Reading Between the Lines

Report cards will be sent home in the near future for many school aged children. That envelope with the enclosed report card represents about 17 hours of collective teacher work– especially if you receive personal comments on your progress report. My son receives comments from 9 separate teachers. Some of the comments are only one sentence long, but if you know how to read between the lines, they say much more than you might think at first glance.

Match your report card comments with the key words and phrases listed below to determine if your kid is an Intelligent Follower or a Friendly Underachiever. Suzy will be playing the part of your daughter; Johnny will be playing the part of your son.

Hard Worker, Reliable, Independent, Intelligent

  • Suzy is organized.
  • Johnny exceeds expectations on assignments.
  • Suzy is an eager participant
  • Johnny is a conscientious student.
  • Suzy often contributes ideas that show an understanding that go beyond the surface meaning.
  • Johnny has consistent work habits.
  • Suzy is a self-starter.
  • Johnny volunteers ideas often that enhance class discussion.
  • Suzy is a pro-active learner and asks questions or seeks help if she needs additional practice with a skill.
  • Johnny meets objectives for the “X” assignment.
  • Suzy has good time management skills.
  • Johnny has creative ideas.

Kind, Thoughtful, Friendly

  • Johnny arrives at school with a smile every morning.
  • Suzy makes an effort to show consideration to others.
  • Johnny is a leader both as a friend and as a student.
  • Suzy is cooperative.
  • Johnny is respectful.
  • Suzy works well during group work.
  • Johnny makes good choices in the classroom.
  • Suzy thinks of others first, and I appreciate her kindness.
  • Johnny goes out of his way to help classmates and teachers.
  • Suzy has a caring attitude.


  • Suzy does not always like to work independently and needs support to start assignments.
  • Johnny has not embraced the effort required to be a successful “X” grader.
  • Suzy does not take ownership of her work.
  • I would like to see Johnny demonstrate more personal responsibility.
  • Suzy is struggling with the amount of time and effort required to complete assignments well.


  • Johnny is capable of making his own decisions.
  • Suzy should consider what she believes is right and not make choices based on her classmates’ decisions.
  • Johnny’s peers have a strong influence on his behavior.

Disruptive, Hyper, Chatty

  • I need to re-direct Suzy’s attention often.
  • I would like Johnny to settle into class more quickly.
  • Suzy’s self control is improving, and I appreciate her effort.
  • Johnny seeks attention that delays instruction.
  • I sense that Suzy is looking for loopholes, so she can create her own set of rules for completing assignments.
  • I want Johnny to focus on classroom procedures.
  • Suzy is enthusiastic in class, but she should give classmates a turn as well.
  • Johnny needs to make sure he is chatting at appropriate times.
  • Suzy needs to focus on the teacher, not classmates, during class instruction.

Know-it-All, Bossy, Bully

  • Johnny is a leader in the class but does not always influence the group in a positive way.
  • Suzy struggles with peer relations.
  • We are working together to make sure Johnny is setting positive examples.
  • I would like to remind Suzy to consider her classmate’s feelings.
  • Johnny is working to improve social skills.
  • Suzy does not need to monitor the activities of classmates.
  • I do have to remind Johnny not to worry about his classmates’ choices.

Underachiever, Careless, Disorganized

  • Suzy does not always show what she knows on assessments.
  • Johnny should carefully read directions.
  • If Suzy will review work before giving it to the teacher, it will reduce errors.
  • Johnny has great ideas even though it might take him some time to organize his thoughts.
  • Suzy has made great efforts to improve her organization and focus in class.
  • I would like Johnny to stretch his abilities.
  • Suzy’s final project was not as polished as I had hoped.
  • I am encouraging Johnny not to rush to finish first.

The positive comments are easy to decipher. Constructive comments are difficult (these are the negative ones). Teachers want to set goals for improvement but let parents know in a way that is not overly confrontational. What kinds of comments do you receive on your children’s report cards? What comments worked well, which ones were confusing, and which ones were so generic they did not give you any insight into your child’s progress at school? Please share.

Bottoms Up

teacher gift iced tea kit

In honor of National Teacher Appreciation Week, I am sharing some insider information about the teacher world. Teachers have limited access to water or other beverages during the day. There are water fountains, faucets, and other drink sources at the school, but teachers just can’t get to them. Here is what happens. During the school day, teachers can’t leave the students unattended. Ever. One year, I taught in the 10th row of trailers at a growing high school and needed a 15 minute window to make it into the building and back for access to water.

iced tea kit contents

With that in mind, I picked up some double insulated cups with lids and straws I happened to see at the Dollar Store. I filled the cup with ingredients for a fruit iced tea mix and a $5 Starbucks gift card then tied Citrus Tea Labels to the cup with the recipe for the iced tea. The tea contents will probably be tossed, but the Starbucks card and insulated cup will be enjoyed. Every teacher I know needs/wants/uses a water bottle of some kind. The double insulated Tervis tumbler style are the best because they don’t sweat all over the papers on the teacher’s desk and keep drinks colder longer.

iced tea kit contents close

If you are working on an end of year teacher gift or a teacher appreciation gift of some kind, the cup is low cost and teacher approved. If you happen to know that your child’s teacher is addicted to Diet Coke or Dunkin Donuts coffee, those are good appreciation beverage gifts too.

I know you might be tempted by cutesy notes attached to 2-liter bottles of A&W Root Beer or Mountain Dew that you may have seen on Pinterest but do not give in to the dark side. A 2-liter bottle is impractical and goes flat before a teacher could drink it. And besides, A&W root beer or Mountain Dew?? Who drinks that? Unless you have heard straight from the source that these are soft drinks of choice, DO NOT purchase.

Word Trains

Bifocals Word Train bigger

Some of my favorite teaching ideas happen on the fly. My students completed the final lesson in our vocabulary book this week. The vocabulary book is based on Latin roots, common prefixes, and suffixes. Now that it is the end of the year and our “root bank” is full, students have been noticing words all over the place that are combinations of the roots and prefixes we studied all year (Yeah!– something stuck).

So, here is what happened. We studied the root “loc” this week, which is in the word “locomotion”. “Loc” means to move from place to place. A student recalled that we already knew the root “mot” meaning to move or to do. And then the game began.

Have you ever played 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon with movie actors? The Word Train game is the nerdy teacher variation of that game.

  1. You begin with a word that contains 2 known parts like DISORGANIZED (dis and organ).
  2. Connect it with another 2+ part word that shares a root, prefix, or suffix from the original word like ORGANIST (organ and ist).
  3. Add a third word that shares the newly added word part like ACTIVIST (ist and act).
  4. Keep going from there by adding REACT then RECAPTURE then CO-CAPTAIN then COOPERATE then OPERATOR.
  5. To really play like the Kevin Bacon game and test a student’s word knowledge, give them the first word and the last word in the word train and ask them to create the connection. For example, try to get from reheat to illiterate.
Capture Word Train

Click on the picture to view the sample

This was a great vocabulary review, and the students got supercompetitive (super is a prefix from our list, by the way). We have standardized testing coming up, and I am trying to practice reading comprehension and vocabulary skills. This activity forced the students to look at word parts and give definitions based on the parts. It is much more strategic than memorizing definitions.

How many words can you connect? My record is 9. I am sure I could go further if I pulled any word root, not just the ones from my 4th Grade Common Prefix, Root, and Suffix List. Can you beat me? My students did. To download the complete lesson plans for free, click here.

A Word Train

Click on the picture to view the sample

I apologize for the tiny pictures. I kept resizing, and I could not get them to appear larger in the post. If any web experts have advice, please share.

Making MS Word Work

We did it. We wrapped up the research projects a few weeks ago (envision happy dance), and the papers even had a bibliography attached to each one.

Going through the notetaking and paper writing process with my 4th graders was a challenge. Getting them to format the papers correctly was excruciating. If your child is at an age where he is beginning to type documents for school, there are 6 word processing functions that I find make editing and publishing documents a whole lot easier.

save as

Save As

Save As

  • Designate one folder where a student saves his documents all the time. My students have a dedicated computer they use in the classroom. There is a folder with their name on the desktop of their assigned computer. Every document a student types is saved into the same folder. Using the Save As feature, I show them how to navigate to their folder.
  • Parents, set up a folder for your child’s writing assignments ONLY on your home computer. Teach your child how to save in the same place every time.
  • I also recommend setting up a naming system. In my class, students always save documents as their name followed by key words from the project (TheRoomMom Barbie Research or TheRoomMom Aslan Essay).
select all

Select All

double space

Double Space

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.
tab button


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.

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.
formatting tool

Formatting Button

Formatting Button

  • This is a teacher’s best friend. If students have words jumping all over the page, turn on the formatting tool. 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.


Undo Typing

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

What is your best keyboarding or formatting tip for students?

Kindergarten Snack, Again

turkey wrap close

Miss Priss is slowly embracing TheRoomMom version of snack after she realized she wasn’t as hungry in the afternoon on our snack days. She requested turkey wraps for her class this rotation. Not only is it easy to make a basic wrap, but it can be a good school lunch option, and you can fill it with all kinds of meat, cheese, or veggies depending on the tastes of your child. I made extras tonight to take with me to school tomorrow to share with my co-teacher.

turkey wrap ingredients


  • large flour tortillas (I needed 2 packs of 10 tortillas)
  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs. thinly sliced turkey
  • cream cheese, softened
  • shredded lettuce (optional)
  • grated carrots (optional)

assembling turkey wrap


  • Spread a thin layer of cream cheese on one side of a tortilla. Cover the entire surface.
  • Cover the cream cheese with a layer of turkey. I use 2-3 slices.
  • Near one edge of the tortilla, sprinkle a line of lettuce and grated carrot.
  • From the end with the lettuce and carrot, roll the tortilla.
  • Slice into 5 pieces. (I discard the ends– and by discard, I mean TheRoomDad eats them.)
  • Can be made the night before and refrigerated since they don’t get soggy!

turkey wraps sliced

For Adults

  • I like to spread the tortilla with Boursin or Alouette cheese and add additional thinly sliced veggies like red pepper.
  • Hummus makes a good spread too instead of the cream cheese.

I am also sending in bags of pretzels because I think this snack may be too “weird” for some kindergarteners. We did make half of the wraps with cream cheese and turkey only, so I am hoping all of the kids might give it a try. What are other good wrap combinations for children or adults?

turkey wraps tupperware