Sunday, September 11, 2016

7 Constitution Day Activities for Elementary School Students

Click to Access and Download the Activities

Did you know ALL public school teachers MUST teach a lesson about the Constitution on Constitution Day every September? It’s true. If you teach at a school that receives government funding you are required to teach your students about the Constitution on that day each year. This post will explain how you can fulfill your legal obligation as a teacher while staying true to your values of developmentally appropriate instruction.

Here’s the thing…I don’t typically get into debates over politics and about how the people making the laws and policies aren’t teachers, but from an educator point of view it isn't ideal. Do I think the constitution is important? Of course. Should children learn about it? Sure. Do I see why they picked September 17th as the day that we must teach a random lesson? Yes. (It’s the day the Constitution was signed.)

While I do understand the thought behind it, as teachers we know that it is not best practice to randomly teach an isolated lesson about a topic that requires a great deal of schema and scaffolding (much less attempt to teach it only a couple weeks into the school year). In the past I scrambled to find something to fulfill my obligation as Constitution Day ALWAYS snuck up on me. Here you are busy teaching things like ALL the classroom procedures and routines to make the year run smoothly when suddenly you must switch gears and cover a civics topic out of the blue. Knowing this was the case for so many public school teachers I decided to plan ahead and created something purposeful and differentiated for a spectrum of grade levels and am happy to say I not only fulfilled the obligation to teach, but felt really good about providing the students with an engaging, meaningful day by including Constitution Day Activities that were appropriate for elementary school students. 

Know the History
It is important for the teacher to have an understanding of the Constitution. It’s OK if you don’t know a lot about the history of it, but you will need a basic understanding so you can teach it and address student questions that may arise. 

Read a Book
Select a book written specifically for children about the Constitution (see my recommended book list at the bottom of this article). Because of the complexity of the topic, most are a bit challenging to understand. For that reason this would be a great way to model how to annotate a text to improve comprehension. I found great success with using these interactive bookmarks in my classroom throughout the year both during the school day and as nightly homework in place of a reading log. My recommendation would be to pair the use of the interactive bookmark with the book.

Create a Learning Library
Do you have an area in your classroom for seasonal or thematic books? I have always found this to be an easy, yet extremely effective way to get kids enthused about books. By frequently rotating a display of new books facing out you will find your students are quick to show interest in exploring them. At the bottom of this page you will find a collection of titles you may want to purchase or borrow from your local library specific to Constitution Day. Having these books on hand will add clarity to the subject and serve as enrichment to those who choose to read them.

Write a Classroom Constitution
Because the U.S. Constitution is a complex topic typically taught in a higher level civics class, you certainly won’t be getting into too much detail in September at the elementary level. Instead, provide the students with a summary of what it is, why it was created and the purpose it serves. Enable them to relate to it by focusing on the aspect of community and the importance of “rules” to ensure the safety and well-being of all.

Examine and Interpret the Preamble
The first sentence of the Constitution is called the preamble. The preamble explains the purpose of the Constitution. As a whole it is very challenging for elementary students to understand. Breaking it down into smaller parts not only makes a good lesson on the constitution, but is an extremely effective way to demonstrate to students how to attack a text that is not familiar to them. Older learners can work on their own or with partners/teams to make flap booklets explaining their interpretations. Younger learners can create illustrations for each section. Both make a great display. Be sure to snap a photo of your completed bulletin board or chart for your teacher evidence binder as documentation that you are aware of your professional responsibilities and taught the required lesson.  I recommend pairing this lesson with a reading of We the Kids by David Catrow.
Create Graphic Organizers Together as a Class
Your students will be using graphic organizers throughout the entire school year ahead to sort their thoughts,  make sense of information and plan their writing. You can model how to use an organizer by reading a book about the Constitution and showing them how to fill in the information on the chart. You could also teach it as a shared writing experience by having the students come up and add to the organizer as you read.

Have Students Discuss and Support Their Own Opinions
When the Constitution was written it was the culmination of meetings between men with differing opinions on a variety of topics. They needed to listen to one another, share their ideas and make compromises for the good of the whole group. This obviously relates to skills they will use in the classroom. Use this opportunity to discuss how to have a discussion that is a friendly debate and put it into practice either in small groups or as a whole class. Use prompts that relate to the Constitution but only require a general understanding of it as the students will not yet have the schema to support more complex topics.

You could also have them support their opinions in a written form by posing a question that encourages thinking. Persuasive writing is a required skill in most grade levels so why not get started and multi-task the need to include the Constitution.

Show Videos
Videos are a great way to introduce, deepen and review a topic. They really help to clarify curriculum for your visual and auditory learners. There are a few good options for teaching about the Constitution.

Liberty’s Kids is a really good series with over 40 episodes that helps children understand the origins of the United States. It’s a cartoon that features young characters during major events in the Revolutionary War period. The episodes are all available online for free and since I was responsible for teaching that era as a social studies unit as well as a biography unit on historical figures during the Revolutionary War I showed my class many episodes. This one does a nice job of teaching children about the Constitution.

Complete a Jigsaw Activity Using the Bill of Rights
The Bill of Rights includes the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution and outlines the basic rights and freedoms of the citizens of America. Much like the Preamble, the actual wording is complex for young learners. But, if the terminology is explained clearly to them each of the amendments makes a great topic for further discussion. A jigsaw activity is a cooperative learning technique where students work in groups to teach each other something. Divide the students into ten groups and assign each group one of the amendments. Have them discuss it and record their thinking for clarity. Bring the class together and let each group share their section with the class.

{Click to Access and Download}
I welcome you to use any of these ideas in your classroom. I know how busy September in an elementary school is for teachers so if you need to save time I encourage you to download my Constitution Day Resource Packet. It includes a variety of Constitution Day Activities for elementary students. Any of the activities are great for fulfilling that Constitution Day requirement in a meaningful way and the resource as a whole is perfect for teaching about the Constitution in greater depth as well. Because I was moved to 4 different grade levels over the course of 4 years I know firsthand how hard it is to start over so I always strive to design my resources to be differentiated and include options for all grade levels so you can still use the packet if you find yourself in a new grade level in the future.

Books About the Constitution

Saturday, September 3, 2016

6 Problems with Flexible Seating in the Classroom

Are you using flexible seating in the classroom? If you are using flexible seating or are considering flexible seating you will want to read this article that points out 6 potential problems with alternative seating and offers solutions.

In education there will always be trends and Pinterest certainly fuels that. The latest obsession with teachers everywhere is “flexible seating in the classroom.” But, is an alternative seating classroom best for every student or teacher? Flexible seating success completely depends on how strong the teacher’s classroom management skills are, the flexible seating design, and how it is presented, implemented and maintained. I don’t want to be the buzzkill on the buzzword, but there are some issues that need to be discussed. 

This blog post will provide food for thought for teachers who are using or considering using flexible seating in their classrooms. It will point out potential problems and things you may not have thought about if you hopped on the flexible seating bandwagon without weighing all the pros and cons. 

Designing your classroom in an alternative manner provides your students with the opportunity to work in a relaxed environment. It sets the stage for collaboration and real world simulation. There are a lot of benefits and when executed properly alternative seating can be beneficial to your students. I caution you not to jump into flexible seating without thinking through all aspects involved and encourage you to reflect on your current classroom design if you have already begun using it.

Are you using flexible seating in the classroom? If you are using flexible seating or are considering flexible seating you will want to read this article that points out 6 potential problems with alternative seating and offers solutions.

Kids need structure.
Childhood anxiety is at an epidemic level. It’s important for students to feel safe and secure in their learning environments. Not knowing where they will sit day to day can be further cause for feeling anxious about going to school. For most children the need to have a defined, consistent space is real. Does that mean they need to stay seated in one spot all day? Absolutely not. But they do need to know there is a space all their own.

Solution: Offer a variety of seating and work spaces within your classroom but designate a table or a desk for each student’s exclusive use.

Be aware of IEPS.
Many student plans specifically include language about ‘preferential seating.’ Some students have disabilities that affect their abilities to see, hear, pay attention to, or participate in activities. Preferential seating means that a student’s seat is placed in a location that is most beneficial for his/her learning in the classroom.  It is not only good practice, but a legal requirement. Make sure your flexible seating design is in compliance with every student’s IEP.

Solution: Collaborate with the SPED team to define what preferential seating means to each student and guarantee those needs will be met prior to bringing in other seating choices. Have a plan that ensures the students with IEPs are not made to feel excluded from those alternative seats.

Safety should be a priority.
When I first started teaching my teaching partner removed the legs from a classroom table so it was close to the floor. The kids sat on the floor when working there. This seemed like a fun idea until a classroom aide delivering copies to the teacher tripped over the table and broke her shoulder. Many districts have rules against bringing in outside furniture of any kind. Be responsible and also know the liability you face if a students falls off a stool provided by you and chips a tooth or rolls off a yoga ball and cracks a skull.

Solution: Discuss your plans for your classroom with your principal. If you have his/her support determine how you will communicate the design to your students’ parents. Have them sign permission slips for their children to use the alternative seating arrangements. Spell out exactly what those seats include specifically.

Classroom floors are disgusting.
Think about how many kids have peed their pants or vomit on those floors over the years. Then add in the sneezes that have made their way down there. Now factor in that kids use the school restroom where little boys have “missed their target” and remember that the same sneakers that were just standing next to the urinals are now walking on your floors. And while we are at it lets also take into account all the other nastiness those shoes walk in daily.

Solution: Have your students each bring a towel or yoga mat from home to sit on when working on the floor.

Be cautious with use of the term “research-based.”
If you are telling your students’ parents and your administrators that you have elected to use a flexible seating design in your classroom because it is research-based be sure to look into the actual research. There is a lot of evidence that sitting at a desk all day is bad for the health of children and adults. There is also research that supports the benefits of physical and psychological comfort in the classroom. However, the lack of traditional seating has the potential to cause other issues that research has proven to be harmful. Often when you look at photos from classrooms with flexible seating you’ll see children sitting with their legs in the W position or else slumped over with curved spines. 

Solution: Be aware of all the related research and be prepared to speak intellectually if you need to defend your choices. Have articles at the ready to share if needed.

Choice seating means the students actually have a choice.
Some teachers are removing all the desks from their classroom and having the students work on the floor or at the one table that remains. Others have created elaborate rotation boards for the various seating options in the classroom. Twenty-five kids fighting over one beanbag chair is not flexible seating. 

Solution: Provide equitable options for seating. As I mentioned I successfully used alternative seating options in my own 3rd grade classroom for many years. I kept things simple though. I replaced my desks with tables, but every student had a designated seat that was their ‘home base.’ I kept my counter tops clear so students had the option to stand and work if they wanted. I had a class supply of clipboards and the children brought towels or yoga mats from home which meant students also had the choice of working on the floor.

If you are persuing flexible seating in your classroom you may be interested in these items. 
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Friday, September 2, 2016

11 Things to Know About Teaching Twins in the Same Classroom

Many teachers struggle with knowing how to teach twins in the same classroom. Some parents think twins should be separated in school while others feel their twins should be in the same class. In some smaller schools separation is not even an option. With multiple births on the rise, chances are all teachers will find themselves with sets of twins on their class list and be looking for tips for teaching twins.  This blog post will provide a list of eleven things teachers should know about having twins in school.

Never refer to them in the collective form. 
When calling students always be sure to use their individual names. Saying things like, “Jacob, Karlee, Braden and the twins will be in the blue group” sends a message to the twins and the class as a whole that they are a collective group and not individuals.

Schedule their conferences on two different days.
Even with the best intentions it is challenging to sit down with their parents and not find yourself switching from one twin to the other or using comparisons. It will take more time and the parents may actually be resistant because it will mean they have to come in twice. Explaining to them how you feel it is important to make sure each child’s strengths and areas for growth are discussed in depth and without comparison will be greatly appreciated.

Talk to them about their preferences in the classroom…separately.
All sets of siblings have different personalities, relationships and feel differently about things in the classroom. Ask them if they like to sit together or be in the same group. Find out what excites them about being in the same class as their brother or sister and what concerns them. But, here’s the catch…you need to do this privately one on one. If you have this kind of conversation with them together chances are one of them will differ to the other.

Never let on to the twins that you can’t tell them apart.
Do not call them over to look at photos you’ve taken and ask who is who. When in doubt place all the pictures on a table and instruct each child to go get his or her own photo. Likewise, never ask which twin is which. Avoid calling them the wrong names by using general terms with ALL students like buddy, pal or friend.

Never ever let on to the parents that you can’t tell them apart.
Moms and dads do not think it’s cute or funny when you joke about not knowing which twin is which. Also, when you ask a parent, “how do you tell them apart?” what the parent hears is “I am responsible for caring for and teaching your child and I have no idea who she is.” Take the time to come up with strategies and clues so you know who is who on your own. Speak to their former teacher and ask her how she did it. Talk to the specialists in your school who have had them before. Just don’t ask the parents. 

Be sure to include a note in your substitute plans explaining how to tell them apart.
Being a sub in a classroom is hard work. It is always in your best interest and the best interest of all your students to create detailed sub plans so the day runs smoothly in your absence. I have written a blog post and created a free ebook with printables specifically on how to prepare for a substitute teacher. If you have twins in your classroom you will also want to go a step further and include any additional notes about them. These may include how to tell them apart or even general tips such as, "don't ask them how people tell them apart" or "avoid making verbal comparisons about their physical features."

Teach the other students how to tell them apart.
What better way to model a lesson on Venn diagrams than by comparing and contrasting the twins in your class. Be sure to ask their permission first so as not to make them uncomfortable. If they are OK with the idea then make plans to meet with them ahead of time to plan the lesson. Perhaps even send the diagram home for the family to help with ahead of time. Have the siblings stand at the front of the group and ask them to help you lead the lesson. All of the items that get placed onto the chart should be generated by them. They can share ways they look alike and look different. They can also share similarities and differences with hobbies and interests that will help the other children connect with them and form friendships. Avoid having the rest of the class chime in because pointing out differences in height or looks can be hurtful.

Never make one twin responsible for the other.
It is not Anna’s responsibility to make sure Hanna brings in her homework. Ben shouldn’t be asked to remind Ken that library books are due back to school on Tuesday mornings. If Jenny doesn’t get her reading log signed the teacher shouldn’t ask Penny why mom signed one and not the other. Peer support is a great tool in the classroom. I’ve had my more responsible students assist those who needed support in being prepared for lessons or packing up at the end of the day. If this is the case in your room just pick a student that is not the child’s twin to offer that support.

Understand that even identical twins may have very different learning styles.
It seems obvious, but it not always easy when you are teaching two children who look, sound and act the same. Seek to find out their individual strengths and cater to them the same way you would when differentiating for all your other students.

Don’t hold back on an award, honor or opportunity because only one twin has earned it.
It’s not fair to avoid giving an award or a classroom job to one sibling to avoid hurting the feelings of the other. Find ways to make all the students feel valued and important, but if you genuinely feel one of your twins has earned the school’s “Student of the Month” award based on a character trait he has demonstrated don’t pick another student out of fear of upsetting his twin. The same is true for casting students in roles for class plays. 

Don’t be afraid to share your feelings about the twins classroom placement for the next school year.

Some states have a Twins Law that states parents have the ultimate say in deciding if twins should be separated in school or if their twins should be in the same class. There are pros and cons to both options, but truly it comes down to what is the best choice for the individual set of twins and the family. If you have valid reasons to think they should be separated for the next school year share them with the parents. Do so with facts and observational data and not emotional opinion. One year my teaching partner and I each had a twin in our class and we felt they would’ve been better in the same room. We talked to the parents about our thinking and they agreed to place them together the next year. 


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Monday, August 22, 2016


How exciting! If you are like me there were probably some things you wished you had purchased during the Teachers Pay Teachers back to school sale a few weeks ago. Well, lucky day!! Today TpT is offering a ONE DAY ONLY Bonus Sale Day.

EVERYTHING in my store is 20% off for today only AND by using the code "ONEDAY" at checkout you will save an ADDITIONAL 10%.

Below are some of my favorite resources that I've used with great success in my classroom over the course of many years and they've also been used with great reviews by THOUSANDS of teachers around the world. 

This resource includes everything needed to implement, manage 
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It will change the way you teach and the way your students learn.

By the way, if you are not already subscribed to The Clutter-Free Classroom newsletter I encourage you sign up. Subscribers receive weekly tips for organizing and managing a classroom as well as exclusive free printables. You can sign up here.