Saturday, September 26, 2015

What's in my Teaching Bag?

This post was featured on the TpT blog!

If you are reading this blog post in hopes of seeing a designer bag you may want to buy yourself, prepare to be disappointed. My bag (on the far right of the picture below) is a book bag from Target. Yup. It's gray with neon yellow lining. Not pictured is the masking tape a student drew a Nike symbol onto and taped around the shoulder part of one strap. He was trying to help me out.  


Syllabus. Poking out of my bag is a syllabus from one of my grad classes. My teaching bag doubles as my grad school bag. I'm not only That Teacher who walks in the building wearing a book bag, I'm also That Grad Student who walks through Midtown Manhattan with the same stylish book bag.

Ice pack. Then there is a really old ice pack. I'm not sure why it's yellowed. I assume that has something to do with how old it is. One of the perks of being a teacher is the free health care. I took a hard fall on my knee last winter and my knee bruised and blew up to the size of a grapefruit so I went to the nurse the next day and she gave me an ice pack and took good care of my knee. For free!

Plastic bag. You never know when you need a plastic bag!

Post-its. I use post-its for everything. Lists of things I need to do, what classwork assignments need to be uploaded to my class website, what parents need to be emailed or called, what needs to be copied, what has already been copied, which days and classes each pile of copies is for... everything.

Ibuprofen. The only thing worse than cramps is having to teach while those cramps are trying to destroy me. Ibuprofen snips that problem in the bud!

Hair ties. I usually keep these around my wrist, but just in case I do leave the house without one, I have one in my bag.

More stickers than any normal high school teacher should have. You wouldn't think high school students would like stickers. They LOVE stickers! I teach Spanish, so they all have Spanish phrases on them. I buy them online. I put them on all tests and quizzes with an 85% or better. Occasionally I forget to put a sticker on a high grade and students lose their minds and demand two stickers. Even high school students love stickers!

Pens and pencils. There are mostly pencils pictured here. I save the pencils for students who don't have one in class and I will give them one. Sometimes. Not always. The pens are only for me!

Scissors. You never know when you need to cut something.

Lipstick. I only wear lipstick when parents come around for Back to School Night, Conferences, or whatever. I keep it in my bag because I wear it so seldomly that I don't want to forget it. I look a lot younger than I am and I don't want parents to think their 16 year old son is being taught by a 19 year old girl, so lipstick somehow makes me feel older and womanly and teacherly and like I know what I'm doing. It's probably all in my head but it gives me confidence with parents.

Chapstick. I would die without chapstick. I have one in every purse I own, in my bathroom, in my desk... If I was sent to a deserted island and I could only bring one thing with me I would bring chapstick.

Keys on a lanyard. I wear a University of Maryland lanyard. Go Terps! I keep my classroom keys on it and I wear it around my neck so that I never ever EVER lose my keys. Ever.

Car keys. I keep these tucked into a small pocket of my book bag. I don't think students would ever go through my book bag, but I honestly wouldn't put anything past them, so I keep my car keys in the same small pocket as tampons. No teenage boy will touch anything in the same pocket as a tampon.

Sharpies. Any time I prepare an activity with manipulatives or I write something I want students to see from the back of the room, I write in sharpie. I have at least a couple in my desk, in my book bag, and at home.

Paper clips. I don't carry a stapler around with me at all times because it's far too bulky, but paper clips do the same job as a stapler and are so small! I have them hanging on my lanyard so they are always with me.

Cough drops. While the nurse's free health care is a perk to teaching, she isn't always available when I'm available and so I keep cough drops in my bag just in case. I can easily send a student to her during the period to fetch me an ice pack, but she won't send cough drops with a student.

What must-have items do you keep on hand in your teaching bag? Check out what these other teachers keep in their bags!
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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Ask & Switch - A Speaking Activity

It's so important to get your Spanish students actually speaking the language.  I like to tell my Spanish 1 students within the first week of school that no one ever says "Wow, you write Spanish really well."  They say "Wow, you speak Spanish really well."  And students need lots of speaking practice!

One of the speaking activities I like to incorporate into my lessons is Ask & Switch.  At least that's what I call it.  Maybe you already know it by a different name!

Here's how Ask & Switch works:
-Each student gets an index card with a question on one side and a prompt for an answer on the other.
-Students get up out of their seats and walk around the room.  They approach a partner and ask their partner the question on their index card.
-They show their partner the answer prompt and their partner answers the question.
-The partner asks his or her question and the first student responds.
-The two students then switch cards and go find a new partner.

I allow about 3-4 minutes for students to do this activity.

Ask & Switch is great because students get practice both asking and answering questions, and they are guaranteed to ask and answer a variety of questions.  It is also easy (I almost never have to explain the directions more than once), and as long as there is a short time limit, students are engaged in the activity.  They will really be speaking Spanish!


Ask & Switch telephone numbers speaking activity
A couple notes of caution:
As a teacher, you have to have a high tolerance for volume in your classroom.  Every single student in your class will be talking at the same time, and they will also be out of their seats walking around the room.  I've had other teachers and administrators walk into my room when students were in the middle of this activity and they looked mortified, like they thought students were just walking around wildly and I was just sitting there watching them create chaos.  I've also had students see the principal walk in the room in the middle of the activity and immediately sit down like they were about to be in trouble for being out of their seats.  That made me laugh.

Sometimes students think "you may get up and walk around the room" means "you may run around and push other students".  The first few times I do this activity with a class, I explain my expectations for their behavior very thoroughly.  Students who choose to run, push, yell, or just generally take their silliness too far have to sit for the rest of the activity.  No one wants to be That Kid.  These students will pout, feel left out of the activity (FOMO is so serious with teenagers), and are very unlikely to act out during future Ask & Switch activities.

Also, there is a bit of prep involved with this activity.  I have been known to hastily grab a stack of 35  index cards during my planning period and write scrawl questions on one side and answers on the other.  And then after running through the activity with 3 or 4 classes, the index cards all look like they've been run over with a truck and I toss them out, only to start over from scratch the next year.

If you actually take the time to type up the questions and answers, tape them to the index cards, and then laminate them, they will last year after year.  Then you can simply pull them out of your drawer on the day you need them and you're good to go!

Ask & Switch speaking activity
Tip:  I print onto 2"x4" shipping labels and slap them onto 3"x5" index cards.  It's pretty genius if I do say so myself.

I have a freebie set of Ask & Switch cards in my Tpt store with Ir & Places vocab HERE if you want to try the activity out and see how it goes in your classroom!  I sell Ask & Switch sets on a variety of vocabulary and grammar topics and I have Spanish 1, Spanish 2, and Spanish 3 bundles available HERE, HERE, and HERE.  I also sell a hard good version for each topic if you hate prepping activities (frantically during your planning period like me) and would prefer the laminated cards be mailed to you!

Try it out and let me know how it goes!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Letting Students Choose Their Seats

My 7th grade Social Studies teacher let us choose our seats.  On the very first day of school!  It was something I had never been allowed to do before and it was incredibly exciting.  We could all sit with our friends!  And then two weeks later, after she figured out who everyone was friends with, she assigned our seats and no one sat near any of their friends for the rest of the entire year.  She was a smart lady.  Much smarter than any of us because we did NOT see that coming.

I let students choose their seats.  And unlike my brilliant 7th grade Social Studies teacher, I don't give students assigned seats later in the year.  I don't ever assign their seats.  Don't tell any of my previous Department Chairs or Principals.

And I know you are thinking "you don't do WHAT?!"  I don't assign seats.  Yeah.  Let me explain.

Let students choose their own seats, seating chart
I have several reasons for this:
1.  It's easier than assigning seats and fighting with students about where their seat is (or isn't).
2.  I maintain the right to revoke the seating choice of any student at any time for any reason.
3.  It works for me.

Reason #1:  It's easier.
When I used to assign seats, there were always those students who would challenge my seating choices.  Sometimes openly, but usually passively.  They would walk in the classroom and sit in the seat three seats over.  Or across the room.  Or anywhere but the seat I had their name in on my seating chart.  They would just sit down like they thought I wouldn't notice.  And I would say "Monica, can you move to your seat please?" and Monica would argue.  She would list all her infinite reasons why her assigned seat was not nearly as good as the seat she was currently in.  "But I won't talk in this seat."  "But I can focus better in this seat."  And while all her reasons may or may not have been legitimate, she knew all the right things a teacher wanted to hear.  And precious class minutes were lost to Monica's objections about seating.  And then Victor's objections about seating.  And Asia's.  And twelve other students'.

I got tired of fighting about it.  I got tired of losing precious class time over something petty.

Reason #2:  I will move you.
Giving up control of the seating chart is not giving up control of the classroom.  Rule #2 goes hand-in-hand with Rule #1 and both must exist in the classroom in order to make students choosing their seats work.  When Monica sits in a seat of her choosing, and that seat happens to be next to her best friend, I tell Monica that she will sit in a seat of my choosing if she cannot pay attention to the lesson and complete her work.  That seat is always right up front.  I don't know why students always hate to sit in the front row.  I must have terrible breath.

If it is the beginning of the school year and expectations are still being established, I tell Monica, and really the whole class, that if she cannot pay attention in class and complete her work, then she will move up front (or to another seat of my choosing that I point out in that moment).  I say it calmly, evenly, and like I really mean it.  And I do.

And then I move on.  But the instant Monica's behavior is disruptive or off-task, all I have to do is point to the seat I have chosen for her and she must get up and move to her new seat that she will sit in until she proves she knows how to act in my classroom.

If it is the middle or end of the school year and expectations have already been established, then Monica has probably definitely already seen me move students who cannot handle sitting in the seat of their choice.  I will remind her quietly that she is to pay attention and complete her work, and I point out the seat she will sit in if she cannot meet these expectations.

Reason #3:  It works for me.
It really does.  If students know that they will absolutely lose the privilege of sitting where they want (99% of the time it's next to their friends), they will be more mindful about their behavior.  They don't want the shame of being That Kid who has to be moved when everyone else can sit wherever they want.  They don't want to lose the privilege that everyone else has and if they know for sure that you are completely serious and will absolutely move them the minute they are disruptive, they will avoid losing this privilege.  This is especially effective with the class clowns.

I don't have to fight with students about where they sit so I am happy.  Students get to sit where they want, so they are happy.  Students have to behave themselves to keep the privilege of choosing their seating, so I am even happier.  #winning

I should note I have had success with students choosing their own seats in 7th grade classes through seniors.  It may or may not be successful in an elementary classroom.

Have you ever given students the choice of sitting wherever they want?  Share your horror or success stories!