Tips for Formatting Documents in Word

If you teach upper elementary students or older, you are probably creating documents on the computer with students and need tips for formatting the documents in Word. I have six word processing functions that are essential for my students in order to edit and publish documents more easily. We use Microsoft products and PCs at my school, and days where we have the whole class set of computers out at the same time can be excruciating unless the students are familiar with some basic commands.

Student help pages for Formatting in MS Word

Student Tips for Formatting Documents

1. Save As

  • Designate one folder where a student saves his documents all the time. Every document a student types is saved into the same folder. Using the Save As feature, I show them how to navigate to the designated folder.
  • Set up a folder for a student’s writing assignments ONLY and teach how to save in the same place every time.
  • Set up a specific naming system. In my class, students always save documents as their name followed by key words from the project (Name Lemonade War or Name Aslan Essay).

2. Double Space

  • Double space the entire document at one time. Students like to type a little, then play with formatting, then have mismatched spacing and fonts. After the entire document is finished, change the spacing at one time. I recommend the Select All function to highlight the entire document, then choose the double space (2.0) line spacing.

3. Tab Button

  • Always use the Tab button to indent when starting a paragraph. When students use the space bar, words are out of alignment and look messy. I dislike messy.

4. Ctrl+c (copy), Ctrl+x (cut), Ctrl+v (paste)

  • These are the 3 most valuable shortcut keys in my opinion. Rather than messing with right clicking which inevitably ends up de-highlighting text, I teach my students these 3 shortcuts. I also use these shortcut keys for copying, cutting, and pasting images.

Student help pages for Formatting in MS Word

5. Formatting Button

  • This is a teacher’s best friend. If students have words jumping all over the page, turn on the formatting tool (it’s in the home tab and looks like a backwards letter p). It shows all the background buttons a student has pushed in the document. If a student pressed the space bar a thousand times to move something to the center, it shows little dots. If a student hit enter multiple times, a paragraph symbol (backwards looking P shows up). If a student hit  the tab button, an arrow appears. I can fix a lot of funky formatting in a student’s document by turning on the formatting key.

6. Undo Typing

  • And finally, when all else fails, hit the counterclockwise arrow and undo the most recent typing!

You can grab a free printable version of MS Word Student Tips from my Teachers Pay Teachers store by CLICKING HERE.

Student help pages for Formatting in MS Word

Peek-a-Boo Book Scene

If you are looking for a creative way to assess student summer reading, have your kids design a Peek-a-Boo book scene. The purpose of the Peek-a-Boo book scene is to think about point of view, put yourself in the main character’s shoes, and see what the character sees. Or, you could add a twist to the project and ask students to consider events from a flipped perspective and design a scene that shows a different angle than what the narrator described in the book.

Peek a Boo Book Scene

For the activity, students choose a favorite scene from a book they read and imagine what the character’s world looks like through his/her eyes. Students draw the scene using details from the text and then build their “window” pocket. To finish, readers slide the snapshot of the character’s view into the frame to create a unique peek inside the book’s world.

Peek-a-Boo Book Scene Options

  • The simplest option for the drawing is to have students choose a favorite scene, imagine they are the main character, and create a drawing of the scene the way the book character would see it and describe it. If you want to make the activity a little more challenging, have students consider a different vantage point. They can draw the scene as an onlooker observing the main character or from the perspective of another character in the story who is involved in the scene.
  • Draw multiple scenes and stack them in the frame pockets, so students can switch the view if they want to see something new.

Peek a Boo Book Scene

  • Use THESE PEEK-A-BOO TEMPLATES for the story scene drawings and the frames. You have the option to print a frame that has a wooden texture on it, or you can print solid white frames and let students design the outer edge. In the image below from Danny the Champion of the World by Dahl, you see a view through a keyhole into Danny’s gypsy caravan home. The frame has been decorated to look like an old gypsy caravan.

Peek a Boo Book Scene

  • Create your own type of frame. You could think about what Ivan sees in the mall and create a frame that looks like an animal cage if you are reading The One and Only Ivan by Applegate. You could design a shop store window and peek into Sarah’s bakery in The Bread Winner by Whitmore. I like THIS EXAMPLE for younger students with curtains. And I love THIS SCENE that gives the illusion of night with a flashlight beam.
  • If you think creating the pocket for the scene picture to slide in and out will be too complicated for your group, simply attach the scene behind the window view with tape or glue. You would still need to cut the openings in the window view, but you could leave all the white border edges around the drawings and attach straight to the back of the peek-a-boo frame.

This craftivity can be adapted to use with almost any picture book or novel. In the samples below you see Luke’s view from the attic vents in Among the Hidden by Haddix (image 1), and Chester the cat’s view of the family living room in Bunnicula by Howe and Howe (image 2).

Peek a Boo Book Scene

Peek a Boo Book Scene

When readers think about story scenes from multiple viewpoints, they develop a deeper understanding of the characters. By analyzing the scene in different ways, students activate their critical thinking skills and become more observant readers. We often ask students to create a mental image of what is happening in the books they are reading; the peek-a-boo book scene gives students the opportunity to illustrate a concrete image of what is happening in the story and build a stronger connection to the book character’s world.

If you need more creative ideas to spice up your novel studies and guided reading activities, CLICK HERE to see another blog post with project ideas for chapter books.

To purchase low prep novel units mentioned in this blog post, click the links below.

Picture Books and Paper Crafts

In order to keep students engaged during those last few days of school before summer break, I was on the hunt for some short picture books that would lend themselves to paper craft activities while still having some meaningful content. I found one picture book called Snippets that incorporated paper scraps into an activity about accepting others. Snippets led to a book called Perfect Square, which led to a book called Beautiful Oops.

Crafty Paper Techniques, tinkering, growth mindset

The list of picture books exploded. I discovered stacks of new picture books that have a STEAM/tinkering element to them. The central messages in most address either persevering through mistakes and developing resilience or appreciating individual qualities and embracing our unique gifts. One buzzword for all this in education right now is “growth mindset”.

Crafty Paper Techniques, tinkering, growth mindset

Growth mindset is all about embracing a challenge and not giving up. It’s about recognizing that you might not be able to do something… yet. Or, you might be able to do something in a completely different way than your neighbor. It’s about having an attitude where you are willing to take risks and try. It’s about recovering from a set back in a positive way. It’s part of character education, and it’s becoming an essential lesson in classrooms today.

Crafty Paper Techniques, tinkering, growth mindset

One student roadblock I see every year is the fear of completing an assignment the “wrong way”. Because students are scared of making a mistake (or an even worse fate– the dreaded start-over) they insist on checking with me for approval before completing each individual step. As a parent, I see how we train many children to be dependent on adults for permission before making choices. Kids don’t freely travel the neighborhood making up group games with rules that change and adapt depending on who joins the game, who leaves the game, who is too little or too big… Few kids sit in a room with no screen of any kind and must entertain themselves (i.e. activate their creative thinking skills) to fill the time. So, they need help to get themselves started on a task unless we build in some “let’s look at the problem and find a solution” practice.

Crafty Paper Techniques, tinkering, growth mindset

How Can You Prompt Students to Trust their Abilities?

  • Encourage them to self-solve. Don’t answer a question immediately.
  • Ask them to think about what they might have in their possession that would help them complete the task. Do they have a handout with directions? Can they look at what a friend is doing? Can they look at the materials and remember the oral directions?
  • Give them one step or hint only to get started and send them back to their work space to continue independently.
  • Have the student list what he/she thinks should be happening. Often, saying the task aloud is confirmation for a child.

The activities I used at the end of the year involved changing one type of paper shape into something new. Not only did our class see the relationship between the characters in the pictures books and how it related to our classroom community, they also had the opportunity to alter the paper from a generic shape into something that reflected their personality and style.

I distributed ordinary white copy paper to my students as the background paper for our masterpieces, but you could print THESE TEMPLATES to use with your group’s paper tinkering. Any of the picture books in the list below would make great first week of school read alouds as you begin to set the tone for the year. If you need more specific activity ideas, click HERE and HERE to view and purchase my complete activities for Snippets and Perfect Square.

Crafty Paper Techniques

Crafty Picture Books (a starter list)

  • Snippets: a story about paper shapes by Diane Alber (and others by this author)
  • Perfect Square by Michael Hall
  • Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg
  • Perfect by Max Amato
  • The Dot and Ish by Peter H. Reynolds (and others by this author)
  • What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada (and others by this author)
  • The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak
  • You are Light by Aaron Becker
  • The Color Monster by Anna Llenas
  • I Can Only Draw Worms by Will Mabbitt
  • I Have an Idea by Herve Tullet (and others by this author)
  • The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken
  • Shape by Shape by Suse MacDonald

Create a School Book Room

Our school created a book room last summer for the elementary teachers, and it has been such a handy repository for all the books we share on a regular basis. When our language arts teachers met to discuss our needs and wants for the book room, most of us had read It’s All About the Books and had been drooling over the pictures. We used that book as inspiration and identified three main goals. We needed easy access for all teachers at any time of day, flexibility to allow for new books or the removal of books we no longer needed, and an efficient organization system since we had limited space.

School bookroom

Book Room Access

Our book room is a small, narrow space between two third grade classrooms. It already had shelving installed and housed all our crafty project supplies. We overhauled and consolidated the project supplies, which gave us room for the book sets. The third grade teachers graciously allow us to enter their classrooms discreetly any time of the day, although, we found that we typically needed to get in there during that few minutes we are last minute prepping right before the school day starts, so it is not too disruptive for the teachers. There are two doors, Jack and Jill style, between the two classrooms, so we don’t always need to enter the book room space the same way.

Master Book List

We created a master spreadsheet with all the book sets listed and shared it with our group on Google Drive. The spreadsheet has title, author, number of book copies the school owns, book reading level, and a column for location because we do keep some book sets in our individual classrooms. We printed two copies of the book list to keep in the book room. One copy is sorted by reading level; the other copy is sorted by author. Teachers can find a book based on the level they need or search for a specific book based on author. Using the spreadsheet, we created labels that are attached to colorful bookmarks. This identifies the set making it easy for teachers to locate sets.

School bookroom

When new book sets are added mid-year, a teacher fills out a blank bookmark and adds the book set to the appropriate bin. The teacher also adds the information to the Google Drive spreadsheet. I was appointed “spreadsheet master” so I periodically go through and update and re-sort the spreadsheet (it’s a good summer task).

School bookroom

Book Room Organization

When teachers need to check out books from the book room, we have a clothespin system. Teachers take the books they need and leave the clothespin attached to the bookmark or book box where the books will be returned. Not only do we have book sets with trade books we purchase independently, we also have the Fountas and Pinnell guided reading series. One of our teachers created leveled labels that we hot glued to the fronts of the various boxes.

School bookroom

To help teachers keep the materials in the correct spaces, there are pictures posted on the walls near the shelves with a visual of how the materials should look. We have the pictures maps set up for the book bins as well as for the craft supply bins.

School bookroom

TIP: We used all the existing plastic bins we had. We oriented them in different directions and fit book sets side by side. We also slid picture book sets in between book bins. Maximize your space!

School bookroom

I do have plans to spend a day this summer cleaning and updating the school book room, but for the most part, it has stayed in its original condition. We all get the books we need when we need them. It has been a huge help particularly for the lower grade teachers who are grabbing the F&P leveled readers constantly. Even if you have limited storage space at your school, finding a closet or unused area to start a shared book room is well worth the time and effort!

School bookroom

MatchBook Summaries

As a culminating activity for our latest novel study, my students created MatchBook Summaries. For each chapter in the book, students wrote a summary about key events in the chapter, provided a related quote, and designed a matching illustration. The writing and drawings were displayed on cardstock paper strips that were folded like a matchbook. The MatchBook Summaries were attached inside a manila folder to provide an outline or overview of the whole novel. The project has been a great way to practice writing thorough explanations about story details and locating specific quotes that provide text evidence to support student responses.

MatchBook Summary Materials

  • manila file folders
  • 12-inch rulers
  • white cardstock cut into strips
  • colored pencils, markers, crayons, etc.
  • glue stick or Elmer’s glue
  • paper cutter
  • paper scorer (recommended)

MatchBook Summaries writing activity


  • Each student will need cardstock strips for each chapter of the novel you are using. For our novel, Kavik the Wolf Dog, the book had 13 chapters. I have 27 students. 27 x 13 = a lot of cutting, so prep your materials ahead of time for this writing activity! Cut the cardstock into strips that are 7 1/2″ x 2 3/4″.

  • I have THIS PAPER CUTTER that has grooves for paper scoring. You use a tool that looks like a dull knife and press lines into the paper strips. The score lines make the students matchbooks fold perfectly every time. I made the grooves on the paper strips at 1″ from one end and 3 1/4″ from the other end.
  • Have students create grid lines in light pencil on the interior of their manila folders. Many will make mistakes while they measure, so I model where to measure and draw lines as they measure at their work space. Because the folders are wide, I have students mark 2-3 dots across the folder at the spot where we need lines and then the ruler lines up against the dots to draw a straight line. It took some time for the students to create the grid, but it was great measurement practice.

  • After students have pencil guidelines in the manila folders for their MatchBook cards, they begin creating the chapter summary matchbooks. The folded cards have the chapter name or number on the outside of the small flap at the bottom. The outside top has a simple illustration that relates to the chapter. The interior of the matchbook has the chapter summary and supporting quote (optional). The students had been writing summary statements while we were reading the novel, so they had the sentences ready to transfer to the folded cards. I gave them a graphic organizer like this Chapter Summaries Chart to keep in their language arts notebook while we were completing the novel unit.

  • Students glue the back of the matchbook inside the grid lines in the manila folder. We had trouble with some of the matchbooks falling off if students were not heavy enough with the glue stick, so you may want to use Elmer’s liquid glue. Remind students not to over-squeeze the Elmer’s glue, or you will end up with the opposite problem.
  • Once all matchbooks were attached to the inside the folder, students designed the outside to look like our book cover.

MatchBook Summary Tips

  • I encouraged students to complete all cards before gluing to the interior of the folder. Some grid spaces were not big enough for cards due to the notches for the file folder tab. The cards need to be in numerical or chapter order, so the students may want to place all cards before gluing. I let students decide if they wanted to place the cards in order by going all the way across horizontally and then starting a new line or stacking the cards in columns from left to right.

  • If cards are glued to the interior before designing the outside, the surface is bumpy. I had some students create the book cover style illustration on a separate piece of paper and attach it to the outside of the file folder.

To see my complete novel unit for Kavik the Wolf Dog, CLICK HERE. To check out more creative writing activities to go with any novel study, CLICK HERE. I got inspiration for this activity from THIS BLOG POST.