Plastic shoeboxes: a durable resource for classroom organization

My first post about classroom organization seemed pretty popular, so I wanted to write another post about how I organize classroom supplies.

Since I teach secondary English, occasionally I have students create projects that require them to cut, glue, draw, and color. And because of this, I need to have scissors, glue sticks, rulers, colored pencils, markers, and crayons in my classroom.

I keep them organized in clear plastic shoe boxes. These shoeboxes provide many benefits: they stack nicely, they are durable, and you can see their contents. I also use similar boxes to organize my son's playroom. I purchased these shoeboxes more than four years ago and they are still working great. I don't think I will need to replace them for quite some time.

I have a built-in shelving system in my classroom. My white boards actually slide on this system and hide the contents within. All of the shoeboxes with the classroom supplies fit inside.

The shoeboxes keep all of the supplies organized, and they also make it easy to get the supplies ready for students to use. Generally, I like to have two boxes or markers and two boxes of crayons, that way I can place them in multiple places throughout the room for student access.

How do you organize your supplies?

How to score FREE crayons!

Find out how I received hundreds of crayons for my classroom for free. I use crayons to teach my high school English kids how to write essays.
I've got crayons. I've got hundreds and hundreds of crayons, and I got them all for free!

Now you might be asking yourself, "why does a secondary English teacher need so many crayons?" Truth be told, the answer is simple. I need them because they are a great tool for teaching writing. I use my tubs and tubs of crayons almost every single month when I have my students write essays.

Since I teach a lot of EL students and struggling writers, I use crayons as a part of my instruction, and I teach my students how to color code their essay. As students brainstorm for and outline their essay, each body paragraph is assigned a color. Once they formulate their topic sentences, my students then underline each topic sentence in that same color. From there, I instruct my students to  underline each portion of their thesis in the correct, corresponding color.

Find out how I received hundreds of crayons for my classroom for free. I use crayons to teach my high school English kids how to write essays.
Color-coding essays helps students learn essay structure and organization. They understand organization so much more when they can visually see that every proponent of their thesis statement needs to be accompanied by a body paragraph in their essay.

Purchasing all of these crayons would be quite costly, so I am thrilled that I was able to get them all for free. You can also score tons and tons of crayons for free!

As I earned my teaching credential and Master's degree, I worked part time as a waitress at a restaurant. At this particular restaurant, every single child who dined at the restaurant received a brand new box of four crayons, and at the end of every single meal, the crayons were thrown away. Per restaurant policy, each child had to receive a new box of crayons each visit. It was a complete waste! So many crayons were thrown away each and every single day.

After talking to my managers, they agreed that it was wasteful, so, with permission, I kindly asked the bussers and servers to save the crayons (new and even used) for me. I placed a crayon donation box near the bussing section in the back area of the restaurant (where the bussers take the tubs of dirty plates to sort and stack), and everyone saved the crayons instead of throwing them away!

If you notice, many restaurants follow a similar practice; they throw away practically new crayons. These are crayons that can be used by kids across the nation in classrooms that desperately need more supplies. If you have a restaurant that you frequent regularly, speak with the manager about saving the crayons. If the manager agrees, supply a clearly marked plastic shoebox to the restaurant, and collect the crayons on a regular basis. You will be amazed at how quickly the crayons add up. Sure, you will most likely only get three or four colors, but for color coding essays, it is the perfect amount!

Student information organization

Organization was something I struggled with for my first few years of teaching. I wanted to have one area of my room dedicated to things my students need, but with 38 students and a classroom that wasn't built to accommodate that many, I needed it to be a small area.

So far I am finding that my current set-up works. As students walk into my classroom, there is a table and a bulletin board dedicated to things they need.

The table has three baskets on top of it. Two of the baskets are for my classes to turn their work in. I have one for each subject I teach.the other basket is for absent work. I usually get to this work later on. The students write the date of their absence on their paper and turn it in.

The table also has two staplers and two hole punchers on it. Sometimes I think I should probably out three or four staplers on the table. I make the staplers available to my students at all times because I cannot stand when students turn in multiple pages without stapling them together.

Directly above the table, I stapled three different folders to the wall. These file folders contain important information for my students. One holds their bell ringer logs. When a student needs a new one, they know where to find one. I also have a folder labeled, "while you were out." I put important information and handouts into this folder so that students can easily find information they missed. Finally, I have one labeled "no name papers." All no name papers get out into tis folder.

I post regularly updated grades on the bulletin board above this table.

So far I have found that this system works best for me, for now at least. How do you organize your classroom?

A Hands-on Learning Approach for Teaching and Assessing Writing Organization

How to teach and assess writing organization with a hands-on approach. This is an ideal writing lesson for middle school and high school English students.

As educators, we must always remain cognizant of the fact that students do not all learn the same way. Different strategies and different instructional practices reach students differently. I feel that this is especially true when working with EL students and students with special needs. That is why I try to incorporate as many different strategies as possible, and this one is one really gets the students working together and using their higher level thinking skills.

How to teach and assess writing organization with a hands-on approach. This is an ideal writing lesson for middle school and high school English students.
I recently had my journalism students complete this activity in class, but it works for all subjects.

The first thing you do if find text you want to work with. It can be non-fiction or fiction. It doesn't really matter. This strategy works with any text as long as it has some form of logical origination. Then, you cut the text into strips and mix up the strips. Finally, you place the strips of mixed up text in an envelope.

Since I did this activity with my journalism students, I used two news stories and challenged my students to not only separate the two different stories from one another, but also to reconstruct the stories and put them in order.

I had my students work together in groups of four, and completing this task took some time. The conversation generated from this activity was astonishing. They were telling each other why they thought one section of text needed to preceded another.

Once they thought they were finished, they would call me over to their group to see if they were correct. None of the groups got it right the first time. When there were errors in the organization, I simply pulled aside the text that was incorrectly placed. Soon enough, all of the groups were able to work together to piece together the news stories in the correct order.

I really like this strategy because it requires the students to work together, and it also challenges them in a fun and engaging way. They almost don't even realize that they are learning because they are so focused on "getting it right."

And of course, you can always make this more exciting by turning it into a competition.

Looking for close reading materials? Check out my Short Story Close Reading Bundle!

It feels GREAT to get ahead

As teachers, it seems as if we have a constant, never-ending to-do list that haunts our brains at night as we try to sleep. At least once or twice a week, or maybe every night, as we lie in our beds drowsily drifting off into a peaceful sleep, a sudden thought pops into our heads. We are suddenly reminded of something we have to do. And suddenly, we are no longer drowsily drifting off into a peaceful sleep. Instead our brains are going full throttle thinking about all of the work that we still have yet to do for our classes.

Sound familiar?

Tonight I just finished aligning my vocabulary words, activities, and quizzes with the Common Core Standards. Even though we are just starting Act I, I finished the vocabulary for all five Acts, and boy does it feel rewarding. You can check out the vocabulary bundle here.

Teaching a variety of different students all in the same class (Intermediate ESL through advanced English proficient students), I wanted to provide differentiation in my vocabulary lessons. I wanted to make sure that I challenged my advanced students while still providing scaffolded and differentiated activities for my ESL students. I've used these activities before in my classroom, but never for Romeo and Juliet before.

The table sort vocabulary activity is a hands-on, fun and engaging activity that really motivates the students, so I am excited to watch my students show what they have learned as they complete this classroom activity.

I am certainly looking forward to a peaceful slumber tonight....that is, until I start thinking up my next classroom activity and lesson.

Taking the Plunge: Romeo and Juliet

I love returning to school for the Spring Semester because that means I get to teach The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet  and To Kill a Mockingbird. I look forward to this semester every year.

Since I am in the process of aligning my curriculum to the Common Core Standards, I updated my vocabulary words, activities, and quizzes to better meet the standards. Teaching Shakespeare to struggling readers and ESL students is challenging, but I came up with a couple of vocabulary activities that I am hoping will make things a little easier for them. I created a table sort activity, two different vocabulary graphic organizers, a fun crossword puzzle for vocabulary review, and a simple vocabulary quiz for each Act.

I also wanted to make sure that I shared this resource with other teachers, especially teachers who might be new to teaching, or new to teaching ESL students.

If you are teaching Romeo and Juliet soon, I encourage you to checkout the vocabulary resources I created for Act I here. Best of all, it is entirely FREE!

My students are starting their vocabulary this week. After we return to school from the 3-day weekend we start reading the prologue.


Hi, and welcome to my blog.

This is a great time to begin an educational blog because it is a new year, and the new semester starts tomorrow morning. I am really excited to gear back up and get back in the classroom.

Seeing as how it is a brand new year, I have a couple ideas in mind for starting off on the right foot. In the very beginning of the school year I did a great ice breaker activity with all of my classes. It was a Post Secret themed activity, and it really worked. So many of my students opened up and shared some pretty deep secrets anonymously. I shared the secrets aloud, and by the end of the class period my students knew that they were not alone. Many had the same secrets, the same fears, the same hopes, the same doubts. I plan on having my students participate in another activity tomorrow that will hopefully open up their eyes.

The Crumpled Paper Experiment
In the beginning of class I will ask all of my students to get out a piece of paper. Then, I will instruct them to crumple it into a small ball as tightly as they can. Once this task is finished, I will then give them the impossible task of smoothing it out completely. They will work on their own paper. They will help their neighbor's paper. They will spend some time trying to smooth out the crumpled paper. I know that the paper will never be good as new, but I want my students to try and get their paper to look as new as possible. After several minutes of my students relentlessly trying to smooth out the old, crumpled paper, I will tell them the significance of this activity. Despite all of the work and despite all of the effort that they put into making their paper new again, the creases and lines are still there. The creases and lines represent the ever-lasting emotional scars that can result from bullying. After the activity I will give the students several minutes to participate in a free write.

After the Crumpled Paper Experiment, I am going to engage my students with a New Year's Goals Essay. I am going to ask my students to identify one educational, one social, and one community goal that they would like to set and work toward in 2014. This essay will take about two days in class, and then my students will be moving on to The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Fun times lie ahead!