Monday, March 20, 2017

Words Their Way - How I Make it Work!

Words Their Way can be a bit of a daunting undertaking! Six years of working with it in my classroom has led me to the structure and set up that I currently use. In my second grade class, the students make dramatic jumps in their spelling pattern knowledge and WTW really accelerates their learning.

Let's jump into creating word study groups!

Spelling inventories help you to determine which spelling patterns students have a strong knowledge of, which ones they are using but confusing, and which ones they don't know at all.

The Words Their Way books provide you with different inventories (primary, elementary, and upper level inventory)

Personally, I prefer to use the spelling inventory version by Second Story Window. Check it out here! This version uses the same words, but changes up the format so that you can use the same sheet for the whole year. It makes it very easy to see individual student growth through the year.

Once you have the student inventories, it's vital to put the students into groups based on the spelling patterns they are working on. I try to keep my groups between 2 and 5 students because I want to make sure that students are getting an opportunities to talk through the sorting with a peer, and I want to make sure that all students are participating in the sorting.

Having lots of groups can be confusing (for me and the kids)! I keep a record in my Words Their Way binder, but I also keep a board up in my classroom that I can refer to easily and so the kids can remember the name and number of their sort.

Once you have your groups, then it's time to get started sorting and thinking!

Here's the rundown of a normal week of Words Their Way in my room.


Each Monday my groups receive their new sorts. They have to cut out their words, sort them as a group, and then raise their hands to show me they are ready to check over their work. I make sure that they understand the sorts and we have a short conversations about what the words mean. (This is an often overlooked component of Words Their Way that we go back to on Tuesdays.) Once checked, the students then write the words in the Sort and Search sheets.

Take a peek below at one of my groups working together to sort their words!

When finished with sorting and writing, my students have to think about a tip or a trick that will help them remember how to sort the words in the future. I've found that this section really makes the students explain the pattern in their own words. After that, they can work on the word search. This word search serves the purpose of occupying the quicker groups, giving me time to work with the other groups that require more help or time to finish.


On Tuesdays we take about 10 minutes out of our Daily 5 and CAFE language arts schedule to reinforce the meanings of the words with a Matching Meaning sheet. This is meant to be a quick review consisting of a definition/picture match section, a cloze sentence section, and a find the word paragraph. It helps to give the words meaningful context!

Tuesday - Thursday

During our Daily 5 time on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, my Word Work station is made up of games that help students practice sorting their words for the week. I put out the correlating games on the work work table, and students can reference the Word Sort bulletin board to remember which sort is their own. I have Connect 4 or Domino games for each sort all the way from Letter Name Alphabetic and Within Word Pattern to Syllable and Affixes.


On Wednesdays we complete another quick spelling activity to continue working with the words. Our Spelling Foldables address a variety of spelling and vocabulary skills. We only do one per week and so switching the 5 different activities keeps the students from becoming bored. 

The Consonants and Vowels Foldable is particularly helpful for students working with different long vowels patterns!

Spelling Foldables


On Thursday we head into the computer lab for about 20 minutes to practice our words with the SpellingCity website/app. My kids LOVE playing these games and the extra practice is GREAT for them! What's even better is that the site already has all the lists typed up for you! (Cause you do not want to be typing in 200 some lists of words...) I often assign my students SpellingCity for homework as well. A subscription to the site costs only 60 a bucks a year and is SO worth it!


Finally, on Fridays my students all pull their words out of their baggies and do a final sort. They then check the sort, either by conferencing with me, or by looking back at their Sort and Search sheet and then glue them into their notebook. When all members of their group have finished the final sort, I call them to me to take their spelling quiz. 

As of right now, the spelling quiz is nothin' fancy. I just call out 10 words from the sort, making sure that I hit on all the spelling patterns. I've got a few plans to jazz up my quizzes, but you'll have to wait and see!

And that's basically how I set up Words Their Way in my classroom! 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

How to Make Your Bulletin Boards Easy and Engaging!

I know many teachers that dread the task of designing and assembling new bulletin boards. Some struggle to think up what to post, others don't feel creative enough to "make it look good", and others claim that it just takes too long to put up! This post should give you some fresh ideas and a general format to follow in order to make your bulletin boards easy and engaging!

I try to create easy bulletin boards because, let's be honest, What teacher has spare hours to build elaborate, perfect bulletin boards?

But you also don't want to be just slapping up anything on your board! It needs to draw people in; it needs to be visually interesting. It needs to be engaging!

Let's start with my bulletin board story:

When I first came to my current school (four years ago!) I was greeted by the largest and blankest bulletin board I have ever seen.

I kid you not, this board is about 5 feet tall and 10 feet wide. It is a monster!

It was situated right outside my classroom and in the main lobby of the elementary building. Meaning that everybody who comes into the elementary lobby can see it, and it was my responsibility to fill it. A bit daunting.....

I began by backing it with a humongous brown piece of fabric. I've found that fabric is better than paper because it fades slower and I didn't have to staple a whole bunch of small papers together in order to cover it. The neutral brown color also means that I can leave it up regardless of what decorations I put on top. It looks good with everything!

When putting together my bulletin boards, I keep 3 things in mind:

1. Student Work

The whole point of the bulletin board is to show off the learning that is happening in your classroom, so the focal point of your bulletin board should be student work!

I find that writing samples showcase beautifully on my bulletin boards. At the end of each writing trait unit, my students complete a writing project. The final copies of these writing projects often make their way out to my bulletin board.

If you want to know about these writing projects you can check out my blog posts on them by clicking here: Writing Projects.

Student created visuals are another type of work that looks good up on the board!

Student created visuals could include:

Another form of student work that pops on a bulletin board is the use of student quotes about an activity or topic. Most recently near the end of our insect unit, I printed out giant speech bubbles (Thanks to Graphics by Sarah Beth! If you want to get her free speech bubble clip art pack, click here!) and had each student finish a prompt that I typed in the speech bubble. I then put them up on the board with a picture of the student doing an activity from our insect unit. (more on pictures later!)

2. Words

Each bulletin board I do has a phrase or sentence that tells the topic the students are learning about and draws in the reader.

To make these phrases interesting, I like to download fun and new fonts to use on my boards!

I buy fonts from TPT shops like Babbling Abby, Kimberly Geswein, Khrys Greco.  Another great place to look for fonts, especially if you just want to use them on bulletin boards and not for commercial things, is

I always make sure that these phrases are short and in SUPER LARGE font. When I say I use large font, trust me, I go up into the 200's or 300's in font size. This makes it easy for people to read even from across the lobby.

Short and snappy (or cheesy) phrases are best because I want the real focus of the board to be the student work, not my words.

Some phrases I've used:

  • Second Grade Super Spies! Can You Guess Our Secret Identities?
  • Dun dun, Dun dun, Dun dun dun dun dun dun. Shark Week Is Coming!
  • Wanna Come Cook with With Us?
  • Second Grade is Going Buggy for Insects
  • Get Excited About Second Grade Because Second Grade Rocks!
  • This Town Ain't Big Enough For All Of Us!

All of my big text I print, cut out, then glue on to bright colored paper, before cutting out that paper. Having that border of color around the words, helps them to pop on my board and makes it easier to read them.

3. Pictures

Most of my bulletin boards feature photos of my students. Kids LOVE seeing pictures of themselves, and the sillier the better!

During the school day, I am constantly taking candid photos of my students. Over the course of the school year, I probably take thousands. Some of them I use for our class website, others are for my TPT products, and others for this blog, and still others are for using on the bulletin board. It's like giving the whole school community a little peek into the everyday learning that takes place in my classroom.

I still love to dress up (Halloween is my favorite holiday) and of course my students do to! I often take pictures of my students in themed costumes at the end of our writing projects and it's always fun to put them up where everyone can enjoy them!

Another crowd pleaser is when I blow up the photos to life size or even more larger! In order to make my pictures this big I use a website called Rasterbator (I ignore the awkward name) This website lets you upload a photo and then choose how big you want to be. Then lets you print the photo on multiple normal sized printer paper. After that, you just line up the edges and glue the pieces of paper together. Voila! Giant pictures!

Here are a few of my recent boards in their entirety...

So get out there and start doing your bulletin board thang!

Monday, October 31, 2016

5 Tips for Successful Student Led Conferences!

I love, love, love doing student led conferences. I like that the student can really take ownership of their own learning. I love how it keeps the conversation open between myself, the student, and the parents.  I love how the student is there to verify or even say the things that I want to share.

I often find myself saying things like, "So in writing we are working on strengthening our ideas and checking for capital letters. So-and-so, what have you and I been working on in writing?"

In my grade level team, I teach language arts for all the second graders, so my conference day is PACKED! Each family can sign up for a 10 minute meeting time with me, where everyone is present. Then I send them out to the lobby where the student has a reflection packet and work samples to show. The 10 minute meetings work because reports are sent home few days before conferences giving parents time to read over the narrative and process the things I've written. When they come into conferences they already know what I have to say and they can spend more time asking questions or sharing concerns.

Here are our bookboxes with all of our reflections inside!

So...on to how to make your student led conferences great!

1. Appreciate, appreciate, appreciate!

o   I begin every conference by telling my student what I appreciate about who they are and what special qualities they bring to the classroom. They often find this a bit embarrassing, but it starts off the conference on a wonderful note. Students (and sometimes parents) can be very nervous about conferences and beginning with heartfelt appreciations makes everyone a little more calm. This appreciating should also extend to the parents. I try to make it very clear to them that I am incredibly grateful for all that they do at home to support their child’s academic progress.

     2. Structure Student Reflections

o   For the majority of my second graders in the Fall, this is the first student led conference that they have ever done. Before moms and dads come in, I want those kids confident with what they are going to say and do. About a week before conferences I have the student fill out reflections on the topics that we have been learning about. These are always very specific to what we have learned in that quarter. I also have them choose a few samples of work that they can show off. I get some big ol' tables and put all the relevant reflections and work inside the student's temporarily emptied book boxes.


    3. Pass out presents!

o   And no, I don’t mean toys or candy. (I'm like the anti-candy teacher; I never give out the sugary stuff!) I use CAFÉ strategies when teaching reading to my students, so this conference each child received a ring of the reading strategies that he or she was working on. I love doing this at conferences because then the student can explain the reading strategies to their parents. This keeps the parents in the loop and gives me the opportunity to share how important it is to read at home and practice using the strategies. Also, for my lower readers, I print out and assemble a ring of sight words for them to keep at home and review.

·         4. Give ‘um stuff to look at!

o   Occasionally, (I mean, ALL the time) these things get backed up and sometimes people are waiting for a few minutes. Give them something to do!

Bored people are grumpy people and nobody wants grumpy people on conference day!

       I always try to put up a new bulletin board right before conferences so that it's new for everyone. I also always leave out a table of ipads with our class website up. (This website is my baby, I LOVE posting pictures and vids of my students on it) Students especially love sharing the website videos with parents!

The unveiled bulletin board. We had just been working on our insect unit!


     5. Ask for feedback!

o   I want to know what my students AND parents are thinking about how the school year is going! I always ask them during the conference, and have received really great suggestions, some of which I’ve then implemented immediately in my classroom. Occasionally, there are things that parents don’t feel comfortable bringing up in person. To make sure that there is an avenue of communication for this, I set up some anonymous parent surveys. During the conference day, I set up a table with survey sheets and a box to put them in. Because I work in Guatemala, I print English on one side and Spanish on the other. If you would like to snag these super, simple survey sheets, head on over to my TPT store and check them out by clicking here: PARENT SURVEY SHEETS or clicking no the picture below! I also sent out a SurveyMonkey form via email. SurveyMonkey lets me know if anyone responds and can even chart responses entirely anonymously. I want to make sure that my students and parents feel that their voice is being heard!

Well, those are my 5 tips to FANTASTIC student led conferences! I hope they help you to make conferences an enjoyable and valuable experience for you, your students, and their families!!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

My Foray Into Flexible Seating

So for this new school year, I decided to shake things up a bit by switching over to flexible seating in my classroom! I know that's the "in" thing in teaching right now, but I don't think it's just a short lived fad. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Choice in the classroom is a HUGE motivator and I have seen its success within Daily 5. So the leap to flexible seating seemed natural.

"If my students are behaving and doing what they should be doing, why does it matter WHERE they sit while doing it?"

I, personally, am a carpet lounger. I LOVE to lay on the floor and do work. (In fact that is exactly where I am as I write this post.) Give me a fuzzy carpet and some floor pillows and I'm as happy as a clam! And I want all my students to feel like that!

To begin, I got rid of a whole bunch of desks in my classroom and put in more carpet space and a low table. The low table is my personal favorite! My kids also love to be able to sit on the floor and work. (They particularly enjoy scootching themselves underneath it while doing Read to Self.)

I then set up two different table groups with different types of desks. In each group, I have a standing desk, (actually just a normal high school desk without the chair. My kiddos are short!), 2 conventional second grade desks with chairs, a desk with an exercise ball, and a lightweight stool. 

Sitting at these table groups have actually been the most popular area for my students.

In this same general area I put down a 5ft x 7ft rug and threw some giant pillows on it. Right next to the rug I put baskets of clip boards and a few lap desks. This small rug, the table groups and the low table make up one side of the classroom. I call it the "seating area" and it is right in front of my white board and projector. Off to the side of the classroom is the "circle carpet" with an easel whiteboard. This area is used more for class discussions, morning meeting, and such. It is also scattered with pillows and has easy access to clipboards.   

But what about classroom supplies, you ask??

I have always preferred community supplies and over the years, have worked out the method that works best for me. I got these bright colored divided buckets at Target. (I love bright colors AND Target!) In one of the small sections I stuck a metal pencil holder and filled it with about 15 sharpened pencils. In the other small divider I stuck a plastic cup and filled it with crayons. The larger section was filled with 3 pairs of scissors, 3 glue sticks, 3 big erasers, and a handheld pencil sharpener. I wrapped patterned duct tape around the handle of each bucket, the scissor handles, the pencils, the glue sticks, and the rim of the crayon cups. This keeps the stuff from wandering around the room. 

Last year, for some reason, the glue sticks always migrated to one basket, while all the scissors ended up in a different one. It was slightly infuriating.....This fixes that problem!

The extra time it takes to wrap the stuff in duct tape is totally worth it. If you have students that come into school early in the morning, I guarantee they will LOVE to re-sort the buckets so everything matches and then sharpen the pencils for you.

The best part about these buckets is that they can be moved around the room wherever you need them. If a whole bunch of kids have chosen to sit at the low table, we can just grab the supply bucket and plop it down with them. The supplies are always within reach and there aren't children wandering around the room looking for things!

Scattered around the room, I have areas that we use during Daily 5, that can also be used as smaller areas to work in. 

My Work on Writing area has a trapezoid table and a beanbag armchair. The beanbag chair is great for Read to Self and occasionally small groups will choose to use the trapezoid table.

This is NEW this year! My kids ADORE it! Read to Self works perfectly in here and its just big enough that two kids can fit in it for Read to Someone or partner work. I do ask that they not be in while we are doing something with the board, or while I am giving directions. 

One thing that can be intimidating about flexible seating is how to introduce it so that you don't have complete anarchy on your hands. This is how I went about it:

The first day I introduced the students to all of the seating options. We talked about behaviors that were appropriate and behaviors would not be considered so appropriate. I also used this t-chart to make it clear which items could "travel" about the room and which needed to stay in one place. 

I made the exercise balls a "one place" item because they are just so tempting to kick across the room! The less they move, the better, in my opinion. I also made the beanbags a "one place" item because one of them has a teeny tiny hole in the cover and whenever it moves, styrofoam bits fly out and get all over the place. 

The first week of school, we tried out all of the different options. I had to demonstrate how to use a lap desk, because quite a few of my kids had never encountered them before. I made sure that everyone had a turn to try out everything. Intermittently, we had short discussions on "choosing places because they helped you to become a better learner" not "just because they are fun." **cough cough, exercise balls, cough cough**

Right now, I am giving out 2 warning to friends who play with the seats (mainly the pillows and exercise balls) and then they lose the seat they are playing with. Consistency is key, but it is working! 

And that is how I am using flexible seating in my class this year!

Please feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or want clarification or if you want to share how flexible seating is working in your classroom!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Introducing the Passport2Teach Youtube Channel!

Hi everyone!!

One thing I really enjoy is video editing, and over the past few months I have been working on videos to explain and supplement my products in my TeachersPayTeachers store, as well as educational videos just for the heck of it!

Below is my youtube channel intro video!

I have a couple of different playlists that I've been putting together. My most popular one so far has been my Educational Songs playlist. The really cool thing about this playlist is that the songs posted there match up with freebies in my TPT store!!

My students often end up singing these songs ALL year long! We glue the freebie song lyrics in their journals and they love to flip back to them!!

These have been a blast to make! Look out for more in my TPT store soon!!

I also have another playlist that I use to explain my TPT products in more depth!

For example, here's one of my spelling foldable products: Spelling Foldable Draw and Label. Perhaps you're interested in the product, but not sure if you want to shell out the moo-lah to own it for yourself. So you click on the video link in the product description. Check it out below!

Did that help you make up your mind??

I don't have many of these videos out yet, but plan on making MANY more. If you are on the fence about any of my products and want me to make a video for a specific one, please send me a message thorugh my TPT store or comment on this post!! I'd looooove to hear from you!

I've been reflecting recently that although my blog is called Passport2Teach because I am an international teacher, I sometimes feel that the international bit doesn't always come across in my blog posts.

I wanted to have some part of Passport2Teach that really focused on the global as well as educational aspect of what I do.  

Thus, my youtube playlist Experience the World! was born! These videos are short 3 to 4 minutes of an experience that I've had somewhere in the world, be it releasing turtles in Guatemala or hiking on a glacier in Iceland. Each video includes elementary appropriate information and images and videos. 

Check those bad boys out! I had such fun making these!

In terms of using them in the classroom, I have a few ideas, but really, the sky is the limit!!
  • Writing prompts
  • Introduction videos to topics
  • Cultural awareness
  • Independent student research 
Got other ideas?? Feel free to share them with me by commenting on the bottom of this post!

If you like the videos in my post, why don't you head over to my youtube channel and subscribe? You'll then get updates whenever I post more interesting and educational stuff! Click here or on the videos tab at the top of the page!!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Brrrrr! Arctic Animal Adaptations Gallery!

I am so excited to share the second installment in my Take Home Projects series!
"Design-An-Arctic-Animal Take Home Project"

In my second grade class, we learn about arctic animals and their adaptations. We spend a long time talking about how the animals' bodies have changed to help them survive in their icy, arctic home.  Later in the post I'll explain more about the Arctic Animal Adaptation Sheets that we use!

After building a knowledge base in effective adaptations, I introduce my Design-An-Arctic-Animal Take Home Project! (Click on the pic to be taken to my TPT store to purchase it) The purpose of this packet is to get parents involved in talking with their children about science learning. This packet includes a parent explanation sheet that lays out the project in clear and simple terms. 

Want to check out a different Take Home Project? Click here to go to my post on the Dinosaur Fossil Take Home Project!

A BIG component to the success of these Take Home Projects is successful teacher modelling...

I basically do the whole project in front of the class before I send it home. We talk about each step as we go, I make sure students are fully aware of the expectations, and I answer ALL questions.

The LAST thing that I want, is for my students to go home and say in that whiny voice to mom and dad, "But I don't know what to do!"

For this project, I also had the students set up some of the project before taking them home. My school provides posters so I had the students glue on the title and the paragraph organizer. I stapled a sheet of the adaptation labels to the poster. Then the poster, the parent explanation sheet, and the arctic animal design sheet are all safely tucked into backpacks to take home. 

I like to print these Parent Explanation Sheets in color to make them more "special" and eye-catching!

When the students brought back their projects, I was blown away by their creativity and use of interesting materials! My kids used sequins, pompoms, clay, paint, styrofoam, magazine clippings, fake flower petals, and all kinds of other things. They also did an excellent job using their knowledge of animal adaptations to create an interesting arctic animal!

To showcase all of the amazing student talent and learning, I set up an Arctic Animal Gallery and invited parents to come and see what we had been up to!

Looking for some more arctic themed activities? Check out my Arctic Animal Adaptation Sheet by clicking below!