Giving Students a Voice in Our Classroom Library

There's nothing so beautiful as seeing your students happily reading, am I right? I've been working really hard to convert some of my previous not-big-fans-of-reading into voracious readers this year and I am starting to see them really take off now!

One of my favorite tools to help with this has been our Book Request Form...and I wanted to share it with all of you.

The book request process is very simple. 

I leave the form in the classroom library where my students can request new books they've been anxious to read...or the next book in a series (can you tell we read The Lemonade War together this year?).

I order all the books I am able to with our Scholastic bonus points. And some I order on Amazon Prime (if they are at a reasonable price and my students are dying to get their hands on a particular title because, well, two day shipping!). Then I pencil in the date the books are expected to arrive (to avoid the endless, "are the books here yet??" questions each day). 

There are two things I love about this process.

First, it gives keeps my hungry readers well-fed...I don't want any lapse between books and this helps nicely if we don't currently have something a student is looking for in our library. Or if they are really taken with a new genre or author. 

Second, (and most importantly) I love that it gives my students a voice in our classroom library. They choose the books they want to enhance OUR library. And their opinions matter. Seeing a classmate ask for and enjoy a new book instantly engages the other readers and they want to try that book as well.

Would you like to use the Book Request Form in your class? 

Please click the image below to download a copy:


Using Labels to Keep a Clean Inbox

using labels to keep a clean inbox

As I wrap up my sixteenth year of teaching, I have been reflecting on all the things I do to lower my stress level. Because teaching can be very stressful, as you well know.

One of my biggest stressors is feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things to manage: tons of paperwork, stacks of materials to organize, hundreds of papers to grade...and an constantly over-flowing email inbox. 

Here's my biggest problem with school email: there are so many things that cannot be addressed immediately. 

I click through my mail, I read, and I think...
"I'll tackle that one later."
OR, "I can't even THINK about this right now!". 
OR, "I can't delete this until next trimester when we go on that trip."

And this list goes on and on.

Next thing I know, my inbox has 8,452 emails! 
(I didn't check, but I'm fairly certain that's an accurate number. Or even higher.)

I've tried to tackle this problem before, using a few tips that helped me keep on top of my mail. I shared those in this older post: Inbox Overflowing? Quick Tips to Put Your Mind at Ease. And those strategies definitely helped me keep on top of my mail. But there was still all those emails that couldn't be addressed immediately.

So this year I turned to labels.

I am very fortunate my school uses gmail for our work email. Gmail has a very easy way to setup and color-code labels for your inbox. I'd like to share the steps with you here, even if you don't use gmail at your school...hopefully you can use a labeling system as well!

To create my labels, I first thought of some categories that would cover all of the emails I tend to keep. IEPs and Parents came to mind first, as those are emails I haver to save for the entire school year. I decided to make labels for ELA and Math, as we tend to get assessment information and workshop emails I like to keep for those subject areas. Events is a good label for field trips, fundraisers, and assemblies. Students is a newer label I just created, as a place to store any Google docs my students share with me (in case I don't have a chance to add them to my Drive at a particular time):

To create these labels, you will need to click under the More arrow, on the left-hand side of your inbox. Add the bottom of this sidebar, you will see Create new label:

Once you click on the new label, you will find a pop-up screen where you can enter the label name. I write mine in all caps for a clean look that stands out in my inbox:
(I don't nest my labels since I only use six categories...nesting would be very helpful for any subcategories you want to create however).

You can see the new label I created for Report Cards (not actually a label I use, just an example here):

The label won't be assigned a color unless you choose to add one. To do so, click on the right side of your new label and you will see an arrow and a menu appear. Choose Label Color:

You will see pre-selected label colors, as well as a place to add a custom color. I try to select some bright shades with a white font:

The custom colors have a bit more variety, but you can't choose any html color you would like:

For the example, I chose a bright purple with a white text color: 

Once you have set up all of your labels, you are ready to get organized! As new emails come in, you can read them and discard...

Or you can click and drag an email you need to save to the label where you would like to store it:

When you click on a label in your sidebar, you will find all the emails you've saved under that label. If you open a particular email, you will see your color-coded label at the top:

If you'd like to remove a label, click on the right-hand side of the label and select Remove label:

And that's it! Once you have all the labels you need, it will be easier to delete and store ALL of your your inbox will become a calming sight for your teacher eyes:

Color-coded, digital organization in Google is always a huge stress-relief for me. I keep my grade book online and sort all subjects by color (it automatically averages too, which is a HUGE timesaver):

I also color-code my subjects and display all of the important information for my students each day, from materials needed to the steps to take during a class. Not only does it help me know exactly what I am doing in a given lesson, but it also keeps my students on the same page (and there are no more questions about what they need or what we are doing next!):

Do you like to organize your teaching digitally? Please share your tips with us!

2018 Winter Olympic Websites for Students

I've been planning a lot of learning fun all centered around the Winter Olympics for the next two weeks. Actually, in all honesty, we are really just working on the same lessons and activities I would normally be teaching this time of year...just with an Olympic twist!

One of the major activities we will be working on is writing nonfiction text structure magazines. This is a fantastic project created by Mary from Teaching With a Mountain View. It's always a class favorite and I've been waiting anxiously for four years to do this with a Winter Olympic's theme again (I did this back during the Sochi Winter Olympics and my fifth graders LOVED it).

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