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Save Your Classroom Library and Your Sanity

So its the first day of school and you want your students to do some reading.  You send them carefully over to your beautifully organized classroom library (that you no doubt spent several ulcer inducing hours on this summer) and within a matter of minutes it’s destroyed and you’re fighting back tears (and maybe some rage haha).  Sound familiar?

As teachers we all want to foster a love of literacy and send the message that in our classroom reading is important and fun from the moment our students walk in… but we would also like to stay sane (there will be many other opportunities for us to lose our sanity no doubt).  That is why for the first few days of school I use browsing bins!

The process is quite simple really… I take several bins or buckets and fill them with a variety of high interest texts that are around the different reading levels of my students.   Now, I am currently teaching first grade so my bins are obviously going to be filled with mostly picture books.  I would encourage you though to continue to use picture books regardless of the grade you teach.  I’ve done this as a 5th grade teacher as well and my students loved it!

I then place one bin at each table or zone (if doing more of a flexible seating approach) and rotate them each day for then next few days.


These bins serve a variety of purposes, but to keep it simple I’ll just give you my top 3:

  1.  To send the message that reading is important and fun and held in high regard in this classroom.  By having books out for student use from day one I am encouraging them to explore topics and genres in a way that is not overwhelming or threatening.  There is no library system to navigate and no pressure to be reading at a certain level.  Instead they’re just picking a book that interests them!
  2. As an early finisher-  Reading is always an academic choice in my class.  I don’t ever want students to think that when they are done with their work it is “free time”… I do however give them “free choice” when they are finished with their work, and reading is the first choice activity that they earn.
  3. As a filler- every experienced teacher knows that no matter how carefully you create your plans for the first few weeks (or ever) something is bound to go awry.  The first few days can also be mentally taxing for little brains as they transition back to school.  Sometimes we just need to push the pause button for a moment, dim the lights and take a break with a book!

I will do many lessons involving the books in these bins over the first few days including how to care for our books, what to do if a book is ripped or broken, and eventually how to self select books from our classroom library/ use our personal book bins.  They have saved my sanity (well… they’ve certainly helped) over the last several Septembers and helped me be able to focus on other aspects of setting up my classroom management.  Give them a try!


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Back to School Planning

Earlier this month I did a scope about my back to school planning.  I was a little bit amazed by how many viewers were either new teachers, or had never used these resources.  During the scope I shared many of my favorites but in this post I just want to introduce you to the two that I feel will be most essential to your planning.  

If you are a new teacher, I want you to stop what you are doing and go get this book.
Get it here
Seriously though, this is a resource that I think every teacher needs.  Even if you’ve never heard of Responsive Classroom, this book will be a game changer in how you start your year.    Building rapport with your students and a community of mutual respect is absolutely essential- what you do in those first few minutes, hours, days and weeks will set the tone for the rest of your year… so, you want to make it good right?

My other go-to beginning planning book is this one:

Get it here
This is the second edition of The Daily 5… I have the older edition as well, and I do like this one a bit better (but as a creature of habit I still refer to the original 😉 ).  This newer edition has some great updates about when to implement different components of the Daily 5 as well as how to implement Math Daily 3.  It is meant to go along with the CAFE book, but regardless if that’s what you do in your classroom or not this will be a helpful tool for you!  If you use guided groups in LA and/ or Math this resource will help you to set up expectations and routines as well as build student stamina for working independently.

So for me, back to school planning usually looks like this….

Last years planner, this years planner, and my favorite teaching resources (yes… even several editions of the same book lol)… notice what is missing?  There is no curriculum!  The social curriculum- creating an environment that is respectful and building rapport with my students comes first.  We purposefully take the time to learn and practice routines before jumping into any academics.  Don’t get me wrong… I’ve been doing this for many years, and EVERY year I need to fight the urge to start our formal curriculum- I too (especially during my years as a 5th grade teacher) feel the stress of “the test” and all the material we are required to cover in one year.  Trust me though, taking this time in the beginning of the year make the rest of the year go so much smoother!
Check back soon for a post on my other “back to school necessity”… becoming a Culturally Responsive Teacher.  Now go grab your flair pens and start thinking about those first few days (ok, thats a lie… if you can, enjoy the last little bit of summer we have left!)

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Back to School Tip

Hi Everyone!  I’m linking up with some of my favorite new Periscope/ Blogging buddies to bring you our best back to school tips.  My tip for you is:

Guided Discovery is part of Responsive Classroom and utilizing this strategy has served me very well regardless of what grade I’ve taught.  It is a focused, purposeful yet playful technique teachers use to introduce materials, areas or activities to students.  Responsive classroom suggests using these 5 general steps, which can be adapted to meet the age level/ needs of the students:
  • Introduce the item/ activity/ area
  • Have students generate ideas about how to use said item.  All ideas are valid and welcome
  • Allow students to explore the item
  • Have students share what/ how they explored and their observations
  • Generate appropriate guidelines for cleanup/ care and usage of said item
I especially use this method to introduce our classroom materials like crayons, pencils, paper, book bins, math manipulatives, books, etc.   I don’t let my students have free reign of any materials until we’ve done this process first.  It can be a bit time consuming, but the payoff in the long run is huge.  
This past year my students had plastic pencil boxes that we called “toolboxes”.  First we practiced and modeled how to use them, where to put them, what not to do with them, and what to do if one fell on the floor and exploded 😉  After that, as we went through the guided discovery process of crayons, scissors, glue, markers, etc. they got to add those tools to their tool box.  I do plan to Periscope on this topic and explain/ model it a little further so make sure you’re following me @nagorski1 And if you haven’t already pick up your copy of “The First Six Weeks of School“!