Easy Valentines from the Teacher

We all want to receive a little love on Valentine’s Day! I know my students do. So, I always make some sort of easy Valentine from the teacher. For most teachers, mass producing a Valentine needs to be low cost, low prep, and fun. These “stuck with you” bubble gum Valentines were easy to make and a big hit with students. It’s the only time I encourage sharing gum in the classroom.

Teacher Valentine for students

Even though I work with middle school students, they still get excited about exchanging Valentines. We supply a bag for each student and spend time Valentine’s Day morning filling bags. My teacher teammate and I make sure we have a Valentine from the teacher ready to drop in each person’s bag. I created THIS TEMPLATE with the short message, printed the file on colorful cardstock, and added a piece of bubble gum.

Teacher Valentine Directions

  1. The template has 6 cards per page. Print the amount needed for your class on colorful cardstock and cut evenly using a paper cutter to separate into 6 squares.
  2. Sign your name(s) on each card leaving space for the piece of gum.
  3. Attach one piece of bubble gum to each card using double-sided tape. I like the Dubble Bubble single pieces of gum since they have a bright wrapper with some red and pink!

Middle School Class Valentine Tips

  1. Send a class list home to families one to two weeks ahead of Valentine’s Day.
  2. Set expectations for the Valentines. If students choose to participate (and it is optional), we ask students to bring a Valentine for each person in the class. The treat or card should be of a “like kind”. Students should not bring a few cards for close friends only.
  3. Supply a bag, if possible. To begin with, we usually don’t have any spare class time to decorate bags or boxes. Secondly, this evens the playing field. Every bag will look similar, and everyone will have one. If time allows, let students decorate the front of the bag with markers, colored pencils, or simple materials. We usually supply plain gift bags LIKE THESE.
  4. Give a few minutes at the beginning of the day to distribute Valentines. And, if it is doable, give a few minutes at the end of the day to look through the bags. We hold the bags in the room during the day, so nothing gets lost or picked up by someone else. In addition, it reduces the amount of candy people are eating throughout the day.

This could also be a day where you reach out to your room parents and ask for help with a festive snack. While teachers never like losing instructional time, I do think fun celebrations from time to time help build moral in the class and community. If you are looking for more Valentine ideas for teachers or kids, a few years ago, we made these ERASER CANDY VALENTINES. I really likes these mini M&M HEART MEDICINE Valentines too!

Classroom Library Checkout System

Are you wondering how to create a library checkout system this school year? I am testing a new checkout system in my class. I printed fun bookmarks with student faces. Students will slide their bookmark into the empty space to act as a book sign out card when they borrow a book from my library shelf. The bookmark shows me the specific student who has a book, and the students know exactly where the book needs to be returned.

Create personalized bookmarks and use as placeholders in your classroom library when students check out books

I have used a variety of classroom library checkout systems through the years. First, I tried sign out cards. Next, I asked students to write the book name on a board in the back of the classroom. Most recently there has been a personal file card system. When I assessed my library checkout system for this year, I realized I only cared about two things. I wanted to know which students had a book. And, I wanted students to put the book back in the exact same spot where it started.

Create personalized bookmarks and use as placeholders in your classroom library when students check out books

Classroom Library Borrowed Bookmarks

  • Take individual student pictures. Each student poses with a favorite book or a book they think looks interesting.
  • Insert the pictures into THIS SIMPLE POWERPOINT TEMPLATE. Each slide has three rectangles to serve as the base of the bookmark. The photos are positioned across the end of the rectangle and cropped to fit the width of the bookmark template.
  • Print the bookmarks on cardstock or heavier paper.
  • Using a paper cutter, separate the bookmarks on each page along the black outlines of the rectangles. Let students cut around their heads at the top of the bookmarks. You can also do this step yourself if you don’t trust your students not to cut their heads off! Another option is to add a label with the student’s name or have students sign their name in the white space below the photo.
  • Now that the bookmarks are finished, laminate the cut bookmarks for added durability.
  • Keep the finished bookmarks in a cup for easy student access. For my sixth graders, I added a strip of magnet tape to the back, and the bookmarks hang on a magnetic white board in the back of the classroom. When a student wants to borrow a book, the student pulls the bookmark and slides it into the book space on the shelf. Having the personalized bookmarks in view helps me see who has a book and who does not. I’m more likely to ask about their reading status when I see the bookmark reminders.
Create personalized bookmarks and use as placeholders in your classroom library when students check out books

I have made a mental list of all the things that could go wrong with this checkout system, but I think it is worth a try. If I have to abandon the borrowed bookmarks, at least each student will have a personalized bookmark to take home.

More Book Ideas

Are you looking for more ways to care for your class library? I spend a lot of time covering books to extend their life. Check out THIS POST for step-by-step directions to cover books.

Finally, if you need more book motivator ideas for your language arts classroom, you might like THIS INDEPENDENT MONTHLY READING program. Or, if your students need help with book genres and general library skills, try THIS RESOURCE.

How to Annotate Short Stories

A few years ago, I implemented a middle grade reading strategy to help students annotate short stories more effectively. We kick off the year reading short stories in my 6th grade classroom. The group typically has not had much experience marking and highlighting fictional reading passages. So, I started printing short lists with key words and ideas. Each student receives a “What’s Important?” list prior to starting each story.

Annotating Literature

We review the list briefly, so students will be prepped when they see items in the reading passage that might be significant. The lists do not include items that would reveal a surprise ending or give away a big plot twist. They are intended to help focus reading. For example, a list might have a general item like, “mark similes and metaphors.” Or, it might have something more specific such as, “highlight references to eyes.” Eyes come up a lot! I once had a teacher in a high school literature class tell me alarm bells should go off in my reader brain every time I see gardens and/or flowers on the page. If you read Shakespeare, that is definitely true– flower references are key.

Annotating Literature

3 Tips to Help Annotate a Short Story

  1. With brief reading assignments like a short story, create and pre-print the list for the students prior to reading. Focus ideas I typically ask students to find are descriptions of the main character. They might look for a specific figure of speech that is emphasized in the story– often similes. And finally, students are on the lookout for one important word or idea. I mentioned the idea of eyes above. Other items might be weather, a special object a main character has, or a detail related to the setting. (CLICK HERE to see my short story resources that include these lists).
  2. If a short story is only 1-2 pages, we read through the story one time without stopping, analyzing, or interrupting. Then, as a whole group, in reading circles, in pairs… students review the list while re-reading the story a second time and annotate key features and quotes.
  3. When students mark the text, use different types of marks. Circle key words. Highlight figures of speech. Underline a quote with a specific symbol in it. Put stars or arrows in the margins. Use a variety of eye catching symbols and colors. I am not sure about your classroom, but my students have pencil cases overflowing with colorful pen options, so they actually like this task.
Annotating Literature

1 Tip for Annotating Chapter Books

  1. For longer texts such as a novel unit, do not pre-print a list. Read a few chapters with the group and then begin keeping a list of ideas the students believe are important. For example, in The Giver, students begin to recognize references to pale eyes or the use of capitalization for things that are typically common nouns. Start tracking those items as the reading continues. In Where the Red Fern Grows, students comment early on about how often Billy cries. We immediately added that to our list and started notating scenes and quotes where Billy shows emotion. Because these types of sections in the story were marked, students created much more thoughtful essays when they later analyzed a theme from the novel (CLICK HERE to read about the theme activity).

By providing lists for shorter reading selections and then scaffolding students to build personal lists with longer texts, the learners will begin to identify essential ideas in literature independently. Rather than giving a blanket direction “to mark important things,” offering a prepared list helps students build this essential reading skill. Now that my own children are reading higher level texts in high school, I can see the importance of annotaing literature efficiently.

Daily Language and Spiral Review

Teachers have been using daily language and spiral review for years. It’s the way I start language arts class each day because it gives the students an opportunity to master different grammar and literacy skills. I watch for common mistakes on weekly grammar, vocabulary, and literature assessments and wrap those back into my daily bell ringers. We correct the 2-3 questions together and can review many skills without needing a full lesson. Daily language prompts are great reinforcement for students who have demonstrated mastery and a chance to build confidence in those students who still need more practice.

daily language and test prep

Originally, I bought a daily language review workbook from an established education publishing company. The daily questions typically focused on spelling and writing mechanics. I don’t think the effectiveness of a teacher should be judged by standardized test scores, but one year, my class average in writing and mechanics improved 14 percentile points. I analyzed the heck out of my daily routine to figure out how to maintain gains like that. Turns out, two sentence corrections per day (the daily language practice) resulted in big success.

I noticed a drop in something called verbal reasoning. What did I miss in my curriculum during the year that created a dip in that sub-set of scores? Categorizing words. My students do well with flat out vocabulary because of all of the work we do with ROOTS AND PREFIXES. When they needed to manipulate and compare words in groups, they were not as successful. So, I started changing my spiral review routine to match the needs of my students. I incorporated questions that dealt with word categories, shades of meaning, and analogies along with the mix of standard proofreading and spelling corrections. In addition, I added writer’s craft questions.

Daily Language and Test Prep

4 Ways to Maximize Daily Language and Spiral Review

  1. DAILY QUESTIONS: Add a reasoning type question to daily language warm-up activities. Complete two sentence corrections a day and mix in an additional question style to the bell ringer activity. Complete an analogy, choose a good title for a group of words, or complete some other “word work” problem. Correct and discuss as a group. It becomes part of the students’ routine and builds a thinking habit. To download a week’s worth of free daily language questions I use, CLICK HERE.
  2. WEEKLY TESTS: Incorporate synonym, analogy, word category, and word relationship questions to weekly vocabulary and spelling tests. Students become familiar with these type of questions and analyze how words fit together on a regular basis. I compiled some of my verbal reasoning practice questions into a test prep product for purchase HERE.
  3. LONGER ASSESSMENTS: Include a short reading passage on literature and social studies assessments. Choose a paragraph or article that is related to the content of the test but is something the students have not seen. For example, on my mythology tests this year, I would add a different version of a story that we had read as a group. After reading the new version, the kids would have to answer multiple choice questions about the content of the reading selection as well as questions about style, main idea, theme, and various literary elements.
  4. WRITING ASSIGNMENTS: When completing writing assignments, look for words that are repeated often. Generate lists in the margins that could replace overused words. Basically, create a synonym list or personal thesaurus. As students edit the writing assignment, discuss which words are stronger or weaker. Rank the words in order of importance. Determine why one word might be more appropriate than another. Students should be aware of the connotations different words create. THIS RANKING WORDS paint chip activity can be a great way to get kids thinking about shades of meaning.
Daily Language and Test Prep

A daily warm-up activity maximizes teaching time, provides effective review to boost skill retention, and establishes consistent routines in the classroom. Daily language is one piece of my language curriculum that I never eliminate as I refresh my teaching plans for the new school year.

Martin Luther King Jr. Activity

We are in the middle of finishing a Martin Luther King Jr. Day Activity that involved our whole school. My elementary school is creating a collaborative display in honor of MLK Jr. that involves kindergarten through eighth grade. At the beginning of the week, my sixth grade class made a presentation about Martin Luther King Day during our school assembly. We included some general information about Mr. King. Then we asked the students if they knew the way Ronald Reagan connected to MLK. We shared the fact that Ronald Reagan was the president who signed the bill creating the federal holiday we have today. That connection between the 40th president and Martin Luther King Jr. kicked off our schoolwide activity.

Martin Luther King Day Activity

Inspire your students to form a connection to Martin Luther King Jr.

If you need a MLK Jr activity that works for elementary and middle grade students, give each class a topic that relates in some way to King. The goal is to have each class create a path from their topic back to MLK. Students need to read various articles or books to find the connection. Additionally, the groups discuss gathered information and identify the ties between the man and the topic. Write the information on cards and pin on a display board. Position the display in a common area at the school. Our display board is almost finished, and my school is so excited about all the connections because we can see between a wide variety of people and places. It clearly illustrates ways Martin Luther King impacted others.

Organize the MLK materials

  • To begin, create a list of topics. The list should include very basic topics like Atlanta, Georgia (MLK’s birthplace) to more difficult topic like Elvis Presley (he recorded a song in memory of MLK). For a sample list, CLICK HERE.
  • Then, gather articles and books that will help with information for each topic. I wrote THIS GENERAL BIOGRAPHY that provides ideas for several of the simpler topics. For the more advanced topics, complete Google searches with the keywords, “MLK” and the topic name. When you find an article, print a copy. My school library also had a good section of picture books and biographies for younger readers (see below).
  • At the same time, assemble materials in a manila envelope. In each envelope, place 5-6 notecards, a long piece of yarn, a small handful of thumbtacks, the topic list, and a printed article and/or picture book. Each classroom teacher received an envelope with an article/book that fit the topic they were assigned.

Martin Luther King Day Activity

  • Kick off the activity at an assembly if you can. Give general information about MLK Day and share some sample topic connections. We shared the path between Ronald Reagan and King first. Then we showed a second connection between Michael King Jr. and Martin Luther King Jr.

Create a MLK-inspired Display for the school hallway

  • During the last step, teachers and students worked together in the classrooms to learn about their assigned topic. Once they recognized the connection, the class created one set of notecards that showed the tie between the topic and Mr. King. The notecards are pinned to the group bulletin board. As a result, everyone can see all the ways King’s ideas influence others, or in some cases, ways people influenced King.

Martin Luther King Day Activity

Alternately, you could divide your class into small groups and assign each group a topic. This activity can be completed as a class rather than as a school. Either way, you will want to display the different links to MLK!

MLK Jr. Picture Book Ideas

    • Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport
    • A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein
    • A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr. by David A. Adler
    • National Geographic Readers Martin Luther King, Jr. by Kitson Jazynka
    • I Have a Dream paintings by Kadir Nelson

Finally, if you are looking for more ideas to help honor Martin Luther King Jr., visit my TeachersPayTeachers store HERE and download a winter paint chip poetry activity for free. Or, if you are thinking about Valentine’s Day already, you might like some poetry projects like this TUNNEL POEM or SHAPE POEM activity.