Fifth Grader Creates and Implements Original Study Strategy

I work with an incredibly intelligent and talented fifth grader who recently amazed me by creating her own study strategy and implementing it independently.We have been working on improving her spelling for about two months. In addition to working on spelling, we are also working on building accountability for independent work between our sessions. A small portion of our work together includes spelling quizzes so when we first started working together, I asked her to study for our quizzes as her homework. She asked me how to study and I responded, “Study in a way that works for YOU.” I usually work with students to identify learning patterns that work for them and explicitly teach study strategies that will work, but I was curious to see what she would come up with.

Three weeks later, I noticed that she had scored 100% on all of her quizzes. I knew the words were quite challenging for her so I asked her to share her study secrets with me. She brought over her iPod and played me her recordings. She devised an entire study strategy independently. Listen below to hear one of her recordings:


Study Strategy

Step 1: Write a list of words with correct spellings in spelling notebook.

Step 2: Use a voice recording device. This student used her an app on her iPod – I believe it was iTalk Recorder.

Step 3: Record your voice saying the word, a sentence and then a 3-6 second break.

Step 4: Test yourself by playing back the recording and spelling the words on a fresh page in your notebook. Check your work by referring back to your correct word list.

What I am most inspired by is the initiative she took not only to study but to self-test to see if she had mastered the material. She said she would sometimes self-test 2 or 3 times to make sure she really knew her words. I am over the moon that she took the time to do this and that her parents gave me permission to share it with the world.

On a different note, here is another reason she is so awesome! On Halloween, when many kids were simply eating their candy, Little Miss Creative was graphing her candy!

Sugar High


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Seat Sacks and Desk Organizers

Strong teachers are detail oriented and put what some may call “way too much” thought into the tiniest of things. For example, before a math lesson on fractions, a teacher may ask herself “should the manipulatives be in a baggie or a bin.” Before a read aloud, a teacher will often wonder “should I have them bring their notebooks to the rug or complete their written work at a table.” These are the types of questions that teachers ask themselves and each other all day long.

Organization does not always come naturally. Sometimes we really have to pay attention to the details of why a lesson works or doesn’t work. The tools we use to support students with organization of materials can have a huge impact on our day. Here are some things that can really get in the way of a great lesson…and some possible organizational tools that can help. Parents and involved family members…the same goes for your child’s home workspace. Organization has an impact on learning. Do what you can to support your child!

4 Organizational Tools That Help

The Problem The Solution
Students are struggling to keep track of materials they need for a lesson. Get a desktop organizer like this one, which can hold folders, paper and other writing supplies and put one on  each table.

[amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B001PMHZ6E[/amazon-product]
The student’s desks are a mess and completely distracting! Get seat sacks to so that students can store the materials they are not using in a separate space, rather than on their desk or table.

[amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B001O84EY0[/amazon-product]
Students cannot keep track of writing tools such as pencils, highlighters and sharpeners. Get a desk organizer for writing supplies. There is nothing worse than when students continuously raise their hand during the lesson to say “my pencil broke” or “I dont have a highlighter.”

[amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B001PID616[/amazon-product]
Student’s cannot keep track of materials for different subject areas. Color code as much as you can…It really does help! And definitely get some kind of “folder holder.”

[amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B00266YX54[/amazon-product]

4 More Tips!

1. Distributing handouts can be a big waste of time if your students are inefficient with the process. Tip: Make each table a folder for handouts. Before your students are seated, place copies of each handout inside the folder. Assign one student to be the distributor, and train that student to distribute the contents of the folder when you need them to.

2. Do “binder checks” or “notebook checks” on a regular basis. Organization is a learned skill and students need to know that we expecting them to grow in this area, just as we would in a subject area like math or social studies. Show them that you take it seriously!

3. Get pencils or pens made for your classroom that say “This pen was stolen from Ms. Kaplan’s class.” That way you will deter all of the sneaky thieves of writing utensils.

4. Model everything! I cannot stress enough the importance of modeling, especially for organization. If you want something to look a certain way, you MUST model it for the students before asking or expecting it to get done. Remember, modeling helps but material maintenance is an ongoing process that needs to be discussed and revisited every so often.

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Modeling: Make Your Page Look Like My Page

Back in October, EdGeeks discussed the importance of posters and charts for students in the article: Create a Poster…or a few. Charts and posters play a crucial role in student progress in a few ways:

  1. They offer a visual to support modeling while the child is learning
  2. They can act as a reminder and/or reinforcer while students are doing independent work
  3. They can act as a reference for students after the lesson or unit end

Today, I want to share one amazing tool that my friend and colleague uses in her classroom. I have always loved it and if I were in the classroom right now, I would have one for every subject area. It is brilliant!

The Giant Notebook Page

[amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B004Y7ZRTY[/amazon-product]

This is exactly what it looks like…a poster-sized sheet of looseleaf paper. Simple! You can laminate it and use it over and over again if you use dry-erase markers.

What Problems Can This Poster Solve (In the Classroom and at Home)? This poster can act as a teaching tool in many different areas (see below for more specific examples). It is a great way to differentiate for students who may need visual support and more guidance through the note-taking process. It can also support students who struggle with neatness and organization. Too often, we assume that things like writing on looseleaf paper or keeping an organized binder or journal are innate. These skills must be taught and modeled and this is the perfect tool to do so. Families, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but sometimes teachers do not teach these skills as part of the curriculum. If you notice that your child struggling with any of the issues above, get one of these posters and work together at home! This is one of those things that you don’t need to be a teacher to teach:)

How To Use This Poster: The first time I saw my friend use this poster as a teaching tool, I was amazed. It seemed like the solution to quite a few problems! She wrote on the poster and then said, “Okay everyone, now make your page look like my page,” and just like that the class was ready to write! As always there are many different ways to use this poster as a tool, but here are some tips:

  • Use the phrase, “make your page look like my page,” because it is short and clear.
  • Always write a fresh heading at the start of your lesson, so you are reminding students to write their own heading through modeling.
  • Give clear, verbal instructions such as “skip a line” or “indent.”
  • Teach a lesson on how to use looseleaf accurately as it does not come naturally to most students. Be sure to include how to use the margins and which direction to hold it.
  • Do “notebook checks” or “folder checks” to hold students accountable for their organization. I always like to use a rubric for checks like this.

Use This Poster to Teach…

  • Note-taking skills
  • Journaling
  • Keeping an organized binder
  • Students how to make their own graphic organizer
  • Students how to make their own charts and diagrams
  • Writing a heading
  • Neatness and organizational skills
  • Writing a letter
  • Indenting when writing a paragraph
  • And much, much more…


Teach students to make their own t-chart to compare and contrast two characters or ideas.

Teach students to sort words to support spelling, phonics and sight word recognition.

Teach students to write a letter through keeping a journal.


Teach students to write a heading and label their work.

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Stadium Seating, Beanbags and Video Game Chairs

I am a person who loves lazy days and relaxation. Even so, I can say with conviction that sitting down and staying still is unnatural and uncomfortable. I know this for a fact because I have tried it many times. I have designed many classrooms over the years and I have always opted to have at least one rug. I love teaching my mini-lessons with students gathered around. I like the feeling of having everyone close so that I can better manage the focus of the class. That being said, sitting on a rug can cause behavioral issues and over the years I have found it intriguing to study the behaviors of students on the rug.

Students often have difficulty staying in their own space when sitting on a rug. After a certain amount of time (it’s different for each person) most students will begin either rocking back and forth or moving into the space of others. Often times, this issue of space becomes a behavioral interference and this can result in a loss of focus for the class. After observing these behaviors time and time again, I thought it would be interesting to spend some time on the rug myself. I was fortunate enough to be able to experiment with this because I have had so many co-teachers in the past. What I found is that it is challenging to stay still on the rug, even for a grown woman. After about ten minutes, my lower back began to feel discomfort and I found myself moving around to get a stretch. I tried sitting in a variety of different positions including “criss-cross applesauce,” amongst the most popular seated position for classrooms I’ve been in. There is no position that is comfortable enough to stay still for prolonged periods of time. After looking at this issue for quite some time, here is a summary of my findings:

Tip 1: Keep your rug time short (no longer than 10 minutes)

Tip 2: If working with older students, bring chairs to your rug

Tip 3: Be flexible – allow students to sit in any comfortable position and to have “stretch time” on the rug in between your teaching

Tip 4: Use special seating to increase focus

Let’s focus on Tip 4. I decided to play around with special seating more recently in my teaching practice. I have found that using seating such as: bean bags, video game chairs and stadium seating improves focus and allows students to be engaged at the rug for longer periods of time. Another fun way to use the special seating is as a reward to boost strong work ethic. For example, I knew a teacher who used a positive reward system called “The Exemplar System.” Students who displayed “Exemplar” behavior would get small rewards to boost intrinsic motivation. One possible reward was to spend independent work time in cozy seating at the rug, rather than at the table with the other students. This reward was popular amongst her students in a middle school setting (which I couldn’t believe!)

Here are some examples of special seating that I have used in classrooms over the years. If you are a parent or family member reading this, you can consider purchasing some sort of cozy seating for at home use. I had a student last year, who loved our video game chairs so much that he had his mother buy one and he did his homework in it every night. It was such a great reward for him!

Stadium Seating[amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B003YNV5LI[/amazon-product]


Beanbags[amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B001T4XTW2[/amazon-product]



VideoGameChairs[amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B001T4XUOE[/amazon-product]


Stadium Seating[amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B003399114[/amazon-product] Beanbags[amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B001T4XTUE[/amazon-product] Video Game Chairs[amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B004SU7OAM[/amazon-product]

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Create a Poster…or a few

One common question that often pops up at a parent-teacher conference is “Where does the student do their homework?” Teachers will often encourage families to create a designated workspace for their child somewhere in the home. This does not need to be a large space at all, in fact for some families it might be at the kitchen table before or after dinner. For others it might be a small nook or corner. One way to personalize a child’s workspace in a productive way is to create a poster…or a few that will support them with their homework. See below for a few ideas (As always, available for download):

Publishing checklist made in Microsoft Word using the forms toolbar for checkboxes

Download Template as Microsoft Word Document

Download Template as PDF

Coin Chart created in Microsoft Word document using the table function

Download Template as Microsoft Word Document

Download Template as PDF

100's Chart created in Microsoft Word Document using table function

Download Template as Microsoft Word Document

Download Template as PDF

Poster created on

Download Poster

Think of posters as tools that your child can use while doing his or her homework. This is a trick that teachers use all the time. Imagine that you have 30 students in your class and all of them have the question “How much is a quarter worth?” Instead of answering this question 30 times, just refer the class to the chart for any questions they might have. You can apply this same principle at home. Do not enable your child to lean on you for support when you could be fostering independence by encouraging them to use helpful resources on their own!

Looking for a poster about a specific topic? Submit your question on the Parent-Teacher Conference Page of and I will get back to you with some ideas!

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Let’s Get Organized!

There are so many products and services out there there that help adults stay organized. To list just a few:

  • FiloFax
  • The Container Store
  • Google Calendar
  • Apps for checklists and notes
  • Post-its
  • Not to mention…have you heard of NAPO? If you were thinking that it is the National Association of Personal Organizers, then you are correct. These people help you organize your life to be more efficient, more productive and less stressed out!
So let me get this straight…we pay for products, services and sometimes even personal assistants to get our lives in order? Then why do we expect our kids to just know how to be organized? A child’s day is long and the work demands in a solidly-run learning environment are taxing. There are classroom activities, long-term projects, tests, quizzes, and of course homework! It is a challenge for even the most organized students to keep track of all of these things.

Just like there are tools out there to support adults who just “can’t get it together,” there are tools for children as well. Today I want to put forth some ideas that might help your little one, medium-sized one, or big one to get organized.

Little Ones Medium Ones Big Ones
The Good Ol’ Paper Planners [amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B002KXJB6Y[/amazon-product] [amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B004UR64J0[/amazon-product] [amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B002SCD8BG[/amazon-product]
Gadgets [amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B004C0839Y[/amazon-product] [amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B000VZEMWG[/amazon-product]  [amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B0049196DS[/amazon-product]
Apps IDiary for Kids My Homework App IHW

And if you are old-fashioned and crafty like me…and you just want to create a folder or binder to help your little one, here are some options of layouts that might work!

Download Template as Microsoft Word Document
Download Template as PDF File

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