Toothpaste Words: The Most Important Back to School Lesson You Can Do

It's no secret that I love fun and engaging back to school activities. I've never been known as the quiet teacher because I love a noisy room - not one that is out of control loud and chaotic, but one where lively discussion is taking place alongside hands-on learning. However, no matter how fun my lessons might be, there is always a meaning behind what we are doing, something to be learned from the experience. 

Enter the Toothpaste Activity. This activity has been floating around for all of my teaching years (that's 13 going on 14 for those that are wondering) I couldn't begin to tell you who thought of this first, but it certainly wasn't me. Whoever it was, thank you! This is the time of year where teachers are looking for ideas to use for the first few days of school, so I thought I'd share it. I mentioned this activity as a one liner in a post many years ago 

The first part the Toothpaste Activity is a blast! Students work in groups. They receive a paper plate and a tube of toothpaste (get blue and use grab them from your local Dollar Store). Students are then asked to squeeze out an entire tube of toothpaste, getting every last drop out. 

For the second part of the activity, give students a toothpick. Tell them they need to put all of the toothpaste back in the tube using only the toothpick. Make it a race. Give them about 10 minutes to get as much back in as they can. They will start to realize they can't possibly get it all (which is why you don't want white toothpaste). 

Students then clean up. This is where the important part of the lesson comes in. When students come back to their seats, you begin a discussion about words. Ask students to share words that are hurtful to them and write them on the board as they share. I immediately tell them that we will agree that any "swear" words are hurtful, but I won't be writing any of those on the board. It will take your kids a bit to open up, so feel free to add a few of your own to get them going. You will get some uncomfortable words. I write most of them down, but if you don't feel comfortable writing it, tell students that you will treat that one like a swear because everyone feels that one is hurtful. I once did this lesson with my principal in the room, and she actually told me she was glad I wrote down all of the words because it made the lesson more powerful, but stick with your comfort level.

Next, take a step back and look at the board. This is where you connect the activity. You explain to students that the words on the board are toothpaste words. Explain that when they squeezed the toothpaste, it was like the words coming out. Ask students to tell you what happened when they tried to put every last drop of the toothpaste back in. Explain that just as the toothpaste couldn't all be placed back in the tube, their words cannot be taken back once they've been said. I always talk to students about the fact that a friend may forgive them, but they will never forget what they said. 

This will lead you to a discussion about the power of words and how we should think before we speak because all of the words listed on the board have hurt someone at one time or another. Talk to students about choosing words that are kind, supportive, and positive. Ask them to agree that they will not use the words listed on the board towards their classmates or anyone else because they now know they are hurtful. Tell them that today, you can erase the words from the board, but if they are said, there isn't an eraser in the world that is strong enough to erase the pain their words will cause. 

Teacher friends, these discussions have been amazing throughout the year. I get the chills, tear up, sometimes just outright cry right along with them as they share their words and stories. You will realize quickly that some of the words they share have probably come from adults in their lives and it will break your heart, but it will also give you a window into their life, which will help you to give them the love and respect they need during the school day. My students refer to toothpaste words from that day forward and it really has an impact on them. I hope you will take the time to do this important lesson. You can download the directions and a reflection response page by clicking the image below. 



Stretch the "Truth" on the First Day of School

Icebreakers are a great way to help students to get to know each other during the first days of the school year. One of my favorite icebreakers is called Two Truths and a Lie. I first did this activity at a back to school staff meeting several years ago. I knew immediately that I wanted to use it in my classroom.

If you've never played Two Truths and a Lie, it's about as simple as it gets. You write down three statements about yourself, but one of them isn't actually true. You then share your three statements with a partner or group and they determine which one is a lie. It's a fun and engaging way to get to know others.

The object, of course, is to write down statements that are convincing. When I do this activity, I tell students that they should think about activities they've done that are out of the ordinary, while also thinking about ordinary things that they didn't actually do. We discuss the fact that no one rode a rainbow on a magical unicorn and how writing something unrealistic like that would give their lie away.

This year, I'm going to kick this activity off with a read-aloud of the story The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer, a fun, exaggerated story of a child's summer vacation with fantastic illustrations. After I read this story, I plan to ask students to share the events in the story that made it unbelievable.

This will be my segue into Two Truths and a Lie. I will introduce the activity with some examples. Here's some I've used in the past:
  • I rode the Superman roller coaster at Six Flags five times in a row.
  • I ate a hot dog on the lawn of The White House.
  • I swam with the dolphins in Hawaii. 
  • I ate frog legs at a French restaurant.
  • I went horseback riding at the beach. 
  • I caught a 24 pound rainbow trout in Lake Tahoe.
  • I coached cheerleading for five years. 

I'll write my examples on the board (or add a slide with them for my back to school presentation) and ask students to think about each one. I'll call on a few students to share whether they think each of my statements is a truth or a lie and why. Students are usually surprised to find out that I'm not a strong swimmer (no swimming with the dolphins for this girl) and wouldn't catch a fish if you paid me. They are even more surprised to find out that I did spend a 4th of July at The White House. We will discuss why my statements were harder to determine than the events that were shared in our read-aloud. I will remind them that the book provided us a good example of the unbelievable, while my examples were more difficult to determine because they were all possible, even if some seemed less likely to be true than others.

After our discussion, students will work on their own statements. They will have about 10 minutes to work on this, and this work time will be at a level zero (no talking) since they will be sharing their statements with a partner or group when they are finished. Be prepared to help some students to generate ideas. As with all activities, this will come easier to some than others. You might want to prepare a list of additional examples in case anyone gets stuck for ideas. 

Students will fold a paper in half the long way (hot dog style) and cut three flaps. They will write their three "truths" on the front and then under the flap of each one, they can check a box to show if it is a truth or lie (have them do this lightly or it will show right through the paper). When their work time is up, students can share their statements with a partner or group (depending on time constraints). Students can flip the flaps up to check their guesses after they've read them all. This activity will lead to great discussions and help to calm those first day jitters!

If you'd like to grab a copy of the reproducible that I use for Two Truths and a Lie, click the image below! Whether it's a couple of weeks, a month, or more, I hope your first week is fabulous! 



I Didn't Do My Homework... A Fun Book & Activity for the First Week of School

Last year, I purchased I Didn't Do My Homework Because... (not an affiliate link) because the illustrations appealed to me and it looked like a fun book to share with my students during the first week of school. I like to have fun, short books to introduce important rules and procedures to my students. This book was a great introduction to our discussion about homework, which is actually pretty minimal in my class, but exists, nonetheless. I brought my students to the carpet and previewed the cover, asking them what their honest thoughts were on homework. We discussed the types of assignments they liked and the types they didn't like. Then, I asked students if any of them had ever forgotten to do their homework. Of course, many hands went up and they all did a little nervous giggle together. I asked them to turn and talk to a partner (this was a great time to squeeze in my expectations for turn and talks on the carpet) about a reason that they didn't do their homework. After they had a couple of minutes to share, I told them we'd be reading a story with a number of excuses inside. It would be up to them to determine if any of the excuses were actually believable.

I read the book, sharing the pictures, and we all laughed about the reasons the main character didn't complete his homework. I gave students time to share their favorite excuse from the story and we also discussed which ones were possible and which were impossible. Since I had their full attention and engagement, I used this as a springboard for my rules and expectations for homework. We had a serious discussion about what would be expected of them throughout the year. I made my expectations clear, allowed them to ask questions, and then shifted the focus to a fun activity. I created a reproducible that asks students to become both author and illustrator of their own creative excuse for not doing their homework. They were excited to get to work. Before they worked on their illustrations, I had them decide what their excuse would be and write it down under the picture, not telling or showing anyone at first so that all of their ideas would be their own. Once everyone had written down their excuse, I allowed students to talk at a whisper (level 1) as they began to work on their illustrations. The whole activity took about an hour. I put all of their pictures on the wall as soon as they completed them! We had some really creative excuses, as you'll see below!
This creative student wrote, "A magician came and turned me into a french fry. I did not have any hands to pick up my pencil or flip a page. Then a giant dipped me into ketchup and bit my head off! 

Another wonderful student wrote, "A evil unicorn on a storm cloud took my house with my homework."

This fantastic student wrote, "A shark-faced dog took me to get ice cream. When I came home, I asked where my homework was and my sister said her frog ate it."

If you don't have a copy of this book, I encourage you to borrow one or invest in one for your classroom. I will be doing this every year from now on. It was a great way to engage students, read an enjoyable book, address an important topic, and give students time to have fun and be creative. You can click the image below to grab a copy of the reproducible for the activity. Enjoy!


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!

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