More on the School Store

In an earlier entry, I mentioned the school store in passing. I thought I’d go into a bit more depth in this entry.

It didn’t take me long to get fed up with students not bringing supplies to class. You might disagree with my philosophy, but I didn’t think it was my responsibility to make sure students were prepared for class. As such, I did not give students pencils, pens, or paper when they had none. I simply didn’t have the bankroll to support that. Elementary school might be different because you’re dealing with one set of kids all day, but at the middle and high school level, supplying every kid who needs it with basic tools presents a prohibitive cost.

So I went out and bought a huge supply of the most commonly forgotten items (pencils, pens, paper, notebooks, erasers, white out, lead, etc.) and started selling them. I sold them at cost, so a pencil might only be $0.10 or $0.15. This became an immediate hit. I would have kids borrowing money from each other (or “gifting” money) so they could buy supplies. My stuff was so cheap that kids didn’t bat an eye at the thought of buying what they needed from me.

It was so popular, in fact, that my students would tell their friends about my store and I had kids that I didn’t even know coming into my classroom asking to buy supplies. I even had kids buy things for other people as gifts.

The only thing I didn’t sell was food/drink.

I would even have a supply table set up at open house so parents could buy things for their kids. Cheap, tax-free school supplies are pretty tempting, and I always made my money back. I would always buy my supplies when they were on rock-bottom clearance after the back to school rushes, which was how I was able to sell them so cheaply (because I didn’t make a profit, I only made enough to reimburse myself, buy more supplies, and pay for gas to get to/from the store).

I highly recommend setting up your own school store to teach students responsibility, and to save your own sanity.

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Guided Notes

In a previous post I mentioned the importance of teaching note-taking skills. I highlighted Power Point as a great way to help students learn how to better take notes. Another way to do this is with guided notes. Many curriculums have these resources, so if you have access to them, I highly suggest you use them. They work for any subject area. If you’ve never used guided notes before, here is how they work:

You make your own document of the lecture in outline format, being sure to include all the information you would want students to write down as they take notes. Then, you remove key ideas and details and leave them for students to fill in as you go through the lesson. As your students become more proficient, you give them more and more blanks to fill in. This strategy works well in any subject area. If your curriculum doesn’t have guided notes as a resource, creating them does take a bit of up-front work, but it will pay off when your students’ note taking skills improve and, subsequently, their overall performance.

It also makes for an easy check grade, because you just have to look at what was filled in the blanks. It keeps students accountable for being on task in class.

You can download an example of guided notes here:
Study skills guided notes

Crayola Crazy

Those who are not in the teaching profession may not believe this, but students of all ages love to color. Not just elementary schoolers, but all the way up to seniors in high school kids’ eyes light up if you put markers in front of them. The other surprising thing is how motivating stamps and stickers are. You’d be surprised what a 15-year-old would do for a sticker of a puppy. But that’s a topic for another day. Once I found out that I could get an entire class period of focused work out of students by allowing them to color, I realized I had to come up with legitimate assignments for them to work on. Over the years I devised several staple activities for students to draw/color that are defensible to the standards, curriculum, and differentiated instruction.

The first activity that my students loved was the movie poster. After reading a short story, novel, or drama, I would assign the movie poster. Students had to pretend the story had been made into a movie and they had to design a movie poster to go along with it. I gave them a list of literary terms to choose from and they had to include a set number of those on the poster. For example, I might give them setting, protagonist, antagonist, conflict, tagline, and theme and require them to use 4 of those 6 on their poster. They got really creative (especially with the theme). I got products ranging from pencil sketches to poster-sized colorful creations. I graded using a rubric that accounted for things like neatness and color.

The second activity that I often used was the storyboard. This could be done individually or in small groups. After reading a short story, novel, or drama, students would have to take the (pick a number) main events of either a set number of chapters/scenes or the entire plot and illustrate them in storyboard form. [Note: this activity also works well as a graphic novel/comic book.]

The third activity that was always successful was the word-parts poster. I taught an SAT prep class and we spent a lot of time on prefixes, roots, and suffixes. Each week I would give my students a prefix/root/suffix list and they had to read an assigned chapter and find words with the listed word parts. Then they would pick one of the words and create a word-parts poster. They had to identify the prefix and its meaning, the root and its meaning, the suffix and its meaning, and create an illustration for the word as a whole. You could do this with any unit vocabulary.

The best part of these assignments is that you have amazing work to post on your walls and in the hallways!

An additional bonus I found was that students were able to chat quietly while they completed this work. I also found that students who normally refused to do work in class would engage in these coloring activities. They didn’t necessarily produce the best quality work, but they were at least working and doing something other than sleeping or causing trouble.

Take Note

I remember my (high school) freshman Biology class was the first time I really had to take notes. It took me a while to come up with a system by which I could get all the important information down fast enough to be useful and clear when I went to do homework or study later. I never had anyone teach me how to take notes; I had to teach myself through trial and error. Now, I happened to be a very good student, so rather quickly I devised a system that worked for me. However, once I became a teacher, it became apparent to me that note-taking was not something most students a) knew how to do, b) had the motivation to teach themselves, or c) had the ability to teach themselves. I quickly realized I needed to give my students guidance on taking notes. There were two ways I did this. The first was guided notes. I didn’t invent that one, I just used the concept to make guided notes for my students. I’ll address guided notes in a later post. The second thing I did to help my students become good note-takers was to use Power Point lessons. Power Point is a great way to help students learn how to take notes because (most of the time) information in a Power Point is structured in note format already. It uses a leveled bullet system and has concise information on each slide. Regardless of the subject, Power Point lessons can be very useful in developing note-taking skills. I first began using Power Point lessons when I taught middle school math. Math lessons may not be the first thing you think of when contemplating the idea of using Power Point lessons, but it actually works really well. Kids learn that they have to write down whatever is on the screen and each step populates with enough time for them to write down the information. Just like in other subjects. It’s also nice because the kids can read the material, unlike when I wrote everything by hand and they couldn’t decipher my writing much better than I could decipher theirs. After 3 years of teaching middle school math, I compiled a huge inventory of Power Point lessons. I’ve gone through and attached them to Common Core Standards. I cover everything from Greatest Common Factor up to the Pythagorean Theorem and Standard Deviation. I have fractions and long division, solving 1- and 2-step linear equations, and just about anything you can think of. Once I started using the Power Point lessons, my kids quickly became more proficient in taking notes. They began to write faster and their work improved because their notes were more organized. Of course, there was the added bonus that I could post them on my website for absent students so they could take responsibility for making up the work. Do your kids a favor: teach them how to take notes by using Power Point lessons. Head over to my store to browse my selection.