, do what you can, then go home and have an enjoyable life outside of teaching.

 What gets you through a hard day?

On hard days, I like to remember the small things that I am making a difference on with individual kids – especially the tough ones.

Sweet Treats Behavior Management System

This was too cute not to share. This teacher gives her students “brownie points.” But the problem was that brownies look kind of weird up at the front of the room. brown squares weren’t as cute and motivating as sweet cupcakes. She uses a brownie pan as the “tracking sheet.” The cupcake papers are laminated and attached to magnets. Here’s a picture:


Calm Down Box

Calm Down Box 1

Here’s an idea submitted by a reader. This teacher has a “calm down box” in her classroom. She put stress balls, timers and other tangible things in the box and when students get overwhelmed or need some alone time, they can sit at a table with the box and calm down.

Calm Down Box 2 Calm Down Box 3

Paint Partners (Student Mixer)

paint partners 1

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I LOVE the paint section at Lowes! All the colors are just way too fun. Also, there are times when I need students partnered randomly and I need a clever way to do it. So here’s my paint swatch student mixer idea:

  1. Grab 2 of each of your favorite paint swatches. (Make sure the names aren’t anything that’ll be distracting. I didn’t notice that one of the pinks was called “Tuti Fruiti” and it was a major distraction the first time we used these. I ended up taking that pair out of the stack in the future.)
  2. Glue each swatch onto a piece of white card stock.
  3. Laminate the cards so they will last.
  4. When it’s time go partner students, mix up the stack and hand out the cards. Give your kids a set amount of time (I used 1 minute) to find and sit next to their paint partner (the other student who has the same paint swatch as them).

Note: this idea requires time to let kids find their partner. I found this was a quick, effective break before introducing the new assignment.

Classroom Rules Poster – Owl (DIY)

Owls are pretty trendy these days. So when I saw a cute owl-shaped note pad at the dollar store, I just had to buy it (with plans to work it into my classroom somehow). Here’s the poster I came up with (pretty proud of my DIY project!):

owl poster

Our classroom rule is “no one has the right to interfere with the learning, safety or well being of others.” Each student will sign the poster and we’ll put it up on the wall so everyone will remember our classroom behavior expectations.

5 Quick (Yet Essential) Classroom Management Tips

5 essential classroom mgmt tipsThis is a great list of tips for new teachers. It’s written by Rebecca Alber and it’s very helpful for those seeking to improve their classroom management. Click here to see the original article.

I made a good number of blunders my first year teaching that still make me cringe. I learned though. And it’s fair to say, when it comes to managing a classroom, most of what we learn as new teachers is trial by fire. It’s also smart to heed the advice of those who have walked — and stumbled — before you. If you are struggling with discipline, here are five tips that you can start using right away:

#1) Use a normal, natural voice

Are you teaching in your normal voice? Every teacher can remember this from the first year in the classroom: spending those first months talking at an above-normal range until one day, you lose your voice.

Raising our voice to get students’ attention is not the best approach, and the stress it causes and the vibe it puts in the room just isn’t worth it. The students will mirror your voice level, so avoid using that semi-shouting voice. If we want kids to talk at a normal, pleasant volume, we must do the same.

You want to also differentiate your tone. If you are asking students to put away their notebooks and get into their groups, be sure to use a declarative, matter-of-fact tone. If you are asking a question about a character in a short story, or about contributions made by the Roman Empire, use an inviting, conversational tone.

#2) Speak only when students are quiet and ready

This golden nugget was given to me by a 20-year veteran my first year. She told me that I should just wait. And wait, and then wait some more until all students were quiet.

So I tried it; I fought the temptation to talk. Sometimes I’d wait much longer than I thought I could hold out for. Slowly but surely, the students would cue each other: “sshh, she’s trying to tell us something,” “come on, stop talking,” and “hey guys, be quiet.” (They did all the work for me!)

My patience paid off. Yours will too. And you’ll get to keep your voice.

#3) Use hand signals and other non-verbal communication

Holding one hand in the air, and making eye contact with students is a great way to quiet the class and get their attention on you. It takes awhile for students to get used to this as a routine, but it works wonderfully. Have them raise their hand along with you until all are up. Then lower yours and talk.

Flicking the lights off and on once to get the attention is an oldie but goodie. It could also be something you do routinely to let them know they have 3 minutes to finish an assignment or clean up, etc.

With younger students, try clapping your hands three times and teaching the children to quickly clap back twice. This is a fun and active way to get their attention and all eyes on you.

#4) Address behavior issues quickly and wisely

Be sure to address an issue between you and a student or between two students as quickly as possible. Bad feelings — on your part or the students — can so quickly grow from molehills into mountains.

Now, for handling those conflicts wisely, you and the student should step away from the other students, just in the doorway of the classroom perhaps. Wait until after instruction if possible, avoiding interruption of the lesson. Ask naive questions such as, “How might I help you?” Don’t accuse the child of anything. Act as if you do care, even if you have the opposite feeling at that moment. The student will usually become disarmed because she might be expecting you to be angry and confrontational.

And, if you must address bad behavior during your instruction, always take a positive approach. Say, “It looks like you have a question” rather than, “Why are you off task and talking?”

When students have conflicts with each other, arrange for the students to meet with you at lunch, after or before school. Use neutral language as you act as a mediator, helping them resolve the problem peacefully, or at least reach an agreeable truce.

#5) Always have a well-designed, engaging lesson

This tip is most important of all. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, if you don’t have a plan for them, they’ll have one for you. Always over plan. It’s better to run out of time than to run short on a lesson.

From my own first-hand experience and after many classrooms observations, something that I know for sure: Bored students equal trouble! If the lesson is poorly planned, there is often way too much talking and telling from the teacher and not enough hands-on learning and discovery by the students. We all know engaging lessons take both serious mind and time to plan. And they are certainly worth it — for many reasons.


Classroom Treasure Chests

This is one of the coolest classroom treasure chests I’ve ever seen! The teacher found this old chest at Michael’s, and then glued plastic gems on it to add to the “treasure” effect.

classroom treasure chest

You don’t need a cool box for your treasure chest. I used a woven basket with a lid. Other teachers just use a cute gift bag or a decorated plastic box. The point is to find something that will motivate your students, and be manageable for you.

MUST-READ TIP: My first year, I put all the prizes in the box at the beginning of the year. This was a big NO-NO. After a few months, all the good stuff was picked out and the kids weren’t very motivated by the basket. So I had to constantly worry about what new stuff to add and what to do with the stuff that wasn’t ever getting picked. So, don’t put all your prizes in at once. Instead, split your stuff into 4 groups (or some other number) so you can add new stuff every quarter.

Here are some things you can put in your classroom treasure chest:

  • candy (some schools have a policy against this, so check with your principal)
  • pencils
  • stickers
  • coupons (click here for coupon ideas)
  • coloring pages
  • holiday stuff (click here for ideas)
  • junk from catalogues like Oriental Trading Company, etc.