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Watercolor Book Labels Freebie

Me at the end of every year: "I'm going to keep my decor the same next year. It will be nice to not change everything for once."

Me in July: "Ooooh! This design is so cute! I must change everything!"

This year, it's watercolors that are making their way into my classroom. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you already know that I've been working on watercolor book labels ALL WEEK. I'm so thankful for social media because my followers helped me to choose a font, a watercolor clip art style, and an overall label style. To show my appreciation for all of this assistance, I've decided to share all three styles with you! All you have to do is click the image below to download the file and then use the one you love best! Enjoy!


Easy Classroom Library Checkout with Booksource Classroom Organizer

Books, books, and more books! That pretty much sums up my life in and out of the classroom. I love to read and each year, it's my goal to help my students to gain a love of reading. After 13 years of teaching and a lot of shopping at Scholastic, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon, I have a MASSIVE classroom library. I add new books at the beginning of each year, as well as new books throughout the year. My classroom library currently contains over 1,000 books, and that number will keep on growing.

For 12 years, I used a basic sign-in/sign-out sheet to hold students responsible for checking books in and out of our classroom library. There were several problems with this:
  • Unless I checked daily, I didn't know which students were actually being responsible and signing out their books before taking them to their seats and ultimately taking them home.
  • Students often forgot to sign their book back in before checking out another. I allow one book to be checked out at a time (2 over breaks). Keeping track of this meant that at least once a week, I had to take out the sign-in sheet and read off each book that was checked out. Very often, students would say, "No, I already returned that," and then it became a search for the book that they returned so that I could be sure they actually did return it. A lot of valuable teaching time was wasted.
  • It was easy for students to go beyond their limit. I always had 3-4 students who would have a stockpile of books inside their desk. Now, I'm all for reading more than one book at the same time, but my students are also allowed to borrow 2 books from our regular library each week. It is rare that my students are reading more than 2 books at a time.
  • The conditions of my books were rarely reported to me. I wouldn't know about ripped covers or pages until another student found it on the shelf. My students know that I never get upset about this happening to a book, but I do love to know when it happens. Then I can take out my clear packing tape and try to perform book surgery to save the book. When I can't fix it, knowing the condition lets me know what books need to be replaced, which is helpful when we do our monthly Scholastic book order. 
  • Books went missing or were lost and never reported to me. A student would go to borrow a favorite book and it would be missing. Then I had to go through every single sign-out page to try to figure out who was ultimately responsible for the book, which was rarely a success. I don't mind if a book goes missing here and there, but over time, this can result in a lot of popular books not being returned and when it isn't reported to me, I don't even know I need to replace them. 
  • It took a long time for some students to write the title with their name and date on the sign-out sheet. 
  • There is no way to keep track of your inventory. With over 1,000 books, I have reached the point where I can barely remember which book I bought. That made it hard to order or buy new books without having my classroom library right in front of me.
At the end of the 2016-2017 school year, I was determined to spend my summer finding a solution to these problems. I began to inquire about possible solutions through social media networks. I received a lot of suggestions and tried quite a few, but each one seemed to be lacking the library management ease I was hoping for. Then, in one Facebook group, another teacher mentioned success with Booksource Classroom Organizer. I checked it out and it turned out to be exactly what I needed. I began using it last August and it has exceeded my expectations!

Booksource Classroom Organizer makes classroom library organization a breeze! It's a FREE web-based program that solves every single problem I listed above. You can add your books to create an inventory of your library and organize your library by genre or levels, depending on what you use. Most importantly, it makes the whole checkout process a breeze!

To get started, I created a free account and began to add my inventory. Because of my library size, this took me several sessions. At first, I was entering each ISBN by hand and that was pretty time-consuming. Another teacher mentioned that she purchased a scanner similar to the one that is often used in school libraries. I went on Amazon and found the reasonably-priced TaoTronics USB Barcode Scanner (not an affiliate link). Once I received that, entering my books was quick and easy!

After I'd scanned my entire library, I was ready for students to begin check out. From the very first day, this program was a breeze and I found myself grateful for it throughout the year. Here are several reasons why I love this program:
  • Checking books in and out is quick and easy. Students either check books out in the morning before announcements or during the day when they've finished an assignment early. I know they are being responsible because I can see them at the desktop computer that I've set up with the scanner and I hear the scanner beep when they check their book in or out. Scanning the book to check it out is a whole lot faster than writing down the title, their name, and the date of check out on a piece of paper.

  • Students are asked to review their books when they return it. We already do book reviews in my class, so this is a great chance for students to write a snippet review that peers can see when checking out their books.
  • My Dashboard gives me a great overview of student checkouts, overdue books, reviews to approve, and a nice breakdown of my inventory by genre. I definitely need more nonfiction! 
  • In the My Account section under Preferences, I can set exactly how many books each student can borrow at a time. If they haven't returned one at are at their max borrow limit, the system won't let them borrow a new one. I had zero problems with missing books this year - zero! I didn't think that was possible! 
  • Also in preferences, I can select how long students can borrow books before they are considered overdue. This is helpful because if I see that a student has had a book for over two weeks, I can have a conversation with them about it. We might determine that the book isn't interesting or isn't the right level for that student.
  • When students check in a book, they are asked to select the condition that it is in. I can add my own condition options for this in the preferences page I use to set checkout limits. 
  • I can print both classroom and student reports. For the classroom, this includes book checkout history, current books that are checked out, and overdue books. I print the current books list at the end of every week and use it as a 2-minute check-in to be sure that students still have the books on the list. I can also look at individual student checkout history and detail.
  • As long as I have access to the web, I have access to my inventory. I went on an Amazon spending spree last week, stocking up on lots of new books. I had a few on a wishlist that I thought I might have already purchased during the last school year. All I had to do was log on to my Booksource Classroom Organizer account and search for the books in my library. I had one title already, so I didn't end up making an unnecessary purchase. What a breeze! 

Those are my favorite features about this free program, but there's a lot of other great features, too. If you are looking for an effective way to manage your classroom library and make book checkout a breeze, I encourage you to explore this program. You won't be disappointed!


An End of the Year Gift That Rocks!

After 13 years of teaching, it's pretty difficult to come up with fresh ideas for an end of the year gift. I've done some really cute gifts that are certainly worth repeating, but I really love it when I can find a way to connect my gift to that specific year. I had a wonderful group of students this year. I feel like I say that every year, but I really loved every moment of teaching these kiddos. They were awesome in every way and they worked so hard to come so far. Anyway, one of the things that makes for a happy  classroom is the sound of laughter and the ability to be silly without getting out of hand (which can be such a delicate balance, but can successfully happen). Well, one of the reasons I love teaching fifth grade is because my students understand my jokes and sarcasm. Truth be told, I LOVE cheesy jokes, but I especially love puns, and there's a lot of cheesy jokes and puns mixed in with my instruction. My husband always tells me that I'm the funniest person I know and it's true - no one makes me laugh harder than me! For whatever reason, this year was the year of the puns - I had a new one popping into my head at least once a day and my students kind of became dependent on at least a daily pun. So...enter the end of the year gift.

I've wanted to try rock painting for so long. I've seen the The Kindness Rocks Project and always wanted to participate, but never got around to it. So, without a proper plan, I decided to go to my local rock yard and get some medium stones. When I told them that I was using them to make a gift for my students, they let me take 30 rocks, no charge!

So with rocks in my possession, I came home to look for some ideas via Google search. I'm not very artistic, so I needed something that would work for my heavy handed writing. I initially thought about doing words of kindness/praise, but then something so simple and punny came my way...why not just put their name with the word ROCKS underneath? It's personalized and it's "punny", which truly made this the perfect end of the year gift for my class!

Once I had a plan, I washed the rocks really well and then went to Michael's to load up on some different colors of spray paint. I bought matte and gloss, but in hindsight, I would've gone with just matte since I eventually sealed them with matte spray anyway. The lighter colors needed a couple of sprays, but for the most part, spray painting the rocks was a piece of cake!

Next, I purchased some acrylic paint markers. I bought one set from Michael's and the other set from Amazon (link for the Amazon - not affiliate: Acrylic Paint Markers). I sat outside on my deck for hours working on just writing __________ (name) ROCKS. I am not a fan of my own handwriting, so there were definitely some do-overs. I let the words dry overnight.

The following day, I began adding very simple designs (again, I am not artistic, so I went with things like polka dots and hearts) to the side with the words. I tried really hard to incorporate colors or designs that were a reflection of each student. For example, I had a student who loved NERF so I used NERF colors for his rock. In one case of design gone wrong, I pressed down too hard on one of the markers and created a dripping effect that I ended up loving so I did it all the way around the rock. I only did designs on one side (except the dripping one, which was unintentional), but you could easily decorate the whole rock, it would just take more time. Between the words and designs, I worked on these rocks for several days without doing a design on the opposite side.  Plus, the rock was already painted, so leaving one side blank still looked really nice. After the rocks were decorated, I sealed them with a clear acrylic matte spray. I did two coats on each side. Here's my final work:

From there, it was time to compose an end of the year poem that would connect to the rock. I wrote a poem a few years ago that gave me a good start, but I revised about 75% of it to make it more fitting for this year's class. It reads:

A Fantastic Fifth Grade Year

The time has come for summer break to begin.
“My year is complete!” you yell with a grin.
Our year together has been special and sweet.
Having you as my student has been quite a treat.
You learned math and reading, and oh so much more,
and laughed through the lessons that weren’t a big bore.
I read stories and left off at all the best parts,
to place a love of reading inside of your heart.
Sometimes I used puns and we laughed a whole lot,
but little did you know, it was part of my plot.
I wanted you to learn, to have fun, and to grow,
and you listened and learned, there’s so much you know!
Now your year is complete and it’s time to move on,
but your memories of this year will always be strong.
I have a final gift, that’s a bit of a pun.
So when you look back, you’ll remember our fun.
Like your gift, you’re unique, this is very true.
You’re strong on the inside, and quite special, too.
So there’s really just one thing that’s left to be said: 
You ROCK today, you ROCK tomorrow, and you ROCK the future ahead!

You can click on the image below to download a copy. Feel free to save it for future use or use it to inspire your own end of the year poem. I've included a version that just says "A Fantastic Year" as the title so that it can be used for multiple grade levels.

When I presented these gifts to my students, I explained that I worked hard on each individual rock and that I thought about each of them and our memories together as I designed each one. So, while their initial thought might be "I got a rock," (Peanuts reference from It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown) the rock was actually a representation of them and that is what made it so special. They absolutely loved them! I loved seeing their smiles as they held their rocks and felt special, knowing I'd created an original rock just for them. I hope that each time they look at their rock, they remember the special year we shared.


Taking the Mystery Out of Mystery Skype

Have you found teaching the 50 states and/or geography to be a bore? Well, I've got a solution for you! Last year, I introduced my students to Mystery Skype and found it to be a fun and engaging way to increase their geographic knowledge and map skills. It encourages critical thinking skills, communication, and deductive reasoning. In fact, when asked about their top 3 favorite memories of fifth grade, Mystery Skype made the list of more than half of my students!

What is Mystery Skype?

So, what exactly is Mystery Skype? If you've ever played 20 questions or were a fan of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego (I know I might actually be showing my age here), it is similar! Students connect via Skype or Google Hangouts with a class in a mystery location and take turns asking yes or no questions that will help them to figure out the location (country, state, city) of the other class. Some classes guess only the state, but others will also attempt the city. I like to do this because we're in California and our state is pretty easy to guess. Guessing to the city gives my students the chance to guess something first! Some classes even guess to the exact school, but I haven't tried that piece with my students yet! This should be student led and can take 45-60 minutes.

"Are you east of the Mississippi River?"

The questions students ask should help them to narrow down the location. They should also be specific. I don't allow my students to ask near/close questions because our own definitions of near/close can greatly differ. I've included a compilation of some sample questions that we've used since we started, questions I've gathered from peers and our past connections. You can grab them by clicking the image below.


Your students will need map skills to be successful. We spent about a month reviewing/learning major U.S. rivers, mountain ranges, regions, cardinal directions, geographical terms like landlocked and coastal, reading maps, and learning to read longitude and latitude. Speaking of which, the one thing to consider about Mystery Skype is that your students have to be knowledgeable about their own area as well because they have to be able to answer the questions of the other class. We had some real stumpers last year (especially those longitude and latitude questions). If you plan to go to city, Google Maps is really helpful. We also use Mapquest and ask distance questions (Is your city less than/more than 50 miles from ______.) We are lucky enough to have laptops that we can use during our Mystery Skype. We've done some mock Mystery Skypes in class where I chose a place and students asked me questions to figure out my location. I think this really helped them to be prepared for the real thing.


I have laminated maps that my students use with dry erase markers so that they can mark off areas as they ask questions and gather information. If you don't have this, simply print out a copy of a U.S. map and give that to your students.

I have a double-sided easel in my room and have a student on each side of it. One records the answers the other class gives, and one records the questions they ask. This way, students have a constant reminder of what they already know and questions to consider when we debrief afterwards.

Google Maps, Google Earth, and even Mapquest can be great tools during a Mystery Skype so you'll definitely want to have access to technology. You will, of course, need a computer that has a webcam and microphone (this is built-in to most computers now) to use Skype or Google Hangouts.

I also have atlases, a state road map (a great tool when we are being asked questions about our location), and a folder filled with resources that students can access during the Mystery Skype. I try to be as hands off as possible during these, so I take a lot of time to prepare my students with everything they will need. Of course, there are times that a question really throws my students and I have to point them in the right direction, but preparation is definitely the key.

It's helpful to have signs to hold up for the other class to see. It can get a little noisy in the room and it helps to communicate your answers and whose turn it is. I created some that I'm happy to share. Click the image below to grab them!

It is extremely helpful to assign students roles during each Mystery Skype. I had an administrator observe our last session and she commented on how well organized my students were. I explained to her that each student was assigned a role ahead of time, with some roles being assigned to multiple students, and that students were informed of the expectations for their roles ahead of time. Last year, I even put duct tape around my floor to mark the sections of the room different roles were assigned to. It kept them focused on their own role and prevented them from attempting to do the work of others. I do rotate the roles each time.

I compiled a list of the potential roles you can use in list format and on cards that you can print and laminate. I pass the cards out to each student when I assign the roles so they have a reminder of what I'm expecting from them during the Mystery Skype. I honestly don't use every role on the list, but you can adapt it and make it work for your classroom in the same way I did for mine. You can click the images below to grab the roles resources.

What Next?

What should you do after the Mystery Skype? I definitely suggest debriefing to discuss what went well and what could be improved. This year, I'm using a bulletin board to showcase our connections. I've placed a U.S. Map on the board and I'm putting a sign up with the location of each place we connect with. Often, there is time for each school to share some facts about their location. Although I haven't created one yet, I was thinking that it would be fun to create a log where students document these facts for future reference. There's just so many possibilities. Make it work for you!

Last Thoughts

Be sure to communicate with the teacher you are connecting with about your expectations. For example, I might not allow near/close questions, but another teacher may be new to this and not have encountered the problems associated with these types of questions. I always make sure to mention that I'd like to avoid those type of questions. I also let them know that we want to guess to their city in case they are not prepared for this. As with anything, if you communicate your expectations ahead of time, you have much better chances of success!

Also, test everything out ahead of time and do your best to follow through on your commitment. Nothing puts a damper on things worse than technology woes

I hope that helps you to understand the ins and outs of Mystery Skype. If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask. I'm not an expert, but I'm happy to share the knowledge I do have to help you to prepare this fun and engaging activity for your students. I'd also love to connect my fifth grade class with yours! Leave a comment, or send me a message on my Instagram or Facebook account anytime!


Group Work Rules Printable

Eeeeeeeek!!! I'm just a few days away from my first day so this is going to be a very quick post. I wanted to share a group work rules freebie. I glue them on card stock (the cute striped paper is from Michael's) and set them up on each table during group assignments. It never hurts to have a visual reminder of the rules! Click on the image below to grab it.


Accountable Behavior for Upper Elementary Classrooms

At the end of each year, one of the many things that I reflect upon is my behavior management. Last year, I finally said goodbye to my behavior chart and though I was so nervous to do so, it actually went really well. I created some easy Behavior Punch Cards and actually found them very successful, but throughout the year, I took notes on what I could improve the following year. With the new school year less than two weeks away, I began to make some changes. I now feel I have an even better plan in place as I prepare for my thirteenth year of teaching!

I believe that the key components to successful behavior management include student accountability and parent communication. It was with these in mind, that I came up with the following changes:

Change #1: New Behavior Cards With the behavior punch cards, the only person assessing the daily behavior of each student was me. However, I'm teaching fifth grade. That means that my students are old enough to understand expectations and assess themselves based on these expectations. My new cards reflect this, as I've added a 1-5 rating scale with definitions for each rating, and I've added two scales, one for the teacher, and one for the student. Students will be marking their behavior at the end of each day. I will then mark their behavior after they leave so that they can see how our scores compare when they return the next day.

You might be wondering how much paper I will be going through. The answer: not very much. There are two of these cards per page and I laminate them. At first, I thought I'd have to use cardstock and laminate, but I actually didn't. Laminating a regular piece of paper is just fine. I give each student a skinny expo and a baby washcloth (4 in a box for $1 at the Dollar Store) to keep in their pencil box with their card. I'm thinking I will need to make a new card each month, but that remains to be seen. It may be that some students need it replaced sooner than others, and some take such good care of theirs that they never need it replaced at all! I do like the idea of changing out the colors monthly, though. I did my first ones in my favorite color!

Change #2: Tracking Behavior Last year, I felt like students weren't held that accountable for their daily behavior because they'd look at their punched/unpunched card, understood they had a good or bad day, rarely approach me to talk about why they didn't get a punch, and then just move on. Now, I'm all for starting the next day with a clean slate, but I also want my students to be working towards having good behavior each and every day. I decided to create a daily log where students will record the date, their score/rating, my score/rating, and their total points for the day (their score + mine). I also created a section where they have to explain differences between scores. This is the accountability piece I really wanted, where students will have to reflect on their choices and explain why our scores did not match. I'm hoping that this will be increase our chances of communicating about their actions and discussing what they can do differently as they start a new day. These will be kept in a folder and will be a part of their morning routine as they enter the classroom each day.

Changes #3 & #4: Monthly Reflection & Improved Communication to Parents The last thing that I wanted to improve was the way that parents are kept in the loop on communication. I created a monthly behavior report to tackle this. Now, let me be clear for any newer teachers, when behavior is out of control, referrals are written, students are sent to the office, and parents are contacted that day. However, I think that all students should be responsible for tracking and sharing their behavior with their parents from month to month (and in some cases, week to week). If their behavior has then wonderful, then they have something to celebrate, if it has been inconsistent, they have something to discuss, and if it has been awful, this is also something that you have to support you in future conferences with parents or meetings with administration. You'll notice that the top part of this report includes their points, the maximum points possible, the number of days, and then their average points per day. (Bonus points for a little practice with mean here! Younger students could just use a calculator.) For me, I see the goal as the average goal, not the total points, mostly because you are always going to have absences and so an average points per day in attendance makes things a whole lot easier for everyone. 

Now, do I think that every child should have an average of 10 every day? No, I'm realistic. But I'd also have a long discussion with any child who attempts a goal lower than an 8, maybe a 7 in certain situations. I don't believe that I should lower my expectations, and I don't believe my students should, either. 

These will obviously be sent home at the end of each month for parents to review and sign. When they are returned, I will keep the monthly reports and logs in each student's file. Again, this is an important piece of data for future conferences and meetings. When you have a student who is troublesome and a meeting is set-up, everyone wants data. Doing these monthly reports means you will always have behavior data on file if and when it is needed. I've also created weekly behavior reports in the same format for those who need it. 

I'm feeling very good about the changes I've made. I think what I like most is that it puts more responsibility on my students and requires them to think about the choices they've made. I'm very excited to give it a try in less than two weeks! 

If you're interested in grabbing these, I do have them listed in my store. Click on the picture below to check them out.


Book Reviews: An Alternative to Book Reports

For many of us, just hearing the words book report gives us a flashback to tedious reports that we were tasked with completing when we were in school. I remember standing in the front of my class, reading my book report, being bored by my own review, and just as bored by the reviews of the others. The big problem was that they lacked creativity. There was an exact format and so even though we did different books, they all sounded exactly the same. 

So needless to say, I don't want to be THAT teacher, but I do want to know that my students are reading, especially since we do a 40 book challenge. So I started to play around with the idea of book reviews. I'm a voracious reader, and Goodreads is one of my favorite websites. I love to keep track of the books I want to read, the books my friends are reading, and also write book reviews when I've completed a book. I like getting my voice heard and sharing my opinion. 

What's that? A book review is opinion writing? That's right! This doesn't just cover reading comprehension, it's also going to cover opinion writing. Don't you just love it when you can double dip? I know do! 

Now, there are tons of formats for book reviews. I know this just from reading reviews on Goodreads, but I also saw that teachers are doing these in many different ways. I did a lot of reading on what others are doing, and then decided what I wanted to see in the reviews of my students, as well as what was appropriate for fifth grade (which ruled Goodreads out). I knew right away that I wanted students to share their reviews so that they would serve as recommendations and encourage their classmates to select the books they were reading about. 

The first thing I did is decide what components I wanted to see, or what my requirements would be. I decided I wanted the following, not necessarily in this order, but pretty close to it:
  • a creative review title
  • an introduction with the title, author, and genre
  • a short summary that DOES NOT give the ending away - again, I want these to serve as recommendations, so it's important that they not give the ending away so others will actually want to read and find out what happens
  • the above bullet can still apply for nonfiction, but the summary would be focused on the main topics
  • a detailed description of the main character or characters/a more detailed description of interesting topics if nonfiction
  • their opinion of the book with a rating on a five-star scale 
  • two personal reactions - reasons why they rated the book the way they did, with supporting evidence
  • a recommendation - a sentence or two describing the perfect audience for this book
Students had two options for presenting their book reviews, Kidblog, which I love because it is private to just our class. You can get a free membership, but I did the paid one just so that I would have all of the perks since I used it for more than just book reviews. 

Below is what the main Kidblog page looks like. It displays all of the book reviews for our whole class. We did talk about coming up with more creative pictures for their headings (as well as copyright issues related to that) and I plan to more strict about that this coming school year. 

T his is what the student book reviews look like when you select one from the main page. Students are required to comment at least one review per week. 

If you are interested in using Kidblog, you can grab a copy of my step-by-step directions for creating their post by clicking the picture below: 

The other option was a video review and womp, womp, womp - no one did it. 😞 But, I did give the option, and even made my own example video (after about 200 takes...thanks to my extremely patient hubby). Maybe this year will be the year of the video review. My fingers are crossed! 

As these are graded, I did create a book review rubric. You can click on the picture to download the rubric. 

If you are interested in grabbing everything I created, I recently listed my book review pack in my TPT store. You can click the picture below to see the listing. 

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