Monday, October 21, 2013

Aren't Teaching Blogs Just the WORST?

I mean, does it get any worse?

But really, they can be unhealthy for me at times. I have a love/hate relationship with them. I love them because, hey, free stuff and creative ideas!

I hate them because . . .

Well, I think the best way to describe it is by this ecard I came across: - May your life be as perfect as you make it seem on Facebook.

Alls I need to do is tweak it a little bit and it becomes: - May your classroom be as perfect as you make it seem on your blog.

And therein lies my problem with teaching blogs. They are just too darn perfect. I start out happily clicking through pages excited to try new ideas and I end by crying and typing up my resignation letter.

I know the blogs aren't that accurate. I know those teachers' jobs aren't perfect and they have bad teaching days too. But I get fooled far too often. Look at all their creative lesson plans! And games! And look how cute their classroom is! And they made individual Easter baskets for each student! And, oh, they have a cooking blog too! And they just got a book published that they wrote in between changing the diapers of their newborn twins that I guess they somehow take care of!

Welcome to my classroom! The walls are made of gumdrops!

And what have I done? Oh, today I tried to teach that one math concept again that about three of the students understood. I was tired and got pretty frustrated with some of the students when I shouldn't have. My first thought this morning was, "Tomorrow's Friday!" 

That was my day. 

I don't think it's a bad thing to make an upbeat blog that focuses on the good parts of teaching. The problem is when the reader can't see that the blogs are only showing the good parts. These blogs are only showing a sliver of the whole picture. The good bits. The helpful bits.

Even my blog is mostly showing the good parts. Not because I'm trying to hide the bad parts, but because the internet is a very public and permanent place and isn't always an appropriate place for rants and complaining.

Someone should tell the people of Youtube.

I don't write blog posts saying, "Well, today I taught short vowels for the 57th time and it was pretty boring. I was tired, so I left out the fun part and we mostly did rote memorization. I daydreamed about going home for most of math."

I don't write that, but I could. Not most days, but many days. Lots of identical posts. But it would be so boring and unhelpful that even I wouldn't read it. Why prolong my monotonous ineffective day by writing about it? I'd rather write about my meaningful days, and the same goes for other teachers.

When I get overwhelmed by how amazing all these teachers are, I try to remember a few things I've learned over the years.

1. Every Teacher Has a Weakness

It's true, you know. Not that you should go pointing out teachers' weaknesses once you find them, but it can be helpful to remember. Sometimes I'll see a teacher that I am convinced is PERFECT. They've got everything down! But if you watch any teacher, or anyone, long enough you start to notice something missing. There are gaps in what seems like a perfect exterior. Sometimes the gaps are huge. Maybe a teacher has incredible, fun, and creative lessons planned every day, but they have huge behavior issues in the classroom that render the lessons completely pointless.  I know that has happened to me.

Often when I see a teacher who I think is perfect and there's no way I could be as good as them, what I'm really doing is comparing my weaknesses as a teacher to their strengths as a teacher. It's not a fair comparison.

Maybe if you just give it your all!

2. Teaching Isn't EVERYTHING

What? Yes it is! What about how all during my teaching program I kept hearing about how I'm going to change every child's life I meet? What about all those stories about inspiring people who credit their greatness to an elementary teacher? I'm CHANGING THE WORLD!

Calm down, I didn't say teaching wasn't important. I'm just saying it's not the only important thing. There are other important things in life too. 

All those things they tell you about teachers changing the world are encouraging during your teaching program, but they become nightmarish when you realize you aren't a perfect teacher each day. If you're not inspiring every child every day, well then logic says the only alternative is you're ruining them for life.

But you're not. Teaching is very important. And teaching is also not the only factor in a child's success in life. If you didn't teach a child fractions in the best way possible, they probably won't end up in jail later.

Except this guy.

3. If You Give 100% to Teaching, Something Else Will Suffer

Like I said, teaching isn't everything. We have other areas of our lives. If you devote 100% of your time and energy to becoming a great teacher, some area in your life will suffer. You can't live at the school 12 hours a day and come home and grade papers and design lessons for a couple more hours without some area of your life being affected. If you do this, the outcome probably won't be that you're the best teacher ever. The outcome will probably be that your health will decline, your relationships will suffer, and you will burn out and quit teaching in a couple of years, which isn't helpful to your future students at all.

Even if you do decide to devote 100% of your time to teaching, you will still find you can't give 100% to every area. You have to divide your time and energy between preparing lessons, communication with parents, collaborating with colleagues, and participating in various teacher teams. I don't know what the right balance is, but it's probably different for everyone. So when you see teacher X giving 100% to area 4, remember, some other area is suffering. Don't feel like you're a failure for not doing something that's impossible.

Well. Well, if I didn't just give a motivational speech, eh? Well I'll be. But I do hope it can help some struggling teacher at some point. 

Gooooooooooood luck. Teaching isn't so bad!

P.S. You probably will change some lives, even if you feel ineffective. They weren't completely lying to you in your program.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Synonym Game

I suppose it's time for a synonym lesson plan. Synonyms are totally in right now.

Here's a quick lesson plan and synonym game I use to introduce the concept with a little fun. This synonym lesson plan and game would be suitable for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade. You could use it to introduce the concept to older grades, but you would likely need higher-level words for the game.

Anticipatory Set:

Tell them this story, "I went outside and the trees were pretty. The grass was pretty. The sky was pretty. The lake was pretty. Everything was pretty. The end."

Ask if they liked the story and if not, ask them why. Explain that if you use a word over and over it can get kind of boring and doesn't make for a very good story. Change the story to this, "I went outside and the trees were pretty. The grass was beautiful. The sky was stunning. The lake was lovely. Everything was gorgeous."

While this isn't exactly the best story, it still shows what synonyms are and why they are useful. 

Some problems you might run into: 
  • You'll need to establish that synonyms are not and never will be cinnamon. Good luck. Once you get them actually saying synonym, half your battle is over.


Explain that synonyms are words that mean about the same thing. We use them because it makes our stories and our conversations more interesting. Cut out these cards (or write them on index cards) and present the cards one at a time. Model naming a synonym of the presented word, then have the students guess for the remaining words.

Visit here for the download of the synonym and antonym matching game:

Some problems you might run into: 

  • A student might answer "hopping" for "hop" or they may just say a word they associate with hop, like, "bunny." A sentence prompt would help here. Give an example sentence saying, "I could say, 'he can hop so high.' or I could say, 'He can ____ so high. What would fit in the blank?" Try putting their guess in the blank and they will see why it doesn't work.

  • Other  students might say, "pop" for the word, "hop".  Explain that you're not working on rhyming words, you're working on words that mean the same thing. I've seen this several times. They mix up "sounds the same" with "mean the same." 

Reinforcement Activity:

Time for some fun! Now use the cards to play a memory game with the students. I split the sets into 12 cards (make sure each set has 6 pairs), because 24 seems to be too much for my students. I also make several sets and put the children into groups of 3-4 to play the game. 

Demonstrate how to play the game by flipping over a card and looking for a match. Remind them you aren't looking for exact matches, you are looking for synonyms.

Some problems you might run into:

  • The first time I tried a game like this with my first graders it ended with several kids crying, lots of angry outbursts, and one kids proclaiming that it isn't fair if everyone doesn't win! We have to keep going until everyone wins! Oh, but how didn't I see this coming? First graders are not accustomed to losing and they are definitely aren't good at controlling emotions. But that doesn't mean you have to skip the game all together. It's a good idea to go for cooperative games often, but it's also good for them to learn how to lose once in a while. This is what I did before playing the synonym game this year, and we didn't have any problems:
  1. Explain that someone is going to lose. Most people will lose, in fact. Start by saying, "We are going to play a game. Do you think everyone will win the game? No. One person will win, and the others will lose. We're going to work on being good sports whether we win or lose."
  2. Brainstorm how to be a good sport if you lose and if you win. Suggest saying, "Good game." and not flaunting if you win.
  3. Acknowledge that the kids might feel angry if they lose, but help them understand that they don't have to act on those feelings. I talk about this a lot with my students and it generally goes well. They might not be able to control how they feel, but they can control how they act.
  4. Let them know that this is a trial run, and if they show they can be good sports you'll let them play games in the future. If they are poor sports, tell them you'll stop the game immediately and won't introduce games again until you feel they are more ready.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Is it Going to Be Like This Forever?

Every school year I find myself thinking something like, "I CAN'T DO THIS! THERE IS WAY TOO MUCH EXPECTED OF ME AND NO POSSIBLE WAY TO ACCOMPLISH IT ALL!"

By the end of the year my thoughts are more like, "Wow. Things are running smoothly. My students could probably run the class themselves if I weren't here."

And even though experience has proven time and again that things will, in fact, settle into a manageable routine, I still completely panic at the beginning of the new school year. This is true for a lot of areas of my life. Every single new semester in college when I would see the syllabus I would think, "Nope. Can't do it. No way to do it. I'm going to quit. Quitting right now." But then it would all work out and was never nearly as impossible as I thought it would be.

Me every semester. I don't know how I graduated.

Here's the problem. I look at what I am expected to accomplish in a large amount of time (A semester, or a school year, etc) and my brain thinks I need to do it all now. It's all like . . .

I'd talk back, but it's too darn cute.

But this year is different.  Here are a few tricks I've learned to deal with the stress of the new school year starting.

1) Don't Feed Your Feelings of Panic

Your feelings of panic probably aren't doing reality justice. It's not going to be as bad as it seems. Things will become routine and you'll be able to accomplish a lot more than you thought. If a future you from the end of the school year could come they would probably say, "Calm down. You're making it worse by freaking out." Maybe they'd slap you or something. Whatever would be most effective.

The more you dwell on how panicked you are, the more panicked you will become. I'm finally learning how to use logic instead of emotion when looking at what is expected of me.  It turns out my emotions really aren't very good at accurately portraying reality when I'm particularly stressed. Neither are yours.

I don't know! That seems like pretty sound logic to me!

The best way to crush your feelings of panic is to not try to crush them at all. Just let them come and pass and don't overreact to them. Recognize them for what they are, feelings. Not reality.

It'll still come back, but won't stay as long if you don't focus on it.

2) Add Things Slowly

I'm a far more effective teacher by May than I ever am in August, but that's okay. There are plenty of routines and extras I want to work into my lessons, but I've found it's best to begin the year establishing the bare basics and then slowly add things as I'm ready and as my students are ready. I've tried to start EVERYTHING the first day before and it doesn't work. Then I panic and think I'm a horrible teacher because I'm not meeting every single requirement on day one, or week one, or month one. But years of teaching have shown that I'll be able to start adding on little routines and extra things to enhance my teaching and lessons, all in good time.

So my advice is to start with only the absolutely necessary parts of your lessons. Get the basics down and soon you'll find you have that time to add that extra bit before each lesson and before you know it you'll have added that part at the end. 

As an example, right now I want my students to write or a draw a quick summary of what they've learned after math in their journals. It's a good thing. Something that I'm supposed to be doing to help their learning. But we're not quite there yet. 

It's not good to add a more complex routine like that when they are still trying to get the routine of remembering what a pencil is and how to keep it from falling off their desk within the first 3 minutes of class.

Pencils are hard.

3) I Shouldn't Make Lists When There Are Only Two Points

Because then I feel like I have to make a third one.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Teaching Short and Long Vowels

Did anyone else notice how school started again?

Anyway, here's some tips on how to teach short and long vowels to students. I teach first graders and many of them need a lot of phonics instruction. But don't tune out if you don't teach first graders because there are plenty of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders who need basic phonics help as well. Teachers tend to stop teaching phonics explicitly to students after 1st grade or so, but don't be one of them! Some students struggle for a very long time simply because they weren't taught phonics explicitly for long enough. The class moves on and teachers think they'll just pick up on phonetic rules, but some won't. Trust me. I've seen it in pretty much all of my students in special education who struggle with reading.

Granted, many students won't need it to help them read fluently. They've already got it so you might think you're wasting your time focusing on the few who do need it. But the time is not wasted! Teaching phonics will help their spelling improve incredibly. Just because they can read the words fluently does not mean they can spell them, and when they can consciously explain phonics rules, their spelling will show it.

This is a fun and effective way to teach what long and short vowels are, and how to decode CVC and CVCE words. And CVCCECVCE words, if those ever come up.

Here's what you'll need:

5 pencils
5 strips of different colored card stock

Step One: Make Vowel Cards 

Pretend there's some tape there too.

Fold the rectangle and tape onto the pencil. Write the long vowel on
one side and the short vowel on the other. Make one for each vowel.

Step Two: Practice Short and Long Vowels with Students

I start with the letter A. Teach them the short sound with the short vowel marking, and then teach them the long vowel with the long vowel marking. The fun part is reviewing it like this by rolling the pencil in your hand. When you stop, the students say either the short or long sound. As shown below:

Step Three: Demonstrate Short and Long Vowels in Words

To demonstrate short and long vowels in words, use CVC words that can become CVCE words. For instance hop and hope or mad and made. Practice as shown below:

I don't know why it does that little animation at the end. It was late when I edited it. I promise I didn't do it on purpose.

And here's a list of CVC words that can become CVCE words:

When your students are ready you can move onto CVC with blends that can become CVCE. Here a few that work: plan, strip, grip, trip, shin, grad . . . and that's all for now. I can't think of any more.

Also, don't feel confined by using real words. It's always good to throw in some nonsense words to make sure they understand the rule and haven't just memorized the words.

Monday, August 12, 2013

First Day Icebreaker

So, school is happening again.

With that comes the first day, which always makes me a bit nervous, mostly because the students are so nervous. It's contagious. They are all so quiet and well-behaved and so different from how they'll be in a week or two. I'm always shocked when I realize just how much personality is packed into those shy little kids I meet the first day. And while you'd think I'd enjoy the quiet (because in a few weeks I'll be strategizing how to get them to be quiet again), really I just want them to feel comfortable and at ease. It helps us both.

So here's a little first day of school icebreaker I do with my first graders that helps them ease up a little and helps me learn their names.

It's simple and doesn't require any planning and I guess isn't terrible creative, but it's fun!

When I switched to teaching younger kids, it took me a while to transition. The first day I had them stand up and introduce themselves. How very adult of me. It just made them nervous and really isn't a good idea for little kids, it turns out. I realized that about half way through the introductions, and switched to this.

The Name Game

I ask each of the students their names then I close my eyes and while they're closed the students all move around and switch places. When I say stop, they freeze in place and I point to each student and guess their name. If I get their name right, they sit down in their seat. If I get their name wrong, they stay standing. I close my eyes and the remaining students switch places and I try to guess again. It usually takes a few rounds before I can get them all and the students love it for a few reasons.

1) They get to run around while my eyes are closed!
2) They get to try to trick the teacher!
3) For some reason it's downright hilarious when a teacher can't remember their names!

I usually do this the first few days because one day just isn't enough for me to remember their names. You can also have a student close their eyes and try to guess everyone's names. If you do this, be sure to join in and have the student guess your name too. Kids always get it a kick out of having their teacher join in on little games like this, and it builds rapport and helps them feel comfortable in the classroom.

I'm always up for more ideas, so please share.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Writing Detailed Sentences

One day I realized my students weren't good at writing detailed sentences and I also realized I had way too much of that infamous grayish-brown flimsy paper that I used as a child.

That's the one!

What to do?

From this conundrum came a fun lesson for teaching the young ones how to write more detailed sentences using said paper, scissors, and some crayons. Also tape.

Step One: Draw the Apple


Have the students draw an apple on the top of the paper. Not just any apple, mind you, a creative one. We don't want all the apples looking the same, or it ruins the lesson. Tell them to explore different sizes, shapes, and colors for their apples. Give students a chance to be creative and they surely will.

Step Two: Write A Description of Your Apple

They'll need help. They really need to describe their apples in detail, or again the lesson won't work. If they're stumped tell them to write the color, size, and shape of their apple. Emphasize complete sentences. With capitals and end marks too!*

Step Three: Cut In Half

Depending on the age of your students, you may want to do this step yourself. Each paper needs to be cut slightly different, like a puzzle piece, so it can only fit with its other half. I just had the students give them to me and quickly cut them each a little differently.

Step Four: Tape the Pictures on the Board

Step Five: Match the Descriptions

Read a description and have the students guess which apple it's describing. When a student thinks they know, have them match the description with the picture and see if it fits.

It's great fun. You'll have the students' attention the whole time with the drawing, cutting, and guessing. They'll be waiting to hear their description read, which also helps hold attention, and they'll be watching each time a student tries to match it to see if it fits.

The bonus is that they also will learn how to write detailed sentences and they'll see why it's important to do so. You can show that the more detailed the sentences are, the easier it is to match them. If someone wrote, "My apple is cool," no one would know which apple they were talking about.

So try it already!

*I'm a hypocrite.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Story Elements: Problem/Solution

One thing I go over again and again with students is how to find the basic elements of a story. It starts them on the road to analyzing and interpreting things they read, which is a vital skill to have in life. I start with the basics: characters, setting, problem, and solution.

But how to make it fun? That's a question I have to ask myself before each lesson. Not just fun for them, fun for me too. Teachers get bored too.

One way to get students interested is to focus on the why. Why exactly are we learning this? What's the point?

So before I teach them how to find the problem and solution, we focus on why stories typically have problems in the first place. Here's how it goes!

I pick a student and put them in a story. (Side note: put students in your stories and lessons whenever possible. They will listen to the part of the lesson that involves them center stage, even if it's just a quick math problem. They can't not listen to find out their fate in the story/problem/lesson.)

Back to the story. The story goes something like this, "John woke up and went to school. He had a great day and nothing went wrong. The end."

You'll notice the kids' eyes get wide and they perk up the second you start a story of any sort. It's a crazy phenomenon with kids (and adults) and one to take advantage of. But you'll also notice that as the story comes to an abrupt boring ending, they'll look disappointed. That's what you're going for.

Then I ask, "Did you like that story?"

Not really, no, they didn't. This is when I explain that sometimes stories are boring if there isn't some sort of conflict or problem. Then I give another example.

"John bought ten pieces of bubble gum at the store. He put one piece in and started chewing, then another, then another until ALL ten were in his mouth. He chewed and chewed and started to blow a big, big bubble. The bubble got bigger and bigger until it was bigger than his head. Just then Sarah walked in holding a sharp pin. She walked slowly over to John, who couldn't see her behind the big bubble and put the pin right in front of the bubble, then . . . she put the pin safely away and John's bubble slowly deflated. The end."

Don't worry, John. She doesn't do it. And she's
probably teasing you because she likes you.

Watching their disappointed faces is priceless. I then ask, "What did you want to happen in that story?"

They all agree that they wanted Sarah to pop John's bubble. This is why many stories have problems or conflicts, I explain, it makes it more interesting.  Then I ask for ideas of how they might have solved this problem had Sarah actually popped the bubble. They love getting creative and will be able to better find solutions in stories they read.

But once they've had this story, one example isn't enough. They want another! So here's a couple more.

"The class decided to make a big cake to surprise the teacher on her birthday. The cake was huge! It was chocolate with strawberry frosting and a candle on top. It was so heavy that Jenny and Ben had to carry it in together. They walked as carefully as they could, holding the three-tiered cake into the classroom. Just before they got to the table to set it down, Jacob accidentally dropped a bag of marbles right in front of their feet! Jenny lifted a foot up and almost stepped onto a marble . . . but noticed in time and avoided it. They safely put the cake down. The end."

Again, ask the students what they wish would have happened. They want the conflict, they want the drama, and they'll begin to understand why so many stories have conflict and problems.

And here's a third one. I typically teach lessons more than once to really drill it into their heads, so it's nice to have several stories so I don't repeat myself.

"Michael was walking to school in a brand-new outfit for picture day. His mom told him whatever he did, don't get it dirty. He walked to school with Jim and Katie. The day before, it had rained and there was a big puddle. Jim and Katie already got their pictures taken, so they decided to jump in the puddle. They splashed around and had a lot of fun. They told Michael he should jump in too. Michael edged toward the puddle and lifted his foot to put it in . . . then he decided he shouldn't get dirty and went to school. The end."

I'm trying to come up with some more, but can't think of any. Something bad has to happen, but something that isn't terrible, just comical. Any ideas?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Pet Peeve Turns into a Decent Lesson Plan

Nah, I guess it's not really a pet peeve anymore.

Sometimes people pair the word literally with idioms to emphasize their point, and though I suppose it used to bother me, now it's just fun to picture that they're serious about the literal part. I've accepted that it's okay for words to evolve, and I'm certainly guilty of butchering the English language at times. I often accidentally combine idioms and when it comes to those "she gave him her number" type sentences, there's little to no chance I'll get all of the pronouns right on my first shot.

So, I've given up my annoying grammar Nazi ways. Besides there are much more important things to be angry about these days than grammar, like how come Apple Jacks don't taste like apples? And what's the deal with airline food?

BUT! Before I accepted this I came up with a pretty fun lesson to teach my students about idioms and the meaning of literally. I don't want to toot my own hat, but this lesson is the cream of the cake!

I begin the lesson by explaining what idioms are, then give an example idiom. They make a guess of what it means, and I show the picture illustrating its figurative meaning. Then I show them a picture of what it would mean if we meant it literally. 

For example: I laughed my head off.

I literally laughed my head off.

It's raining cats and dogs!

It's literally raining cats and dogs.

After we've gone through several, the students choose an idiom and illustrate the figurative and literal meaning on this idiom worksheet. It's literally a blast.

Here's the PowerPoint slideshow I use for the idiom lesson, though it's sped up a bit. It's great fun. And yes there is a goofy sound clip at the beginning, which I normally think is weird for PowerPoint presentations. But kids, they like those goofy sound clips.


I even have a version with cutesy sounds for every slide, but I've spared you. You're welcome.

Here's the link for the Idiom PowerPoint download. It's good for 2nd grade - 5th grade, I'd say.

Also, if you can think of any other idioms that could be represented by a drawing fairly easily (both figuratively and literally), let me know! I'd like to add more.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"Be Good" and Other Ineffective Rules.

Rules! There's got to be rules! But there don't have to be so many. And the ones you have could be much more effective if you follow a few. . . rules. Which leads me to a great subheading.

Rules for Rules

Now that we've got that pun out of the way, let me give a little preface. You simply can't have a classroom without rules and positive and negative consequences. I've seen people try, and it does not go well. 

This is kind of like saying . . . 

Being a good teacher/boss does go a long way, and it does help motivate them intrinsically, but it's not always enough. If there were no rules or guidelines to help me know what I was supposed to be doing at work, and I didn't know whether or not I was meeting those expectations, I'd be stressed and not terribly motivated.  

But simply having rules and consequences isn't going to cut it either. I've seen a few pitfalls that come up time and again as teachers try to make rules in their classroom. So here are some things to do, and some things to avoid.

1. Keep Them Short (3-5 rules)

How can you have so few rules, you ask, why I need 10 rules just to get them to line up properly! It's impossible, you say! No it's not. The rules I'm talking about now are the basic ones that govern the way your classroom runs, not the smaller guidelines and directions that show up during various activities.

Your rules should be short and all of your students should know them by heart. If you go beyond 5 basic rules, you'll lose your students. There will be too much to remember, and they can't and won't remember them.  I remember once seeing a classroom where the teacher had dozens of rules posted on the wall, so much so that she ran out of room on the wall and they wrapped around to the next. Too much. If you can't fit it on one wall, you've got too much.

                         Good Example:                                                                 Bad Example:
"Honestly Jimmy, sometimes I wonder if you've even
read the newly revised edition of the rule handbook."


2.  Use Concrete Language

"Be good" is not concrete language. Be good can mean a variety of things to a variety of people. It's true that you can't outline absolutely everything the students need to do and your rules will need to have some interpretation. But avoid overly broad rules that make it unclear whether the student is or is not following the rule.

                                  Good Example                                                                 Bad Example

3. . . . But Don't Get Too Specific

This is another problem teachers run into. They end up with rules like, "Don't smack your gum." and "Don't unzip someone's backpack while you're waiting in line to go home, because stuff might fall out of it and that's super annoying.

You can address these issues as they come up, but don't create major rules around minor instances. If the students aren't returning their books to the proper place, remind them to do it. You could post a reminder next to the book shelves. But don't make a new rule. Rules should be concrete, but broad enough that they apply to multiple situations, not just one specific time.

4. Don't let your Students Brainstorm Classroom Rules

Oh, it just doesn't work! I've seen this many times. I see why teachers want to do it. They gave good reasoning. They want the students to feel more accountable and create a sort of democracy within the classroom. But ultimately what happens is this:

All the students want to come up with a rule and they don't want to stop coming up with rules. "Jenny just suggested we don't say the word stupid? I'll suggest we don't say the word dumb!" And on, and on.

And their rules will break all of the rules I've just mentioned. You'll end up with a hundred rules that are oddly specific, or far too vague. No one will remember all of the rules and you won't have the heart to tell them that their idea for a rule wasn't a good one.

"Um . . . thanks, Suzy. So I guess I'll just put that on the rule chart, then."

5. Try to Use Positive Language

I've had this one beaten into my head many times too. The idea is to come with rules that tell them what they should do instead of what they shouldn't do. For instance, "Use materials correctly" instead of "Don't play with your materials."

But really, sometimes I think it's okay to use a "don't" every now and then, as seen in rules 3 and 4. Just make sure your rules aren't dominated by don'ts. 

So there are the rules for rules that work for me, and probably will for you too.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How to Make Your Own Font (For Free in About Ten Minutes)

I'm so excited about this!

Using the website you can create a font of your own handwriting for free in about 10 minutes and it actually works well.

But what does this have to do with teaching? Nothing! I've decided teaching isn't too interesting, so I'm going to dedicate this blog to fonts now. Everything you could ever want to know about fonts! Fonts this and fonts that!

New blog title ?

Or rather, nope, this is still a teaching blog. So here's how it relates. For one, you can pretty quickly make a few fonts to use for worksheets and presentations besides the ol' Comic Sans and Papyrus standbys. But also, you can use this as an incentive for your students to improve their handwriting.

I think 99% of students could have better handwriting if they tried just a little bit harder. Just a itsy bit more. Or just a itsy bit at all. A lot of kids (especially boys) just don't care what their handwriting looks like, and I can't seem to motivate them.

Now I finally have a good incentive to get them to improve. When a student shows improvement in their handwriting and you can tell they are actually trying, they get their handwriting turned into a font. Once a student improves their handwriting enough to get a font, you could showcase it to the class and use it throughout the day (if you have a projector). It's true I'm a little more fond of fonts than most people, but I still think this would have motivated me as a kid.

Here's how it works.

1. Go to and download the template.

2. Print and fill out the template with your handwriting. It's hard to tell from the picture, but there are faint marks to show you which letters go where.


3. Scan the file as grayscale with 300 dpi and save as a JPG, TIFF, or PNG.

4. Upload the file on the website and give your font a name, and click send.

5. Wait for it . . . then click on the name of your font to download it. Don't accidentally hit that big green download button, it's for something else.

6. Open the file and click install.

7. It should now appear as an option when choosing a font.

So that's about all I have to say about that.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Breaking News: There Are More Fonts Than Comic Sans

If there's anything I've learned from my teaching experience, it's that there is a pervasive misunderstanding that if you teach elementary school you are required to use Comic Sans for all your documents.

After years of thorough research, I've concluded that kids can read documents written in Times New Roman just as easily as those written in Comic Sans.

But I get it. Times New Roman is boring. And lots of fonts just don't seem "cute" or "fun" enough to give to your students. However, I do think we can expand a little. Just a little. Not everything has to be in Comic Sans. Not all of it. Please. 

I can't figure out where this original image actually came from.
Is this really what we want? It's a slippery slope, my friends.

So as it turns out there are tons of other "cute" free fonts out there. In fact, if you go to Font Squirrel, there is a category specifically labeled as cute. These fonts are all free, even for commercial use (if you plan on selling worksheets you've made).

Here are some examples of a few that I like.

Dafont is also a good website for free fonts, although most of these are just for personal use. And if you still don't find one you like, you can also make a font of your own handwriting for free, pretty quickly and easily. But that's for another post.