It's a bit of an epidemic, but low staff morale is spreading across many schools and districts.  When I was asked who I wanted to send a card to, I immediately thought of the teachers I work with!  I went back and forth for a bit, and I had a revelation - let's use the art from their kiddos!  As anyone who has worked with kids before knows, the things we treasure from our students are creative and come from their heart.  I used the online service to create these cards...

I let the kiddos in on my plan - we were each going to decorate a small slip of construction paper, and I would piece them together to share in a card with their teachers.  Look how amazing their art turned out!

Next step - scan the pics.  (OK - really, I was in a hurry.  I took the pics with my phone and uploaded the pics to Then I started browsing.  {{swoon}}  This was tricky, since I had a *ton* of cards on my "favorites" list.  Here's a peek...

Picked this one...  So easy!!  
Uploaded the pics, personalized the card, and checked out.  Super easy.  Two days later, this was in my mail box...

And here's the finished product, along with one of the thank you letters from the students I work with to their teachers...  We had so much fun!

Please note that I was given a small quantity of cards from Treat to try them out.  I was not compensated in any other way.  All opinions (and all mistakes) are mine.  May contain affiliate links.  :)
The range of strengths and weaknesses in a typical classroom can be quite difficult.  If you aren't careful, your students will generate so much paper (to grade and file!) that you won't be able to manage it.  Here's my suggestion:  Have an ELA Notebook for each child.  Nothing fancy - I'm currently using "fast-teacher-made-special" notebooks, consisting of a long piece of bright construction paper folded in half and stapled as the cover for 20-ish pieces of notebook paper.  When I taught 2nd grade, we used handwriting paper for the first quarter as a support/transition from 1st grade, and this was a fast way to help keep track of the loose papers for each subject.
Credits: Mr. Magician, KG Fonts, Hello Fonts
I know... it's really not going to hold a lot, so I encourage the kiddos to draw a line, date the entry, and then do their work, which can run over (neatly) to the page after that.  Typically, these journals last everyone for a month or so, and then I have this amazing record of their work.  If I wanted to be all organized, I could have the kiddos label what they are proving mastery of with that assignment (and there are times when this can be a huge motivator!) but that's just not where I put my time/effort.  Full disclaimer - I've created these while greeting students in the morning or while students pack up and dismiss to buses - just have a working surface near the classroom door so you can monitor everything..  Really fast if you have an electric stapler.  :)

Here's a quick look at my ELA Notebooks in action:
There you go - instant way to differentiate your ELA assignment!   Some students require more assistance, so I usually had a couple of kiddos who knew I'd be by with a post-it reminder of the assignment to help them keep on track.  The post-it method is very effective, and I'm a huge advocate for trying this with students with attention issues, as it helps them refer back to the assignment to know how many paragraphs are expected, the format, etc. They simply stuck the post it on the page, and I had a record of the assignment and the intervention.

In my various meetings to discuss a student (parent conferences, Professional Learning Team (PLT), Student Support Team, Tier II Intervention, Speech Therapy, Physical Therapy, ESL, etc), I brought these notebooks to demonstrate growth or issues.  Many language issues are evident in a student's writing, and allows the adults involved to make a true data-driven decision regarding these many issues.  {Confession time - there *may* have been several times where I forgot I had a meeting, and their academic notebooks (ELA, Math, Science/Social Studies) were a really fast item to grab to illustrate my area of concern or demonstration of growth for many students!  I just love the wealth of documentation that is within the humble construction paper notebook!}

Wowza!  I'm exhausted.  Since we had so many snow days recently, we have make up days... on Saturdays!  (I know - it sounds really strange, but I'm a teacher in a year round school.  For more info on this odd schedule, check out this post.)  Since I wasn't sure what kind of attendance we would have at our first Saturday make up day, I needed to plan an engaging lesson that worked on a core concept.  I chose Vocabulary Development, since this is crucial to future scholastic success for my ELLs and struggling readers alike.

I've always been vocal about the use of games for word work.  They promote critical thinking skills, an understanding of group dynamics, and vocabulary development.  Games can also promote competition, but I try to downplay that aspect.  I. Don't. Keep. Score.  When my goal is vocabulary development, fluency, comprehension, or an understanding of how words work, I think that the competitive aspect undermines my intentions.  I see that look of defeat when a struggling reader has a wrong answer on the first question, and realizes that they are behind right from the beginning of the game.  My philosophy: keep it challenging, engaging, focused, and fun.

Here's a little gem of a game I found for two bucks at my local thrift store.
Pic from Teaching My Friends!  She has a great post about how she has used Blurt!
 I've blogged about my love of word games before.  Click here to visit that post.
The way the game is intended to be played is loud.  Teams are supposed to "blurt" out their answers to the clues in order to win that round and move their piece around the board.  Y'all know me, I'm a gal who likes to keep things orderly, so I make some modifications.  Here's how I play this in small groups using dry-erase boards.

First, assign each student a color for their game board piece (if you choose to use the game board at all), and have them write their color in the corner on their dry-erase board so they don't forget.  Then, call out the clue.  Here's an example of the cards:
{source - from}
Next, I pick a card, and pick the most appropriate clue for the kiddos I'm working with.  I read the clue twice out loud.  Students write their guess (one word) on their board.  When I call, "Show your boards," that means stop writing and turn your board.  (Not look around at everyone else's board so you can change your answer.  This expectation takes a bit of time to teach.)

If they spelling the word correctly, they move 5 spaces.  If they have the correct word but it is misspelled, they move 4 spaces.  If they do not have the word, they stay where they are.

Play, but only for 5-10 minutes (always leave them wanting more!) and stop before anyone makes it all the way around the board. My students beg me to pull this game out, mainly because I'm sneaky and I leave the big, bright box on the shelf where they are sure to notice it!

 Don't keep score.  Just watch their enthusiasm for words grow.  In case you are wondering, I was not asked to review this game - I just love it and wanted to share.  :)  I've often thought of making up my own clues, but I figured out that the time and effort I could spend printing, cutting, and laminating the clues would be better spent elsewhere... especially when there are so many treasures to be found at garage sales, my parents' attic, and thrift stores.
Today, I’d like to share how I use Pinterest for transition time…

We all know that teachers are consistently short on time, so this hop is perfect for the busy teacher - chock full of effective, short, and focused Bright Ideas!

In my classrooms, I tend to "hold tight" to each moment, squeezing in as much content as I can throughout the day.  When I was in a classroom with an LCD Projector, I used interesting pins from my Pinterest boards to help us refocus on our task.  My students always have a writing notebook, and it is a handy way to have students do a "quick write" to transition back from recess/lunch/random fire drill/etc.  I project the picture, they get 30 seconds to (quietly) discuss the picture with a partner, then they have a quick write, which takes about 2-4 minutes.  Grammar and spelling are not a priority during a quick write, and each quick write does not need to be shared.  It just helps ease the transition back into the classroom.  Add a bit of soothing music, and you are set to transition in style.

For instance, when writing "how to" pieces, I like to project this picture, and ask students to write about the process of decorating this cake:
Or, if we are writing imaginative narratives, I might project this picture, and ask students to write about what happened after the horse began talking.
Need another reason to use this? Project this picture of Madrid, Spain and have students compare/contrast with the city they live in:
To keep it organized for myself, I have a Pinterest Board called Picture Prompts.  It makes it easy for me to post a photo quickly without needing to worry about the "other" stuff out there on the internet (since links change (constantly) I project the image within Pinterest, instead of visiting the website itself.  ;)

If you don't need them to write, use the picture prompts to practice describing, inferring, boosting vocabulary for your ELL students, and your Speaking and Listening goals.  Imagine the conversations your students will have as they get bundled up to go outside and you project this:
How giraffes sleep... {Source}

For more Bright Ideas, click the button below to visit Krystal's blog, Good Enough Teacher.  Happy Sunday!!  For other Bright Idea posts from me, click here.

Good Enough Teacher

More Bright Ideas for Lower Grades:
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