8 Ways to Make Learning FUN!

Today I wanted to share with you this post I wrote over at 
I’m the first to admit that technology is AMAZING! There’s nothing like conducting research on the Internet or searching for a book on the computer. It sure beats
having to spend hours researching in the public library or searching the card catalogs.

At the same time, I realize that every day I step foot into my classroom I’m asked to compete with Technology’s quick pace and 3D animations. Our students are used to instant gratification, immediate answers, fast moving games and action packed videos. 

So how do we compete with that?

We do the BEST that we can and we look to each other for support. That's why today I'm sharing with you 8 strategies that have proven to be successful in MOTIVATING and ENGAGING my third graders!
This is one of the easiest ways to guarantee that your student’s are actively participating. Simply hand them an Expo marker and a tissue and have them practice their spelling words, solve math problems, write complete sentences, ... anything you want right on their desks. 

(Don't worry, it comes right off with a tissue or a wipee. FYI-black markers work best.) While students are working, walk around and spot check. I use this ALL the time and my kids ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT!
You can even leave motivating messages on their desks for them to find in the morning.
Third graders love to use blocks, counters, cubes, Legos, etc... So whip out those manipulatives or play dough and let students have FUN while they learn. Just remember to set
clear expectations and rules from the beginning.

I have found that manips. not only encourage student participation, but are a great asset when introducing new math concepts. They are also a must for those visual and
tactile learners. I always like to introduce new math concepts using manipulatives first.
If I want my students immediate attention, all I have to do is head on over to my glue sponges because they know that it means it’s time for an interactive notebook activity. It’s amazing how quickly students learn to cut, fold, and glue the pages of their notebooks. 

Not only do INB help them develop fine motor skills, but it is also
a fun way for students to record information, demonstrate what they’ve learned, and it can also be a great assessment tool. In my classroom, we use interactive notebooks in
ALL subject areas and my students never seem to get tired of them. (The pictures included are of my Text Features, Intro. to Science, and Government Interactive Notebooks)

Pattern Puzzle Freebie
Allow your students to work with a partner or in small groups. Encourage them to solve problems together through discussion, trial, and error. The more they work together, the better they will become at listening to each other, and
solving problems on their own rather than depending on you.

Collaboration is also great for those students that have difficulties getting started or completing tasks. I have found that when having my students complete difficult tasks or assignments, they are more inclined to try to figure things out on their own when they have a partner versus working independently.

Students L-O-V-E to conduct experiments and although they do take some prep work in advance, they are well worth it. Science experiments are a great way for students to practice their problem solving skills. It encourages them to think critically and involves reading, writing, and sometimes even math skills. If you’re looking for some great science experiments, check out Steve Spangler’s Science website here.

Post-it Notes are like little colorful squares of magic. I say this because anytime I take out Post-its for an activity, my students quickly sit up straight in attention waiting to find out how they’re going to get to use the notes today. 

My kids ABSOLUTELY LOVE them! I can’t say enough about Post-its... (I wish I had invented them!) I have them in all colors, shapes, and sizes and use them in so many ways. I’ve even been known to run them through my printer using a template so that I can print on them.
Take out a bottle of paint and BAM you’ll have your students attention just like that! I know this because just a few weeks ago it happened to me. It was the first time that this year's students saw me take out paint. The sparkle in their little brown eyes was enough to validate what I already knew... Kids love to use paint and art supplies.

I know that many teachers don’t like it because they think things are going to get messy. Well I’m here to tell you that that’s not necessarily the case. Sometimes all you need is a small blob of color on a plate to get your students attention. 

I’ve done big projects such as my Solar System Craftivity
where students use feathers and marbles to paint and projects such as my Landforms 3D C
raftivity where students used little paint but plenty of other materials such as yarn, glitter, and paper bags. Just give it a try and see how it goes... 
Addition and Subtraction with Regrouping Task Cards
 Lastly, make learning fun by finding the time to play games. My kiddos love playing Scoot with task cards. They also love simple games such as Multiplication War or Around the World. If you search on Pinterest you can find a bunch of ideas on games to play in the classroom. The key is to find games that motivate your students and that make learning fun!

Gobble Up Freebies!

For many of us teachers, the holidays can be a stressful time of year! Between planning special activities for the children, assemblies, shortened school weeks, etc... how do we find time to do it all?

Well, that's where my friends from iTeach 3rd come in! We've decided to offer up 8 days of FREEBIES for you to GOBBLE UP... they are sure to make your teacher heart happy and help relieve some of the stress during this crazy time of year!

All you have to do is visit their Facebook page here, and snag your freebies. This event starts today and runs until next Sunday the 22nd. So hurry up and go check it out!

BAM's: Classroom Management System

     In my 17 years of teaching, I have tried ALL KINDS of behavior management systems ranging from pulling cards, economy systems, tickets, table points, marbles in jars, Class Dojo, etc... I’ve tried them all looking for that PERFECT  system... and you know what I’ve come up with?


     I think we each need to find out what works for us and for our current students. I've also learned the hard way that what might have worked beautifully in the past, may prove to be a total flop another year.

     Today I'd like to share with you a system that I am currently using and in LOVE with! I have had much success with it, have seen it motivate my students, and continue to hear positive feedback from parents and former students.

     So if you’re frustrated with your current system or just looking to spice things up a bit, I hope sharing how I use BAMs in MY classroom might give you a few new ideas.

What is a BAM?
A BAM is a fuzzy, colored pom pom that students are able to earn and trade in for tokens. The word BAM stands for students caught Being AMazing! BAM!!!

In my classroom we have LITTLE BAMS...

and BIG BAMS which are worth 3 of the little ones! BIG BAMS are hard to come by so whenever a student receives one it’s a B-I-G D-E-A-L!

Students store their BAMs on their desk inside of these containers which I found at the Dollar Tree. They come  in a 2 pack and are actually used to hold paint and students brushes.

I attach them to students desks by placing a small velcro dot on the bottom and placing a label on each container that says BAM. That's it, every student now has a compact BAM container that sits on the corner of their desk and can easily be removed when needed.

How can students earn BAMs?
Students earn BAM’s in many ways, but here’s a list of some of the common ways MY students earn them:
class participation
random acts of kindness such as helping a fellow classmate without being asked to do so
returning weekly Home Communicators on time (student work folders that parents review, sign, and return)
recalling information that was previously learned
AMAZING classroom behavior when a guest enters the room
sitting quietly when the classroom phone rings
excellent cafeteria/ hallway behavior
taking a risk and trying to answer a question when nobody else has a clue
well thought out response to a challenging question
trying really hard even though they might have the incorrect answer
making a study guide for a test, even though the teacher never assigned it
going above and beyond what is expected
excellent teamwork 
If a student finds a BAM on the floor and turns it in to me, I usually let them keep it for their honesty

These are just some of the reasons my students earn BAM’s, because you can pretty much give them whenever you want. 

At least that’s what I do. If I notice that my students hallway behavior is slipping, I simply grab a few BAMS in the palm of my hand and let them know that I’m on the lookout for some Amazing Behavior. 

I wish you could see their reaction... BAMS's are like GOLD nuggets in my room!

What do students do with the BAMs once they’ve earned them?
The second a student is awarded a BAM, they place them inside of their personal BAM container. In the beginning of the year, we go over a few rules to make sure that everyone knows the dos and donts

  1. Students caught playing with BAMS will have them taken away. 
  2. Students caught stealing BAMs will forfeit their BAMS. 
  3. Students caught playing with the BAM container on their desk, will have their BAMs removed from their desk 
Every other Friday, the kids are then given an opportunity to trade in their BAMs for different tokens or to save them for next time. Here’s a picture of some of our tokens...

Some of the kids favorites are Lunch Bunch, Pick a Chair, and Eat a Treat! 

Next semester I’ll probably ask them for a few more token ideas, and then I’ll create them and add them to the mix.

How do you know if BAMS are going to work in your classroom?
You don’t! There’s really no way of knowing ahead of time if your students are going to respond to BAM’s. However, I can say that in my experience, if you establish a clear set of rules from the beginning, stay consistent in awarding BAMS for desired behaviors, show students ALL the ways they can earn them, and make it a BIG DEAL... chances are they’re going to be as excited as my students are!

True story: Last year, I did NOT use BAMs with my class because I wanted to try something new. On a few occasions former students visited my classroom and one of the first things they each mentioned was what had happened to the BAMS. Apparently, something as simple as awarding kids fuzzy pompoms was important enough for them to remember.

So if you’re tired of the same behavior system, looking for a change, or just need a new plan because what you’re doing is not working, think about trying BAMs. And if you do, I’d love to hear how it goes!

5 Tips for Students with Poor Handwriting

I just blogged on iTeach Third about some tips I use to helps students with poor handwriting. Here's the post...
Every year I have at least 1 or 2 students with really poor handwriting. I’m sure you’ve experienced it too... You know , the students that like to write ONEREALLYLONGWORDWITHOUTANYSPACESINBETWEENANDINALLCAPS! How about those whose letters always seem to float off the paper like balloons. My personal favorite, are those that can’t even read their own writing, but expect you to understand it!

Well after years of struggling to read some of my students' writings, I've come up with a few tips and strategies to help my kiddos out.

Let me begin by saying that I understand that we live in a digital world where most of what we write takes place on some form of a digital device... we type rather than write nowadays. However, I still think that it's important for every child to be able to communicate effectively the old fashioned way... with a pen or pencil. So here's how to help those poor babies whose writing might look somewhat like this...

Use Graph Paper:
I like to use graph paper or grid paper for my students that have difficulty with letter sizing. I usually print out a few copies of this 1 cm graph paper to have handy whenever I neat it. I then have them practice copying the sentence "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." (This sentence uses all of the letters of the alphabet.) I tell my kids that they can only write one letter inside each box and that their letters must stay inside of the box. This activity helps them practice keeping their letters uniform.

Use Small Stickers or Stamps:
I like to use small stickers or stamps for students that like to squish their words together. To help them remember to leave space between words, I ask them to place a sticker or stamp between every word. Students love using stickers and stamps so this trick helps them remember to space correctly! As long as you don’t mind a few stickers on your students work, this trick has been a winner with my kids! They love using stickers so much, that they WANT to space their words so that they can use them.

Use Shaded Paper:

Shaded Paper, as I like to call it, (otherwise known as highlighted paper) is great to use for students that have difficulty with letter formation and dont quite understand that some letters hang below the line and others go to the top of the line. My favorite shaded paper can be downloaded for free here. In this picture, you can see how the first time my student copies the sentence his letters are too big, however, he does MUCH better on his second attempt. Also, notice how he's using the stamp to space out his words.
Try Different Pencils:

Many times my students with poor handwriting write so hard that their pencils have absolutely NO POINT on them. The flat point not only makes their writing messy, but I also believe it’s part of the reason their letters are illegible. That’s why I like to give them mechanical pencils with different sized lead to try out. This helps make sure that my students are writing with a “sharp” point at all times. At first, your student will tend to gravitate back to their #2 pencil, since that’s what
they’ve been used to writing with, a flat tipped pencil. But encourage them to 
keep using the mechanical pencil. At least until you start to see some improvement in their handwriting.

Use a Pencil Grip:

With some students, I’ve found that part of the problem lies with the way they like to hold their pencil. I’ve found that some of them don’t like the feel of the gritty pencil tip against their skin so they hold their pencil in all sorts of weird and uncomfortable looking ways. So with these students,  I like to introduce pencil grips. Again, there are a few different varieties out on the market so test some and  see which one your student feels most comfortable with.

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