Sunday, July 16, 2017

Flexible Seating: What I'm Keeping; What I Ditched

Let's talk flexible seating! Some of you know I  changed my classroom into a flexible seating set up during the last school year. It was really exciting and so beneficial to my class. Once thing to think about if you are switching to  flexible seating for the first time, is that YOU, the teacher, need to be flexible. During the year some things were not working and I needed to change them up and some things worked great! I also implemented some new options too and I wanted to share with you what happened with my flexible seating last year. I also will share what I am keeping, what I ditched and why. Let's jump right in!

The most popular seating choice all year were the purple wobble stools. I got these from Scholastic and used lots and lots of Book Club points but they were well worth it. These are the Kore brand and are more affordable than some others. They can also be bought at If you don't have a Scholastic account, try a Donor's Choose project to get them!

The low table was also a success.  I simply took the legs off of a round table and it was perfect for sitting on the floor. I bought these $5 chair cushions at Walmart. One lost its stuffing but I am keeping the other three cushions. Though they do get gross! Luckily, they are machine washable however.
Another fun and successful option were these inflatable cushions. They are also from and I got them in May from a Donor's Choose project. They were really popular. Students like to use them when sitting on the floor and often took them to sit on when using one of our traditional metal school chairs.
Also, super popular are stability ball chairs. I started the year with these two from Gaiam. Note the legs which are supposed to keep them from rolling around. I will be honest and tell you that they still roll, but maybe not so much as other stability balls. I found my students were very hard on the ball chairs and we lost the green ball chair in the early winter and the blue one in the later winter. I ended up getting a few more through that Donor's Choose Project, however. I think this year my students may not be so rough on the furniture but I am planning to be super strict - like "no bouncing!"Just sitting and moving around a little will give students a gentle bounce and they don't need to excessively bounce on purpose!
See? RIP Ball chair!
Also, I definitely love my stools from IKEA ($5 each last year). I forgot to take a picture but you can see them behind the ball chairs in the picture above. They work well, stack for storage/end of the day, and I bought them in spring 2016 and they are still going strong. If you don't have IKEA near you, here are some similar stools on Amazon.

This was my beach chair/coffee table set up. I am keeping it, but one of the beach chairs broke. We also used cushions to sit on the floor and even ball chairs here. It was pretty well received!
Bouncy Bands are staying too! I wrote a review of them on my blog so if you want to learn more, please click here! I was really pleased with them! They are much better than wrapping plain old exercise bands around chair legs.

Last fall I bought two IKEA side tables - each one was about $8 each at the time. One of them broke (see below)! So I am keeping the other table, but wanted to be honest that one of  them didn't make it a whole school year.
Keeping my tall table - seen here -not very glamorous with the fan - but it was great for storage (we put crates for clipboards and our Journeys books underneath) and it was used every day, especially by about four to five of my boys and two girls. They could stand for hours! What is the modification, you ask?
My mom and I spent about thirty minutes (and I spent about $10 at Home Depot) covering the tall table which was bumpy and stained with some wood grain sticky drawer liner, but within the first two days of school, look what my little friends began to do. BOO! Gradually, they took off about 30% of the covering, so my idea is just to rip off the rest and if kiddos want to use the tall table, it just won't look great but will be functional!
This little area of two desks was our "nut free" table. Anyone could sit at it during work time but at snack my student who had allergies sat there with a friend. I ended up taking the desks and putting them elsewhere (spread out) because some kiddos really needed desks by themselves. Instead I had a half of a hexagon table; however, this fall, I think I will move another over and make it a hexagon nut-free table!
Also keeping - but with some changes - Sit Spots! I got some in the spring of 2016 and used them that spring and all last year. They were awesome. Sit Spots worked great for keeping my students in their own spots, and not sitting too close to each other. It also helped prevent certain students from sitting really far away or far back because they wanted to disengage. I had a flexible seating in my classroom, but I assigned seats last year on the hearts. In order to pay attention, my students had to be seated in the best spot for them, and as second graders, they really needed my help figuring out where that was. One change for this school year is that I will be buying round Sit Spots. I loved the hearts because they went with our heart program (community building and behavior) but some students tended to pick at the pointy edges - even if they were supposed to be sitting on the hearts - and over time a few got ruined. I really loved them and talked to Beth from Flexible in First who also uses them and we discussed the shapes and after that I decided the circles may be the way to go! Check out my original review of Sit Spots here.

All four of these can be seen in this  image: beige camp chairs, IKEA cushions (heartm and tally marks) pink easel style table signs and the odd, half sphere shaped light which you can see on the table.
Why? One of the camp chairs broke in September and the other got pretty much trashed by my students (note to self - don't buy chairs in light colors).  I replaced them with $10 black folding chairs (cloth seats) from WalMart. I forgot to take a picture of them so I will have to wait until I can get in to my room in August and unpack to show you.  I had to throw out the pink table signs because they kept falling on the floor and broke (I had a few of them around the room).  The strange light from IKEA apparently only lit up when it was dark, but the room has huge windows so it was never dark enough for it to light up, and anyway, who needs a night light in school? (I thought it was a regular light when I bought it). I am putting away the cushions even though the kids loved them; however, because they loved them, students would become possessive of them and fight over where the cushion should be and who got to sit on it. 
Here's a closeup of the easel style signs. Oh well!
Also, the lollipop style signs are getting ditched too. The tops would come off of the sticks all the time. And though it was a cute idea, I don't really need addresses from children's literature as table names. We ended up using practical names like "beach chair table" anyway!

Also, this peanut ball chair by Gaiam was a great idea, but didn't last long with my very active group (maybe 2-3 months) and also in my opinion, took up too much space. It was pretty wide/long.
I actually ditched these purple containers a few months into the year. The problem was the cups never fit just right and children just threw things randomly into the cups anyway so there was no need to have them to sort out materials. My solution was that I bought simple gray plastic cups from tTarget and only kept pencils at each table. Crayons, markers and glue went back on our green art supplies bookshelf. It worked out just fine!

I am so excited about Scoop Rockers! I got a set of 6 for about $50 from Amazon and found 4 more from my local Marshalls store! Can't wait!

 I am not getting these, but I saw them and was fascinated! I mean , who wouldn't want to hang in that sway chair? Reminds me of a cocoon! And that couch/chair! Is it a bean bag? Chair? Loveseat? Who knows but it kind of made me chuckle!

Let me know what flexible seating options  you are planning  for your classroom this year!  Best wishes!


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Tips and Tricks for Helping Students Work in Google Drive

Are you going to be taking the leap and using Google Drive and/or Google Classroom with your students? My second graders got their own school Google accounts three years ago, but it took me a while to get comfortable with the interface and learn how to best help them. This past year, I felt like I  knew what I was doing and also began to start creating digital products that my students could use in Google Drive, like this Digital Editing Practice and this Digital Writing Prompt Collection. Having my second graders work in their Drive account using Google Slides to complete these activities helped me figure out a couple more tips, and I am here to share them with you today! 

These tips are based on my own personal knowledge of Google Drive, and meant for those of you who know what Google Drive is and have a grasp on the basics, but if you want to learn more there are tons of how to videos for Drive and Classroom on and you can find more tips if you Google the topic, or even look on Teachers Pay Teachers! 

This has by far been the most valuable trick I share with my second graders. When working in Google Drive, whether in a Doc, a Slide, or anything, often they will accidentally delete a  text box or moveable piece, or enlarge something or flip it. The undo button saves the day! Students can also press CONTROL-Z to undo the last action. I taught my kids to try undo first or if they were not sure what happened stop, raise their hand and I would help. Probably 98% of the time undo saved the day! Redo was also great if a student (or I) pressed undo one too many times! 
It is not as hard as you think for young students to to get in the routine of making copies. Many times you (or whoever made the digital resource) will share a view only copy. Students will need to understand that when the doc says "view only" at the top they won't be able to type in it, and they can solve it simply by going to the FILE menu and choosing MAKE A COPY.
Sometimes you will download a resource and you or your students will open it and it will force you to make a copy. The screen will simply say "Make a copy of 'Document Title'" and you will not be able to access the document until you do so. You, as the teacher, can also force your students to make a copy of any view-only item in Google Drive. Rather then me reinvent the wheel, check out Alice Keeler's excellent explanation here. She has tons of great information for using Google with your students too.

It will be very important for students to rename assignments, especially untitled new docs in Google Drive or anything the students creates from scratch. I try and make my kids do this FIRST. Model it and a few students will get it right away, and some will need help a few times but soon after, even first and second graders will be able to rename documents. Why should they rename? If they don't,  they will end up with a bunch of items in their Drive called "Untitled" and not be able to figure out which is which. Also, if they have made copies of a lot of items (see #2 above), their drive will be filled with things called "Copy of". Again, this makes it a little harder to find things. As the teacher, you may also want to come up with a naming protocol for when students rename items in their Drive. I  like to have them put their name in the title or put it at the top of the doc with the date just like they would when using a paper.

At the beginning of the year, if your students are new to Drive, or are trying a new type of activity, you will need to model, model, model. For example, something we might take for granted as teachers is click and drag. You will probably need to model click first (so the moveable item is selected) and then drag. Also you will definitely need to model how to type in text boxes in a Google Slide. Many digital resources for students have boxes that say "TYPE HERE". Students will need to learn they need to click in the TYPE HERE box, and then delete those words (two examples of how shown below), and then will be able to begin typing what they want.

Two of my favorite shortcuts are Control-B for bold and Control-C for center align. You can to teach them to students and model for them how to use the visual or tool bar to bold and center align. Sometimes italics and underlining is useful too but when my students were typing poems in Google Drive they most often asked me how they could center align their text (like for cinquains or pyramid poems) or bold certain words or letters (such as in acrostic poems). 

Students often ask for help spelling words, especially while typing in Google Docs. You probably will want to model how to use spell check (under the tools menu). However, I encourage students to just get it down and do their "best guesses" until they are done typing. Sometimes young students or struggling spellers will still need your help because Google can't even guess what they were trying to spell or say. Once one of my students typed "sour trout" for "sore throat" (since they are correctly spelled words, spell check didn't know any better) , or  when a girl typed "cikis" for "chickens" (Google thought  she wanted to say "cheeks" or "kicks". Students with reading challenges may struggle to read the words that are suggested in spell check too, so be sure to be available for support as they spell check or consider buddying students up with a helper or tech expert. Also, a time saver in the long run is to have students add their own names or names they use a lot to the personal dictionary. They do this by clicking  Tools --> personal dictionary. Also a great resource is under the Tools menu where students can "Explore" to insert images from the web (usually there are restrictions or safeguards if your students are using a school Google account so the images should be okay (but try it yourself first and check with your tech support person).  If you ever used Adobe Spark, the images search is pretty much the same.

See if your school district technology assistant or expert  can set up student  logins so they don't have to type in the extension, which can be very time consuming and  error-laden for first, second and third graders. For example, in my district, students do not have to type in their full Google account email address,  such as  They only have to type in their name, such as myname. The extension is "preloaded" so it does not need to be entered. Ask about this - it is QUITE a help!

Teach students to keep their Drive organized - and teach them how to create folders for different topics such as MATH, LA, etc.  Did you know you can even color code folders? Check out this explanation here- it reminds me of the color coded folders in Seesaw where students upload assignments.

If you are looking for something special that is not already in Google Drive (especially Docs), it may have been created by someone already and can be found in the Add-Ons section of Google Docs. For example, you can find a thesaurus, a rhyming dictionary and other awesome tools to help your students!
Be patient with yourself as you learn and become familiar of the ins and outs of Google Drive and also with your students. Young students, even 5, 6, 7 years olds can work in Google Drive, but just like us they need to practice. However, you may find a couple kids that pick up on it really quickly!

Which leads me to your final tip, tip 10. Who are your experts? Within two or three sessions of Google Drive in the classroom you will know which students just "get it" (or maybe their previous teacher told you he was the Tech Expert in her class!). Tap into that, and enlist those students to be informal or formal helpers to others! It is great for self esteem and I find often those kiddos are better and quicker at helping peers than I am. I love when I get over to a student who had raised their hand and she says, "Oh I am all set. Joey helped me." Yes!

Thanks for checking out my tips and tricks and let me know if you have any tips or tricks of your own or a question! 

By the way, I took screenshots for this blog post from a couple of my digital resources for Google Drive and Classroom which can all be found at my TPT Store general link. If you want to look at all of the digital resources only, click here. Specifically, you saw screenshots from my Digital Writing Prompt Collection and my Digital Antonym Activities. Click on the image covers to get more details!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

How Google™ Slides Can Help Your Students Practice Grammar!

Mini-Lessons, small group practice, interactive notebooks, and watching videos are just a few ways students can practice grammar skills such as synonyms, antonyms, and homophones. There are also some great games, task boxes and reading centers that can be done in small groups or partners. But often, if you really want students to practice grammar, they need to do so individually and worksheets often provide the most targeted practice.

What if you want to incorporate technology? As of now, apps to get your students practicing are few and far between and the quality is often not terrific. Also some apps I have tried are too challenging for second graders. Apps also are not always engaging for kids. The solution? Using Google Classroom or just Google drive or digital products for which you only need a url. 

There are ways digital resources can help students practice antonyms, synonyms, homophones and more! With digital creations made for Google Drive, a teacher needs a Google account and her students  usually need their own Google accounts (for example all the students in my district grades 2 and up have Google accounts). Sometimes, students can use a digital resource without logging into a Google account, such as with this product from Erintegration:  Google Forms Interactive Math Story.  I tried it at home and it was terrific! However, some resources like this give you a shortened url to click or type in, such as a, but some school districts block shortened urls such as Make sure when looking at a resource that you understand how it is going to work and if your students will be able to access it on the school network. 

Since my students already have Google accounts, I prefer resources that go right into their Google Drive. Here is generally how they work. For something like Eat Pray Travel Teach's End of the Year Memory Book,  when you purchase it, you download a PDF from Teachers Pay Teachers. That PDF provides instructions to you as to how the product works and what you need to know. It also will contain a link (clickable or copy and paste) to a Google Slides product (or sometimes another type of Google Product). You make sure you are signed into your own Google account and click the link .You either will be forced to copy the Slides so you get an editable copy, or you will see a copy that is "View Only", so you will need to click "File" and then "Make a Copy". It's easy -> My second graders can do file and make a copy with no problem! Then you need to either share the document with your students (or if you are in Google Classroom, easy to assign it - Alice Keeler has terrific explanations like this one) or place it in a shared folder - here is an explanation if you're a real newbie.

So let's take a look at how a Google resource might actually work once it has been assigned or shared with a student. This is a walk though of my Digital Homophone Activities.

(sorry, don't know why the videos only align left)

If you prefer images to videos, these are the image from the product preview which show you some screen shots.
Here it shows you that students see a homophone hats page. You can peek at the student directions which instruct them to move the two correctly spelled homophones from the bottom of the screen to the hat. With the bottom activity, students look at the pictures and click and drag the homophone below the picture. So for example, under  the picture of the nose, students would drag the word "knows".
On the slides below students will look  at the picture and type a sentence where it says "TYPE HERE" that includes the homophone pictures. For example for the ball, she typed "The boy kicked the soccer ball".
For younger students, like my second graders, I prefer straightforward activities, and in Google Drive, that will include a good amount of clicking and dragging of moveable pieces which you will need to model first. First click, then you can drag. I also emphasize the UNDO button (looks like a curvy left arrow) because young kiddos (and older ones too) will accidentally flip moveable pieces upside down, make them huge or tiny, delete them, etc. The undo button is a lifesaver!  Also, young elementary students can even type words or sentences in a text box. Occasionally they will accidentally delete the text box because of distracted clicking but that UNDO button will solve it!

Here' a peek at what two different activities involving movable pieces look like in this walk through of my Digital Synonym Activities.

Here is a peek at some of the images from the preview on TPT.

With digital resources that involve several different activities like those above,  you may want to assign just a few slides at a time, or if you're feeling adventurous and your students are up to it, they can try all of them at once. I always give the disclaimer though, that digital resources are in no way a substitution for good instruction. You need to preteach and do mini lessons and other activities with all grammar skills. Google and other digital resources are great for practice and review but will not do it all. 

Finally, here is a peek at a short (only a few slides) Digital Antonym Match activity .  I will be adding more slides and activities to it over July 4th so the price will increase but right now it's super bargain priced. It will also get renamed to Digital Antonym Activities.

 Students click and drag the correct antonym so it is matched up next to the rainbow colored antonyms on the left side. Easy peasy!

Here's the video walk though from Youtube!

I will be putting together more blog posts about digital resources so don't hesitate to ask questions and comment! I'd love to know what you need help with and what you want to know!

I also want to share with you some of my favorite TPT creators who have digital resources available for elementary school. Head to their store and see if they have the keyword Google or Digital on the top left, or type in the search box for their store to find some great resources!

Della Larsen's Class - great for K-1 resources
Danielle Knight - lots for upper elementary and higher grades
and of course, I have growing library of Digital resources at my TPT store: