Open House Tips & Tricks

I would love for open house to be a full day. There’s just never enough time to communicate everything I feel is necessary to everyone who attends. I don’t get to spend enough time with parents/guardians talking about expectations and how my class works. I wish I had more time.

open house need more time

Teachers who have been to this rodeo before do certain things ensure open house is successful. We print supply lists ahead of time. We have people sign in – we might even have them jot down their phone number or email for us. We hand out curriculum/course overviews. We have our rules posted and our rooms decorated. But over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about how I can get even more out of this year’s open house.

Secondary teachers’ open house night/day is different from elementary. We’ve got multiple classes – so do the kids. So, there’s a lot of roaming around. And a lot of students and families are only there to map out their day; they aren’t attending with the intention of truly engaging in any meaningful discussions with the teacher. They’ve been to this rodeo, too (6th and 9th grades are, I find, the exception to this rule). Still, I found that I was run ragged after open house, even though I had things set up in a reasonably organized fashion.

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As the school year has inched ever closer with each passing day, I find myself wondering, “How can I get even more out of this event? How can I facilitate independence for those families who just come for the map and supply lists so I am free to answer questions from other families?”

One thing I tried last year that worked well and that I will be employing this year is to project a screen onto my board with class supplies for families (along with a printed handout). When employing this strategy, I had a lot of people walk in, read the screen, pick up the handout, sign my information sheet, and then walk out after making eye contact and giving me a smile.

This year, though, I’m determined to digitize my classroom experience even further, though. My PowerPoint slide this year is going to have a chart, and in that chart, will be QR codes and bitly links to the Google sheet into which parents will enter their contact information, the supply list document, the welcome letter document, and the Remind sign up instructions pages (never used Remind? Google it! Maybe I’ll even write a post about it later!). I’m also going to have the Google sheet for contact information up on my student desktop computer for parents who don’t have (or don’t feel comfortable using) a smart phone. Of course, I’ll have paper copies of the supply list, welcome letter, and Remind instructions for those families as well.

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I am hoping that this will streamline things even further because 1) I’ll save time and resources not having to print so much, 2) I won’t have to manually transfer each hand-written email and phone number (you know, just because someone is a grown up doesn’t mean handwriting is readable…and of course the information in the school database is often wrong…) but can simply import it from the electronic sheet, and 3) I won’t have to be as involved in the distribution of paperwork (I’m betting most families have a smart phone for at least one of the members!).

Something else I have done with great success is to list important class-level items needed (hand sanitizer, tissues, paper towels, etc.) on sticky notes with my name, classroom, and subject, and allow people to take the sticky notes with them as they exit. I’ve seen teachers simply list (creatively and beautifully) what is needed, and sometimes parents will even write it down, but often times they forget which teacher asked for what and the supplies never make it into the right room. The use of sticky notes helps tremendously with this (I’ve had parents give me direct feedback on this for many years).

open house post it supplies

I have also had several years (before having my child) where my husband has come to open house and set up “shop” in the back of the room giving families the opportunity to purchase supplies cheaply and conveniently rather than have to make another trip to the store after the tax-free days our state gives us. Because elementary schools (and pre-schools) are really good about sending home supply lists before the start of the year, but secondary teachers/schools find this more difficult because each student now has 7 teachers, and there are 1000+ students and all their schedules are different.

If you like these ideas and want an open house freebie, I’ve got something for you to check out!

Have a wonderful open house and a great start to the year!


How I used the First Week of School to Ensure a Well-Managed Classroom for the Entire Year

My first year of teaching I made a horrible mistake. Okay, well, I made a LOT of mistakes, but the worst mistake I made was on the very first day. I told my students I didn’t really have any rules. Yes. Yes, I said it. They even asked me what my rules were, and I honest-to-God told them, “I don’t really have any rules.” I think I might have said something after that about wanting them to be respectful and do their work or something, but there’s no shot that they heard it. There are only a handful of things I wish I could go back in time and undo, and that is one of them. Most of the mistakes I made turned out to be great learning experiences. This one was, too, but I could have learned a LOT of the same things without saying that, and my year would have been a LOT easier.

Frustrated businessman, with sleeves rolled up and tie loosened, screaming and pulling his hair. Taken with a Panasonic FZ30 Lumix.

Fortunately, I learned my lesson, and the next year I implemented rules. I don’t remember exactly what they were, so I know I didn’t do it right that second year, either. But the second year was better than the first. My third year I still didn’t have it quite figured out, and I had more problems (but who wouldn’t with over 40 kids in a class?). But then, somewhere, I read about a student “handbook” for the classroom. Some teacher I talked to or read their blog (honestly, it was almost ten years ago, and I don’t remember exactly where I saw the idea) explained that s/he gave their students a document at the beginning of the year every year. This document had all the rules and expectations for the classroom for the year. The students even signed it like a real contract.

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So I did what any good teacher would do (or one who was trying to be better) and made my own! I had three years’ worth of behavior issues to work with, and each year I had kept a list of all the things that had gone wrong and that I wanted to change. I also wrote down things I wish I had rules or procedures for but didn’t know how to implement in the middle of the year when I thought about them. I spent some time (like, weeks) putting together every issue I could think of. Everything that had ever gone wrong in my room, everything any student had ever asked me about procedures/behavior/etc., all these things went into the document. I decided to call it the “what if” student contract. This is because every single rule or expectation was addressed as a student asking me a question.

“What do I need for this class?” “What if I have to go to the bathroom?” “What if I am late to class?” “What if I forget my homework?” “What if I feel sick?” “What if the person next to me is bothering me?” “What if I forgot a pencil?” “What if I’m hungry?” “What if I’m tired?” “What if I want a ‘free day’?”

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Literally, every possible question I could imagine a student needing or wanting to know on the first day, I answered in my document. I also included my discipline plan (rules and consequences) so students knew what to expect. The document was long. I mean, really, really long – like 10 pages (5 front & back). And I didn’t know if it would work, but I was willing to try. I was nervous. I’d never really done anything that first week of school except start teaching. Of course, the second and third year I spent a little time that first day going over my rules and the consequences, but not more than half the period. I jumped into instruction right away. I didn’t know any better.

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Year four, though, I decided to do things differently. I printed my rules and procedures student contract. I copied enough for every student to have his/her own (and I made extras, too, for students who came in later in the year). They were ready for the first day. When the students came in, I had three things for them: a student information page (What do you like to be called? Who do you live with? What’s your email? What’s your parents’ email(s)? What do you like to do for fun? What’s your favorite subject? Etc.), a supply list, and my rules and expectations packet. After they filled out the information sheet, I passed out the packets, had students put their name on them, and began to read through page by page. I answered questions as they arose. I even had students model some of the behaviors I expected (coming in tardy, asking to borrow supplies from a neighbor, disliking the lesson, being angry with me, etc.). I had them model incorrect behavior (they loved that part) and then correct behavior. By the end of the first class I realized we’d only gotten through about a page and a half. We certainly hadn’t gone past page two. The next day, we picked up where we left off. It took the entire first week to get through the packet. Some kids got a little antsy that we hadn’t started instruction. Heck, I got a little antsy when I realized how long this thing was taking. But I was going to do my experiment right, so I plowed through to the end. Once we finished, I asked for any final questions and then had students sign their name. I put the packets in their student folders (I’ll have another post on how I organized student work later on), and the following Monday, we began instruction.

When a student asked me a question covered in the document, I referred them to the document. It kept me from having to answer the same questions over and over. Eventually kids either asked a neighbor or looked through the document themselves. If I had a new student enroll, the first thing they would get would be the same stack of papers students got on the first day of school. I would have students spend the entire day reading through their paperwork, ask me any questions they had, sign it, and then put it in their file. Every student who came through my door promised they would abide by my rules and do their best to meet my expectations.

My fourth year of teaching was UH-MAZING. It was like teaching was meant to be. I enjoyed myself. The kids enjoyed themselves. I taught. Students learned. It was magical.

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I had problems, yes. I had issues, but they were manageable and quickly remedied. I continued the first week routine every year after that. I even did it in high school. Once I began teaching high school, I did streamline it a bit so that I could discuss the document in 3-4 days instead of a full 5, but we did NOT begin instruction until I was sure every student understood my expectations and what would happen if they were not met. Every year I would add to it when a student did/asked something I hadn’t thought of.

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I also re-visited the document at the beginning of the second semester after kids returned from break. I didn’t spend a whole week on it then, but highlighted the major issues that had been weakening towards the end of semester one. One year, I even made it into a PowerPoint presentation, but I found that to be slightly less effective, so I went back to reading through the physical document the next year.

If you think this sounds like a lot of work, you’re right. It was. However, it was LESS work than dealing with behavior and management issues the entire year. I went from daily or weekly referrals and multiple administrators in my room for behavior issues in my first 3 years to a handful of referrals a year and 1 visit from an administrator for behavior issues in the next 6 years. To say it was successful would be a gross understatement.

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Maybe you’re a first-year teacher anxious about classroom management. Maybe you’re a veteran teacher looking for a new way to improve student behavior and achievement. I encourage you to make your own rules and expectations student contract. If you think this idea would work for you but you don’t want to or don’t have enough time to make your own, you can use mine as a starting point and then add to in order to meet your specific needs. I know it will work for you as well as it did for me – as long as you put the work in on the front end during that first week and then are CONSISTENT in enforcing rules, expectations, and consequences throughout the year.

student contract 1 student contract 2

Have a great school year!

student contract

Fall Football Freebie Frenzy!

Normally I only post once a week, but the best time of year has come around again…that’s right, it’s football season! If you’ve ever met me, you know how passionate I am about football. Not pro football…college football! The best kind of football there is! As an alumni of The Ohio State University, I am an avid Buckeye fan. So intense, in fact, that I have the block O Buckeye-leaf logo tattooed on my ankle. Seriously.


So, I said to myself, I have to do something to celebrate football season this year, and all the wins the Buckeyes are sure to get! And what better way to celebrate Buckeye success than with new, free products?!

So, I am going to turn this football season into a great opportunity to provide all of you with FREE resources for your classroom. Starting this Saturday (8/30) and for the rest of this season, every time the Buckeyes win a football game, I will post a brand new, free resource to my Teachers Pay Teachers store. It will either be geared toward Middle school or high school (or both) and be a item that focuses on Mathematics, English or just overall Classroom Management. Of course, all of you that follow this blog or my Facebook page will be the first to know about it!

Not that you needed one, but now you have a great reason to cheer hard for the Buckeyes to extend the nation’s longest regular season winning streak (they have won 24 consecutive regular season games) as they battle Navy Saturday at noon Eastern in Annapolis, Maryland! If they do, check back here Monday night or Tuesday morning and see and learn all about the new FREE product will be added to my store.

Oh, and just to show what a good sport I am, I forgive all the M*ch*gan fans…you can still have my free products.

Gooooo Buckeyes!!!

CNN Student News

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Well, for my school district (in Tampa, FL) today was the first day back for students. So – anyone who had kiddos for the first time today…I hope it went great. If you’ve already had your first day back with the kidlets, I hope it went awesome, too. And if you’ve yet to have day 1, I hope it is just spectacular. So, here’s my first entry of the 14-15 school year. I thought I’d start out with something that might help you get your classes started at least a few times a week.

I’m not sure when I first became aware of CNN student news, but ever since I was introduced to it, I have loved it. It is primarily used in middle school social studies classrooms, although I think it could be used in English classes as well. There is one, 10-minute video each day with headlines and interactive features (polls, etc.). Some teachers have students take notes on each video and then give an assessment at the end of the week. This is a great way to do bell work and keep kids accountable. As an English teacher, I think it would be neat to have students write reflection, analysis, or persuasive pieces on the covered stories. Research skills could also be contextually taught if a teacher wanted to extend the topic beyond bell work.

CNN Student News website

There are archives of videos so if you’re looking for a particular topic you can search for it. They even have transcripts of the videos to utilize as written text. I think it would be a great way to explore bias in the news media and the use of rhetorical devices.

For each video, CNN provides a daily curriculum .pdf, key concepts of the show, a short (3-5 question) quiz for after the show (or during, if you wish), and discussion questions.

I think it would be cool to show a video on a Monday and assign an essay/written response on one of the stories. Tuesday and Wednesday students could be shown other sources focusing on the same story. They could edit (peer or individually) their writing on Thursday, and then create the final draft on Friday. This could be done as bell work, a mini-lesson, or a full-blown class period.

Some writing topics:
Do you agree or disagree with the stance [person] took on [topic]? Why or why not?
How did the CNN student news coverage of the story compare to ?
What rhetorical devices were present in the story? How effective were they?
Is [story] a worthwhile piece of reporting? Why or why not? Persuade someone to agree with your claim.
Using all the resources you have had access to, write a [#] paragraph paper on the story.
Write a summary of the story.
Create [#] interview questions for [person in story], then, answer them the way you think he/she would given all the research you have done on the topic.

By the way, tomorrow is a one-day back-to-school boost sale on TeachersPayTeachers. My entire store is 20% off plus the site-wide discount. I’ve got lots of great stuff for classroom management to start the year off right, along with math and ELA lessons/resources for middle and high school. Come check it out!

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The Sleeper

Oh, Natalia, such fond memories I have of you. Mostly they are of the back of your head because you were face down on the desk, sleeping through my class. We all have them: the sleepers. I’m not talking about the honors kid that pulls an all-nighter and falls asleep accidentally while you’ve got on “Romeo and Juliet” with the lights off that day. No, I’m talking about Natalia, who comes in 3-to-4 days of the week and after the first three minutes of class, curls up in her coat (even though we’re in Florida and it’s a trillion degrees outside), puts her head down on her desk, and goes to sleep. The first few times, of course, I ask Natalia to, “wake up, please,” and join the class activity, which, naturally, she does not do. After that, I ask a couple of times if she is feeling all right. Much to my (un)surprise, Natalia has headaches. She has them every day. At 1pm. During my class. She asks to go to the nurse the first time, but after I impress upon her the uselessness of this action (Really, what is the nurse going to do for your headache? She can’t give you medicine, and she’s not going to call your mom.), she doesn’t ask again.

What am I to do? I talk with Natalia before and after class several times, at which point she assures me that she will start getting more sleep at home and will try to stay awake during class. I am lucky, because Natalia promises me that it’s not that she hates me or my class. (Incidentally, my reaction to the student who simply hates me and my class and chooses to sleep is exactly the same as my response to Natalia.) I thank her for her effort.

The next day, Natalia falls asleep in my class. This time I call home. Perhaps there is some domestic issue (or medical?) of which I should be aware. Natalia’s dad (I know, can you believe it? The phone number was right and someone actually answered! Score!) is adamant that he will make sure she gets to bed at a decent hour so she can stay awake in class.

The next day…and the next day…and the next day, Natalia falls asleep in class. Perhaps I should involve guidance. I think back to some of the other students whom I have referred to that department. The stellar lack of results convinces me that I can bypass this step. But maybe your guidance department is different. Best of luck with that. I debate writing a referral. But what will that gain me? I’ll look like I can’t handle what’s going on in my classroom and the AP will be annoyed with me. Plus, Natalia will just get a day of ISS – which she’ll sleep through as well. So, yeah, that’s pretty much useless.

How do I keep Natalia awake?! What must I do to motivate her to stay awake during my class? I show her her grades. I give her opportunities to make up missed work. I bargain with her and promise if she just does one thing a day with the class that she can put her head down the rest of the time. That one actually works for a few days. But she just.keeps.on.sleeping.

I have to figure out a way to fix this problem! The other students have seen Natalia sleeping for weeks, now. Surely they are going to think that it is all right for them to sleep in class as well! Soon, all my students will be napping as I try to teach them the excitement that is Romeo and Juliet (or factoring polynomials, or Newton’s third law, or the underlying causes of the Civil War…take your pick)! I cannot let this one student (because it really is just one student – I’ve rarely had 2 or more sleepers in a single class) undermine my authority as a teacher! I cannot let her sleep in my class!

But I can. I’ve done everything I can do (except that guidance step, but…really, if you have a Natalia, you know that will be ineffective, too).

One of the things I had to learn as a first-year, idealistic teacher was that although I may want to save them all, I can’t. My time is a resource and it is limited, and it is better spent on students who want to be saved. If Natalia changes her mind, I will be there for her. I will do whatever it takes to help her succeed, but I’ve done what I can do for now. I have 25 (or 30+) other students who need me; who want me.

And believe it or not, the students get it. I’ve never, ever, ended up with a classroom full of napping students. They understand that I care about Natalia and I want her to be successful, but she is choosing not to. They don’t see her as undermining my authority as a teacher, they see her as missing out on an opportunity to learn. They don’t envy her, they pity her. Sometimes her friends will even try to shake her awake, but for the most part, she is left alone, in the corner, until she wakes up (pardon the pun) and realizes what she’s missing.

Does this make me a bad teacher? Does this mean I don’t care about my students? Does this mean I give up on those who need me the most? You may think so. I’d love to hear how you get your Natalias to stay awake (and for goodness’ sake, don’t tell me to make my lessons “meaningful” – this is a single student we’re talking about here, it’s not my entire class that isn’t engaged – my instruction is sufficiently authentic and engaging). But the way I see it, I’ve done what I can and I’m just waiting for her to do the rest.

And while it is sad and profoundly tragic that Natalias exist, I will take her any day over Bryan, whose sole goal between 9:30am and 10:25am is to make my life a living hell. But that’s a post for another day.


First of all, I want to apologize for having a bit of a late post. With back-to-school looming, things have been crazy, as everyone knows.

Second, I want to let everyone know that TeachersPayTeachers is having their annual Back To School sale, and that I am running a sale to coincide, making everything in my store 28% off! Most sellers are doing the exact same thing, so check it out and get great deals on classroom management resources, math Power Point lessons and other activities, and ELA reading and writing products. Here is my store.

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When I taught writing to my students, I was constantly struggling with getting them to “show not tell.” If you’re a new English teacher and you haven’t heard that phrase, you will hear it soon, and often. One of the best things I learned about effective writing is that the power is in the verbs, not the adjectives. I’ve see teachers do “dead word” walls and activities, which I think are fantastic. Descriptive writing, however, requires students to “show” the reader. It requires them to craft their writing in such a way that the reader can relate to it himself and experience it as he reads. The use of imagery engages the reader because they can picture, smell, feel, taste, and hear what the author is writing.

Getting students to use effective imagery, however, is a daunting task. Ask a student to describe something and you’ll invariably get the most flat, one-dimensional words imaginable: “red,” “big,” “small,” “hot,” you get the picture. Words that are so vague they don’t really mean anything to the reader. To get students writing with better imagery, I ask follow up questions about their descriptions.

1) One question to ask is “how” or “which”. The student writes, “Her dress was red.” I ask, “Which shade of red?” The student writes “The house was big.” I ask, “How big was it?”

2) Another question I ask is “than what?” The student writes, “The car was small.” I ask, “Smaller than what?”

3) Ask “how do I know?” The student writes, “She was mad.” I ask, “How do I know she is mad?”

This type of questioning forces the student to be more specific in their descriptions, and I doing so, makes their writing more relatable to the reader.

There is a great activity that I do to help students branch out in their descriptions as they write. It takes a little while, but it’s worth it.

1) Each student will need a paper and pencil.

2) You will need several objects that have very distinct characteristics of the five senses.

3) You can divide the students into between 2 and 5 groups. 2 groups will allow students to experience more opportunities for sensory writing, but 5 groups will take a little less time overall.

4) Each group will get at least 1 object. The object should have a characteristic that clearly relates to one of the five senses.

5) The members of the group will INDIVIDUALLY describe the object with the condition that the person they are describing it to is missing (and has always been missing) that one (or you could do multiple) sense. For example, if the object was a bottle of perfume, the students would have to describe the scent of the perfume to someone who cannot (and never could) smell.

a. It’s important that students understand the person they’re describing to has never been able to use that sense. This will prevent them from giving flat descriptions. For example, if they have to describe an object to someone who cannot and has never been able to see, using the word “blue” means nothing. They have to come up with other words to describe the color. You get really cool descriptions.

6) Once each student has his/her description, the other group(s) listens to the description and tries to predict what the object will look/smell/sound/taste/feel like. For smell, taste, touch, and hearing, writing down the prediction is nearly impossible, but students will still be able to decide afterwards if the description was accurate/helpful. For the sense of sight, make sure students sketch the object based on the descriptions written by their classmates before showing them the actual object.

7) After the description is read and the opposing group(s) experience the original object, have them write 2 separate responses:

a. How accurate were their classmates’ descriptions? Why do they think the descriptions were as accurate (or un-) as they were?

b. What would his/her own description be for someone who was void of that sense?

Enjoy the rest of the summer!