Thursday, June 2, 2016

6 Books Written for Kids that Teachers Should Read (and then use for Read Aloud or Literature Circles)

These 6 books were written for kids, but teachers will LOVE reading them in their spare time too. They are perfect for read aloud or book groups and literatures circles at the upper elementary level.

Teachers…tell me if you can relate.

Here’s how the end of every school year typically played out for me. I would count the seconds to summer vacation with jubilation. Sure I shed some annual tears as I said goodbye to the sweet kiddos who, after 179.5 days together, had become like family to me. But as soon as they boarded their buses I too would squeal out of that parking lot and begin my commute from school straight to those coveted lazy days of summer!

I would ceremoniously retire my teacher bag to the back of the closet and with much fanfare would put my beach bag in its place of prominence by the door. I would then fill the bag with sunscreen, a towel, my sunglasses, a water bottle….

…and at least one or two teaching books.

Because that is exactly how dorks like me…I mean passionate teachers like me…roll.

Nothing says “fun in the sun” quite like a highlighter and few chapters written by Fountas and Pinnell. I also own copies of (among others) Teach Like a Pirate and Comprehension Connections that have sand squished in between the pages as well.

So for those teachers out there who start thinking about going back to school the second one school year comes to an end, I bring you a list of six books that were written for kids, but that I think teachers should read.

Because summer should be the time for reading for fun and yet I know there is whole bunch of you out there who sit by the pool dreaming about how you are going to set up and decorate your classroom or thinking about which activities you’ll have your kids do during that first week of school. These books are a great compromise. 

You get to secretly enjoy the fun of planning literature circles and book clubs while onlookers and passersby envy the teacher who “gets her whole summer off.”

Each of these books were selected because they enable you to view things from a child's perspective. I found each to be a quick and enjoyable read and appreciated how they made me think about how students may view things. They would all be great for classroom use as well.

{Click on any of the bookcovers below for the Amazon affiliate link. It will take you to
 Amazon where you can read full descriptions and reviews of each of these books.}



Resources Mentioned in This Post:
And if you are one of those enthusiastic educators who looks forward to setting up your classroom each year then I welcome you to download my absolutely FREE Guide to Classroom Decor and toss it into your beach bag too. It’s 60+ pages full of tips and ideas to help you create a beautiful learning space on a budget. Below you will also find my favorite back to school activities as well as the interactive book marks I use as homework and the printable packets I use to make managing student book clubs super easy.



By the way, if you are not already subscribed to The Clutter-Free Classroom newsletter I encourage you sign up. Subscribers receive weekly tips for organizing and managing a classroom as well as exclusive free printables. You can sign up here.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

5 Quick Ways to Make Your Classroom More Organized for Next Year

Improve your classroom organization for the new school year by doing 5 quick things at the end of the year. Teachers will be ready to go back to school in their organized classroom before summer vacation starts.

So it’s the end of the school year and we all know there ain’t no tired like teacher tired in June.

Let’s be honest…your mind is racing with all the things you need to cross of the never-ending to do list that stands between you and summer vacation. You can almost taste the salt air and smell the sunscreen and you are probably spending almost every waking moment counting down the weeks, days, hours and minutes to those glorious two months where “Everyday is Saturday!”

Improve your classroom organization for the new school year by doing 5 quick things at the end of the year. Teachers will be ready to go back to school in their organized classroom before summer vacation starts.

Even if you have the best intentions of engaging and educating those sweet little minds right up until the final dismissal bell of the school year, the nature of June in an elementary school makes that goal challenging. 

The kids are riding their bikes, swimming and doing anything else they can think of to simulate summer vacation after school and on weekends. The parents are sending in complete randomness in the lunch boxes and are done arguing with their offspring about homework and reading logs because they’ve checked out too. Your already more-challenging-than-almost-any-other-career-on-the-planet job gets 10 x harder during those last few weeks of school.

But the good news is this is the final sprint and the reward for crossing the finish line comes in the form of Netflix binges, lazy days by the pool and the rush that comes with shutting off your alarm clock until the fall. You’ve got this!

I’m not only writing this today to give you a pep talk. I’m actually here to help you make the most of the end of the year by sharing with you a list of five things you should take the time to clean out before this school year ends to help with your classroom organization for the new year.

The Classroom Library
Go through all the books. Remove any that are damaged. Repair them if you can or recycle them if they have lived a full life and are not worth resuscitating. If you are changing grade levels take this opportunity to store or donate any books that won’t be needed. Consider parting ways with books that don’t move your students towards the goal of becoming lovers of quality literature that inspires them to be quality writers….(cough) Captain Underpants (cough). Just saying.

The School Supplies
First of all if you have any supplies left at this point you should do a victory lap around the school. 

And if within the supplies you have left over there happens to be at least one glue stick that
  • A) has it’s original cap 
  • B) is not disgustingly sticky on the outside and 
  • C) has more than a cm of glue showing when you crank it all the way out 
well then you are fully entitled to yell some obnoxious, “Boo yeahs” and “In your Face” taunts at your colleagues while you make said victory laps.

Have your students inspect and remove things like 1 inch, wrapperless crayons, inkless markers and color pencils that looked to have been whittled or attacked by beavers. 

Puzzles and Games
There is nothing like spending 30 minutes working on a 100 piece puzzle only to discover it’s really a 97 piece puzzle. Have your kids assemble the puzzles to determine if they need replacing. Have them also assess the game piece situation. Is Connect 4 really Connect 3? Does the Aircraft Carrier and Destroyer appear to be lost at sea from the Battleship Game? If your free choice/ indoor recess supply is hurting now is the perfect time to send a note home to families asking if they have any games to donate to the classroom.

Math Manipulatives
By definition “hands-on” math means the kids are touching everything. After 9 months of learning those things are grubby! Need I remind you that those 9 months included cold and flu season? Enough said. Have you students sort and organize them. Consider taking things like unifixcubes, base 10 blocks, counting bears, links, and anything else that can tolerate a good soaking home to run through the dishwasher or else wash them by hand. Use antibacterial wipes to wipe down the others. You’ll be all set for guided math next year!

Arts and Craft Supplies
Do you have empty Pringles cans and egg cartons oozing from your closet? Do the watercolors have more empty spaces in the palette than actual colors? Pull out all the things you’ve squirreled away. In my experience I have found that a quick email to the staff and my students’ parents enabled me to stock up on as many toilet paper tubes and styrofoam trays I could possibly need for a project with very short notice. Your closet space is too valuable to serve as a glorified recycling bin. 

Make the most of the things you have by putting them all out and letting your class create something fun. It’s June you can get away with that. Let them use the nubby colored pencils and crusty glue sticks while they are at it. If you must then read them The Lorax and fill in your plan books with some learning goals about the environment.

On a related note, if you missed my post detailing the 5 things you should do before this school year ends to be super prepared for next year you can read that here:

And if you are looking for some ideas to keep your students engaged in purposeful learning activities that lend themselves to June in an elementary classroom here are my top three favorite ones I loved using year after year in my classroom…

We also spent a bit of time each day working on the END OF YEAR MEMORY BOOKS which got sent home in a folder with the booklets they made throughout the FIRST WEEK OF SCHOOL.

By the way, if you are not already subscribed to The Clutter-Free Classroom newsletter I encourage you sign up. Subscribers receive weekly tips for organizing and managing a classroom as well as exclusive free printables. You can sign up here.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

5 Things to Get Rid of Teacher Stress

Teaching is one of the most stressful jobs.  I feel like everytime I log onto Facebook I see articles and cartoons relating to teacher stress and burnout. You work hard. Your job can be challenging. You're exhausted. But...

Summer is coming which means it is almost time for all you tired teachers to let out a collective sigh of relief followed by a loud WOO HOO! 

Because summer!



To help combat teacher stress and burnout and get you relaxed and recharged so you can go back and be a classroom rockstar again next year I've compiled 5 things for you to do throughout the summer.

The good news is you get to stop writing things like, "plan guided math lesson" or "copy spiral review homework" on that list and start writing fun alternatives like "go to the beach" or "see a movie with a friend." I would love to see you add at least a few of these to that list as well.

It is time to destress, start building healthy habits and use the extra time to lay the foundation for a stress-free new (school) year.

To help you get started I'll be sending ALL Clutter-Free Classroom newsletter subscribers a free "Things to Do During the Summer to Make the School Year Less Stressful" eBook with printables before it is available to others.

Click the image below to subscribe to the newsletter for teachers. It is once-a-week, easy-to-read email that will provide you with great ideas for classroom organization and management...and exclusive free printables too.




5 Things you can do to Destress During the Coming Months

1. Get active.
  • Begin each morning with a walk. 
  • Attend the daytime sessions at a local gym that take place when you are normally at school.
  •  Swim in pools, lakes and oceans. 
  • Take a class to try something new like paddle boarding or kayaking. 
  • Go for a bike ride. 
  • Start doing yoga. 
2. Read books just for fun. 
  • Do not worry about identifying the main idea and supporting details. 
  • Think not of how to construct an open response based on events in the text. 
  • Simply pick a book you want to read, find a comfy place to curl up with the book and enjoy. 
  • Bonus points if you read a real book made of actual paper.
3. Get creative. 
  • Draw, scrapbook, or simply color. 
  • Adult coloring books are insanely popular right now. Just grab some pencils and shade the day away. 
  • Buy a set of watercolors and paint outside. 
4. Spend at least one entire day on the couch. 
  • Binge watch a TV series.
  • See what Chip and Joanna are up to.
  • Watch reruns of your favorite childhood shows.
5. Connect with one old friend each week.
  • Make a lunchdate.
  • Plan a weekend trip together.
  • Have a long talk on the phone.
  • Get together for coffee (iced coffee...it's summer).
  • Send a good old-fashioned snail mail letter or greeting card.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

5 Things Teachers Can Do Now to Prepare for Next Year



When I first started teaching I never liked hearing that infamous nine word phrase that teachers all too often hear from jealous folks who are not in the profession.

“It must be nice to have your summers off.”

Of course it’s nice to have the summers off…in theory. Who wouldn’t want to spend their days sleeping in, lying on a beach, sitting poolside or watching Netflix ’til the cows come home? 

But the reality was that I wasn’t actually doing those things. It seemed I was always busy spending the months of July and August preparing for the upcoming school year

As I gained more experience as a teacher I put a lot of effort into finding ways to work smarter and not harder. Teaching is challenging because there will always be a list of things to do, but over the years I came to realize the importance of recharging and the value it had in making me a more effective educator. I found lots of strategies that helped me to reclaim my personal time and find a much better work and home life balance.

Below are five things I started to do during my contracted teaching hours each spring (instead of during my summer vacations) that had me super prepared for the new school year in the fall.

#1 Plan and Prep for the First Few Weeks


It’s important to collaborate with your teammates so that you are providing your students with similar experiences. This is not easy to coordinate when you are all on different schedules and spread out in different locations throughout the summer. As the school year winds down and you have all of your activities for the end of the school year ready to go, work together to set your sights on planning and prepping for the new year. 

We always planned our first two read alouds and related activities (my favorites in 3rd grade were Judy Moody followed by Charlotte’s Web (I love the message of friendship as we build our classroom community and focus on developing a Growth Mindset). We also would copy and staple our writing journals, morning work and homework, and a back to school booklet of activities that is perfect for filling those random moments that pop up in the first few weeks. 

The best part of planning as a team is that each teacher can take responsibility for copying and prepping a specific activity for the entire grade level. I placed everything into a copy paper box and placed it on a shelf in my closet and was ready to go in the fall…bonus…no waiting in huge copier lines with the back-to-school rush!

Try Something New

Is there a teaching method or educational practice that you’ve had on your radar, but never tried? Teachers often think, “Maybe I’ll do that next near.” Why wait? Your current class has established norms and is up and running. They are the perfect group to try things out with because they know your expectations. 

When I first started using a Math Workshop with Guided Math Lessons in my classroom I was going to wait until the new year for a ‘fresh start,’ but instead introduced it in the spring. This was perfect because it let me iron out the details, figure out the best ways for traffic to flow in my classroom and get feedback from my students. It was fantastic! Not only was I ready to hit the ground running in September, but it enabled me to identify and fine tune the specific math skills each individual student needed before progressing to the next grade. 

What have you wanted to try? Think about things like book clubs, reader’s theater, paragraph of the week, socratic seminar, STEM projects or perhaps even alternative seating and jump in with your current cohort. You’ll be glad you did.

Prepare Your Walls and Bulletin Boards

If you are fortunate enough to be staying in the same classroom next year then you may also be fortunate enough to take advantage of the opportunity to set up your wall space. I always recommend starting with a blank slate at the start of a new year, but you also want it to be inviting. Hanging fabric and bulletin board trim on your boards will provide a colorful backdrop for the first day of school and make it easy to start displaying anchor charts and student work right from the start. You can also set up your schedule area, birthday board, calendar and any other yearlong displays. Some teachers enjoy having their current class create a “welcome board” for the incoming students. If you plan to decorate with a classroom theme you can use the time to print and laminate materials and gather supplies. If you are looking for ideas on how to set up and decorate a classroom please feel free to download my free Guide to Classroom Decor

Fine Tune Your Procedures and Routines

Strong classroom management is essential to student learning and the key to good management is to plan, practice and implement procedures and routines for everything. Think about how things are running in your classroom now and identify areas that could be improved. Experiment with new routines and traffic flows until you find the ones that are most effective. Prepare a classroom routines journal by writing all the steps for everything you do. Include photos or better yet, video your current class modeling those routines. Show those video clips to the new class as you teach the procedures so they visualize the expectations and make them a habit.

Declutter Your Classroom

Having an organized learning space will help keep children on task and focused and save you time and money by enabling you to quickly find what you need. Students LOVE to help and are perfect for tasks like sorting, testing markers, sharpening pencils, etc. Just be sure not to use class time for these jobs. I suggest setting up a day to have your kids stay after school and help out. They will be thrilled with the privilege and you’ll appreciate the things they get done for you. I have tons of ideas available here on The Clutter-Free Classroom to help you get your classroom looking great and functioning effectively. I would love for you to stay for awhile and look around. 

Click on the tabs at the top to explore the ideas I've shared for decluttering, organizing, decorating and managing your classroom.

I've written a companion post to this one titled, 3 Boxes Teachers Should Pack Before Summer Vacation for the Upper Elementary Snapshots Collaborative Blog. My hope is that the combined tips shared will allow you to enjoy your vacation, recharge your teacher batteries, spend time with family and friends and then hit the ground running for the new year. Be sure to visit my there and read that post as well.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

How to Create a Classroom Theme

{Click to download and access the FREE RESOURCE: Classroom Theme Planning Pages}
Let's be honest. Student academic success is not determined by a colorful classroom or a classroom theme

Classroom organizationclassroom management and good teaching practice all weigh heavily into the success of students, but classroom decor may not. 

That doesn't mean you shouldn't put time and effort into classroom decor. This is especially if it is something you really enjoy doing. Setting up my classroom each year has always been something I consider to be a job perk and not a chore. It's a chance to express my creativity before the real work begins at the start of a new school year.

I know I'm not alone. Teachers often LOVE to decorate their classrooms and consider creating beautiful learning environments using a theme to be enjoyable.

This post will...
  • explain the benefits of a classroom theme
  • help you pick a theme 
  • teach you how to plan and implement a theme and 
  • direct you to FREE RESOURCES to help you decorate with or without a classroom theme 

THE BENEFITS OF A CLASSROOM THEME

Over the years I've set up classrooms both with and without classroom themes and each had their benefits. Here is what I have found to be beneficial about using a theme:

HOW TO CHOOSE A CLASSROOM THEME

Are you planning to decorate your classroom using a classroom theme? This post explains the benefits, helps you pick a theme and teaches you how to plan and implement a classroom theme. Click through for tips and free printables.


There are many factors that can help you decide what type of theme you want to use in your classroom. Some teachers want a cohesive look, but don't want to be "too themey." A great way to accomplish that is to use elements of a Chalkboard and School theme either with or without elements of a Crayon Theme to create a space that focuses simply on school and learning.

Geographic Area: Teachers on both coasts find that using a beach theme or a Nautical theme ties in with the area in which they teach. I've known a lot of teachers in Texas who implemented a Western Theme with their design.  

Subject Areas: Reading teachers may gravitate towards a genre based theme such as Fairy Tales or Mysteries/Detectives. Social studies teachers may find a Patriotic Theme complements their lessons while those setting up computer labs or STEM / STEAM labs find value in a Technology Theme. Science teachers love a Space Theme.  The Rock and Roll Theme is popular in all classrooms, but especially with music teachers. 

School Specific: I've had teachers use my Construction Theme resource because their schools were remodeling or expanding and they were literally teaching at a construction site. Schools that are focusing on going paperless or simply being more environmentally aware like the Recycling Theme. School-wide themes such as teamwork or being the best you can be gravitate toward a Sports Theme or a Superhero Theme respectively. Another popular school specific option is to select a classroom theme based on your school mascot. I often see teachers decorate with a Dog Theme or even a Frog Theme for that reason.

Thematic Units or Units of Study: I used to begin each school year by reading Charlotte's Web paired with a non-fiction unit about Spiders. A Farm Theme provided the perfect backdrop. An Apple Theme or a Garden or Flower Theme is great for a unit on the life cycle of plants depending on what time of year you are teaching it.

Special Events: I often used a specific theme for the annual open house when families would come to view student work. I found it helped to create a cohesive look. Over the years I did open houses that had Camping Themes, Hollywood Themes, and a Wizard of Oz Theme.

Just for Fun: You don't need a reason to pick a certain theme. Many teachers pick them just because they sound fun. This is true for things such as a Pirate Theme, Circus Theme, Monkey Theme, Owl Theme, Jungle/Safari Theme or a Monster Theme. Some base them on student interests such as Racing Themes or Dinosaurs while other teachers share their own hobbies or passions such as a Cooking Theme or a Travel Theme

To Match The Space: While some classrooms are truly a blank slate, others start off with a less than ideal color backdrop. Teachers have used these to their advantage. I've had teachers use a Bee Theme because they were given a classroom with black furniture and yellow walls or a Ladybug theme because there was so much red in the classroom.


How to Plan and Implement Any Classroom Theme

1. Pick a theme.

2. Download the FREE Resource: Clutter-Free Classroom Theme Planning Pages and print the three organizers that are specific to the classroom theme you selected.
Are you planning to decorate your classroom using a classroom theme? This post explains the benefits, helps you pick a theme and teaches you how to plan and implement a classroom theme. Click through for tips and free printables.
Click to Access and Download the FREE RESOURCE: Classroom Theme Planning Pages 

3. The Clutter-Free Classroom Blog has published over 40 individual posts. Each includes ideas for color schemes, bulletin board trims, decor, bulletin boards and decorative accents, a list of related books to complement each theme, and tons of printable resources including over 30 classroom essentials to bring the theme to life for you. 

4. Use the organizer to make notes of ideas from the post.

5. Visit the Clutter-Free Classroom Pinterest boards to find additional photos and ideas for inspiration. I have set up separate pin boards for each of the themes featured on the blog. As you look through the pins be sure to make more notes on the planning pages to keep the ideas organized.
Are you planning to decorate your classroom using a classroom theme? This post explains the benefits, helps you pick a theme and teaches you how to plan and implement a classroom theme. Click through for tips and free printables.
Click to Access and Download the FREE RESOURCE: Classroom Theme Planning Pages 
6. Inventory fabrics, trims, and other decor elements you already have available in your classroom to determine what you can repurpose. 

7. Make a shopping list and set a budget. Begin purchasing things as time and money allow and set them aside for when you can get into the classroom to set up. If you are using any of my classroom decor resources you can start printing and preparing them.

8. Ask friends and family for items they may be willing to part with that will complement your theme.

9. When you can get into your classroom begin setting up the essentials. Put bulletin board fabric and trim up. Add the essentials and management tools like calendars, job charts, alphabets, number charts, etc. and assess how the classroom is coming together. 

10. I caution you not to add too many things just because they “fit the theme.” Try to be purposeful in what you select to include and find that perfect balance of beautifully decorated without being cluttered or distracting. Leave plenty of space to display student work and anchor charts for learning.


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Are you planning to decorate your classroom using a classroom theme? This post explains the benefits, helps you pick a theme and teaches you how to plan and implement a classroom theme. Click through for tips and free printables.
Click to Access & Download the FREE
Guide to Decorating Your Classroom
Are you planning to decorate your classroom using a classroom theme? This post explains the benefits, helps you pick a theme and teaches you how to plan and implement a classroom theme. Click through for tips and free printables.
Click to Access & Download the
Guide to Organizing Your Classroom


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Jungle Safari Themed Classroom - Ideas & Printable Classroom Decorations

Are you planning a Jungle Safari themed classroom or thematic unit? This blog post provides great decoration tips and ideas for the best Jungle Safari theme yet! It has photos, ideas, supplies & printable classroom decor to will make set up easy and affordable. You can create a Jungle Safari theme on a budget!

Jungle Classroom Theme Ideas & Photos 

Are you planning a Jungle Safari themed classroom or thematic unit? This blog post provides great decoration tips and ideas for the best Jungle Safari theme yet! It has photos, ideas, supplies & printable classroom decor to will make set up easy and affordable. You can create a Jungle Safari theme on a budget!

A Jungle Theme Classroom is a popular choice for educators looking to create a cohesive and creative learning environment. It appeals to both elementary and older students.  Here you will find Jungle classroom theme ideas and pictures to inspire teachers and home school families.  You will feel organized and have your learning spaces looking amazing in no time! Best of all it can be done on a budget. Below you will find:
  • Jungle theme bulletin boards and phrases
  • a compilation of inspiring Jungle classroom theme pictures 
  • 10 tips for setting up a classroom with a Jungle theme
  • quick, easy & editable Jungle theme classroom essentials
  • links to related decor items 
  • free classroom theme printables to help you get organized

10 Tips for Creating a Jungle-Themed Classroom

Are you planning a Jungle Safari themed classroom or thematic unit? This blog post provides great decoration tips and ideas for the best Jungle Safari theme yet! It has photos, ideas, supplies & printable classroom decor to will make set up easy and affordable. You can create a Jungle Safari theme on a budget!
  1. Use animal print fabrics for bulletin board backgrounds.
  2. Outline your bulletin boards with fake vines and greenery.
  3. Balance the animal prints with complementary neutral colors like tans and greens.
  4. Use animal print Duct Tape as borders, to line shelves, and wrap around boxes and cans to create storage that matches your Jungle Safari theme.
  5. Title your birthday board with "Born to Be Wild!"
  6. Create a welcome bulletin board that reads, "Welcome to __ GRRRRRade."
  7. Take photos of your students wearing a tan vest and safari hat. Use the photos as a display or as labels in the classroom.
  8. Refer to your Guided Math Teams or Reading Groups as different animal names such as giraffes, lions, elephants, etc.
  9. Place stuffed animals around the classroom as decorations.
  10. A low-cost way to enhance your Jungle theme is to set up a display of books that relate to the theme by standing them on a counter or shelf.
{click to download and access these Jungle Theme Decor printables}


Free Jungle Classroom Theme Printables 

Are you planning a Jungle Safari themed classroom or thematic unit? This blog post provides great decoration tips and ideas for the best Jungle Safari theme yet! It has photos, ideas, supplies & printable classroom decor to will make set up easy and affordable. You can create a Jungle Safari theme on a budget!
Are you planning a Jungle Safari themed classroom or thematic unit? This blog post provides great decoration tips and ideas for the best Jungle Safari theme yet! It has photos, ideas, supplies & printable classroom decor to will make set up easy and affordable. You can create a Jungle Safari theme on a budget!

Items to Complement a Jungle Theme Classroom

Clicking on the images below will take you to an affiliate link where you can order any of these items and have them delivered to your door to enhance your Jungle themed classroom. If you are an Amazon Prime member you'll even get free shipping!

Related Resources



By the way, if you are not already subscribed to The Clutter-Free Classroom newsletter I encourage you sign up. Subscribers receive weekly tips for organizing and managing a classroom as well as exclusive free printables. You can sign up here.