In the Trenches

Thoughts and Ideas from a Classroom Teacher

First Days of School

Teacher workdays start in two weeks, and I am counting down the days. I am one of those people who is ready for school to start just a few days after we finish up for the year. I can’t help it! Over the summer, my family and i moved to the Greensboro area, so I’ve taken a few weeks off from the blog in order to get re-settled. As I see that isn’t happening any time soon, I figured it was as good of a time as any to get started again. Over the next days and weeks, I will spend some time blogging about the things I do to get ready for a new year and activities for the first days of school.

The first thing I do every summer is stock up on school supplies. I try not to spend a ton, but there are things that I just can’t resist. This year I’ve taken advantage of Walmart’s price matching, and I’m loving not having to run all over the place for the best deals. Here’s a brief run down of the things that I always get to start the year…

1. 3 prong, 2 pocket folders (about 100) – at $.01 each from Office Depot, I can’t complain!

2. 1 subject spiral notebooks (about 50) – I can usually find these for under $0.10 each at some point.

3. Elmer’s glue sticks (about 24) – you can get the cheap ones all year at Dollar Tree, but for craft projects, you can’t beat Elmer’s for $0.25 or less.

4. Pencils (oodles) – I hate mechanical pencils, so I make sure that I have plenty in the classroom.

5. Highlighters (20-30) – these are something else that is worth stocking up on when you can get the high quality ones for a low price. They don’t bleed through and last a long time.

6. Crayola crayons (15) – at $0.25 or so, they are worth the money for the quality. I always make sure to stock up on some Crayola ones because they are the brand that includes white crayons. We don’t use them much, but when we need them, they are impossible to find for a decent price!

7. White address labels (2-3 packs) – I can usually find these at Dollar Tree and stock up whenever they are there. They can be used for everything! I start by making a name label for each student and printing 5 of them. They are awesome and so convenient!

Truthfully, for under $30, I can make sure that my students have a lot of the things that we need for various learning projects throughout the year. I try to get things that are multi-functional and can be used as needs evolve. Obviously, I ask my students and their parents to help us out by sending in a lot of these materials, but I will never let a student go without something that he/she needs. It’s much less of an issue if I can just grab the item from my cabinet and let them “pay me back” when (and if) they can so that I can do the organizing that I want on day one!

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Happy Pinning

A few months ago, I received an invitation from a friend to try out Pinterest, a content sharing service with allows users to share things they’ve found on a virtual corkboard. I liken it to visual bookmarking. I have to admit that the service is a bit of a time-suck. It’s easy to spend hours browsing what others and pinning in every area imaginable. I like the organizational component of it, and the visual piece really fits into my brain framework. I have boards for everything from different school areas to funny sayings/quotations to fashion to DIY projects to recipes. I think I get a bit over ambitious when it comes to projects, but it’s definitely a big girls’ wish list. I’ve been thinking about how to use this with students, if that would be possible at all.

Reviewing the Pinterest Terms of Service, it states that this service is for children ages 13 and over, but I would still be very careful about encouraging student use. There is no “child friendly” filter that allows you to review content that others are pinning, which is the default when you log in to your account. There is a possibility that images may appear on the child’s home screen that are not appropriate. If you are using Pinterest, or your children or students are, please just be mindful of this. This is my main red flag. That being said, here are some ways that I can easily see educators using Pinterest in their learning!

As Professionals

  • Pinterest is an endless supply of educational inspiration. You can easily follow all pinnings in the Education Category. This is a great way to find new people to follow.
  • Another great way to find people is to check with the blogs that you follow. Many bloggers are now adding buttons to their blogs to make it easy to follow them on Pinterest, too.
  • When you read or find something that you like or that inspires you, use the Pin It button to add it to one of your boards. That way you will remember to revisit it later. Remember to use the direct link to a site though (for example, a specific blog post, not just the overall blog).
  • Organize your boards in whatever way works best for you. I have boards for books, reading strategies, writing, Daily 5, vocabulary and more. I started out with Literacy, but that became too big, too fast.
  • Find blogs to read based on pins that you see others are posting. These sources for inspiration and ideas can lead to others, especially if you find a blogger or pinner with whom you find a connection. It’s easy to find kindred spirits on Pinterest.

As Students

  • Create a shared board for students in the same research group to access. Students can each add resources and ideas that they find to this group space, making it easy to access one another’s work.
  • Students can start independent learning and research on a topic. They can link their research boards to a class website, where others can see what they are learning.
  • Teachers can create different boards for topics that they are teaching in classes. These resource boards can be accessed by students at home or at school (if filtering allows) for enrichment and/or remediation.
  • Students can create a “book shelf” board, where they post pics and reviews of things they are reading.
  • Students can organize resources about their school or community for others to access to learn about them and their area.

Other Resources

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Common Core Resources

Educators around the USA are transitioning to Common Core national standards in Reading and Math, and we are all learning more about how these new standards will look in our classrooms.

Check out this awesome collection of Common Core resources from a public Symbaloo example.



Symbaloo is a great organizational site that allows you to pull together thumbnails from favorite websites. Check it out for all possibilities for your school and home lives! It’s definitely a whole different blog post!

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So Stinkin’ Excited

Last night, I had a total “geek out” moment when I discovered this site on Pinterest. It’s Classroom Organizer! The title is obviously fabulous in and of itself, but Classroom Organizer tackles a part of my classroom that I’ve been struggling with for years… my classroom library. Over the past 13 years, I have sought out every yard sale, Scholastic clearance, used book store, Friends of the Library sale, and clearance rack that I could find. I choose not to reflect on the amount of money I’ve spent on these books, but I also can’t put a value on them either. Having a huge collection of books for students is essential, in my opinion. But, I digress. Classroom Organizer is a web-based application, with Android and iDevice apps, that tracks your classroom library books and has a check out system built in for the students. The smartphone app scans books by ISBN (or you can import a csv file if you are already super awesome like that) and imports it automatically. I have some more playing to do with this site/app, but it looks more promising than others that I’ve seen. I love the fact that it offers reports on student books, the fact that students can enter reviews, etc. If you’ve tried it out, please share your thoughts. If you haven’t tried it, will you?

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Hi. My name is Kelly. And I love a foldable.


There are so many awesome things to do with foldables in the classroom at any age and with any curriculum area. Here are my top five reasons why.


1. Once the kids learn how to make one style, it can be used a hundred times in a hundred different ways.

2. They automatically allow for differentiation.

3. They can be made with whatever kind of paper or materials that I have handy at the moment.

4. They are a meaningful “back pocket” activity, meaning that when you have to change things up at the last minute, you can always go to a foldable.

5. They work even when the copy machine does not.



Here are a few resources on foldables that I have pulled together.

My Pinterest Foldable Board

Awesome Foldables Wiki

Get in the Fold! blog

Catawba County Schools Foldables Ideas Page

Reading and Study Skills Foldables


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Yesterday in my post about  Super Bowl math, I mentioned Livebinders as a resource I use quite a bit. If you haven’t seen Livebinders before, check out their website at This is an online source that works like a virtual 3-ring binder. You can organize websites, text, documents, etc. using tabs and subheadings in an easy-to-use and easy-to-share format. Creating your first Livebinder is pretty self-explanatory once you sign up. By the way, i’s totally free! Here are some of the Livebinders I’ve made and use with trainings and my students.

Reading Intervention Strategies
Rocks Rock
Skype in Schools
Another great feature of Livebinders is that you can steal other people’s great work and edit it yourself. When you search through Livebinders or find a Livebinder resource, you can add it to your own shelf for easy reference. When you add someone else’s Livebinder to your own shelf, it saves it as “Copy of…” so that you can keep track.  Here’s a great Livebinder that I stole!
Copy of Favorite Ed Tech Tools
Have fun exploring Livebinders. Be sure you have lots of time to spend. Once you get started, time flies!
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My Favorite Graphic Organizer

I use graphic organizers all the time in all of my classes. There are tons of awesome ones out there on the internet and in teacher resource books that you can run off for your students to use or project on your interactive whiteboard. I am a big fan of ones that my students can create from scratch in their notes or on blank paper. I prefer these because I know that my students can recreate them as a learning tool in their own studies. If they always associate them with a handout or pre-made graphic, students do not always make the connection of how to use them on their own. Below is my favorite graphic organizer format that can be used across the curriculum and in many formats. Besides that, it’s super easy to draw and offers lots of room in each section!





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Centers… I Mean Stations

Hi. My name is Kelly. I teach upper grades students using centers…. I mean learning stations. Older kids don’t dooooooo (over-emphasis on the drawn out sarcastic “do”) centers. I disagree. I don’t care what you call them. My students do awesome work when working in smaller groups with a specific focus for each group. Here’s a little peek into the types of learning stations that I use.


My stations are more like 4 activities to complete within a day, during a set period of time, with a designated peer group. Students spend about 20 minutes per day completing each of the 4 activities. The activities are independent, small group, partner or teacher-led. These are the basic outlines of each station in my Language Arts block:

1. COMPUTER: This could be anything from research to Edmodo (for reading response) to Study Island (for skill practice) to learning games like Spelling City.

2. BOOK STUDY: This month we are reading The Journal of William Thomas Emerson as a novel connection to our American Revolution unit of study. Students have a set number of pages to read each day and a series of discussion questions. This is done in their 4-5 student groups or they can break into pairs within their group.

3. LITERATURE CONNECTION: This week, our additional literature connection is a series of short biographical passages about women of the Revolution. Students are connecting what they are reading in their novel with this non-fiction information to create a broader picture of the late 1700’s. They are also able to connect fictional and non-fictional information to formulate questions for study later. I am leading this group, as many of the passages, need some additional help to “digest.” There are also EOG style questions to tie into these shorter passages to focus on different elements of literature.

4. BIOGRAPHICAL/TIMELINE STUDIES: Students are using research, trade books, the internet and other resources to create flip books about personalities from the American Revolution. They are also combining a variety of sources to create a timeline of events leading up to the war. They can work together for ideas but each student is required to create their own product.


Again, these stations take about 20 minutes per day. Students rotate through the stations and have developed a great working strategy. Groups change members as our stations change focus. It’s not perfect, but it can be done. I get to work with all of my students in small groups every day. When my student intern is here, she also gets to work with all groups. I do know, for sure, that my students say they prefer it to whole group instruction! Give it a try. Over the next few weeks, I will keep track of some of the types of activities we are doing. If you are an upper grades teacher doing learning stations, please share your strategies and ideas!

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Parent Communication

I am a firm believer in positive parent communication. I try to send good news to all of my parents throughout the year. But, I admit it, I am terrible about making phone calls. Something always happens and I forget, or it’s too late, or I’ve left the phone numbers at home. I finally developed a solution.

Have you ever gotten a stack of “A Note From Your Teacher” postcards that you really meant to use? Here’s your chance. At the start of a new quarter or Mailboxsemester, I get a postcard for each of my students. I address and stamp them and put them on my desk. Throughout the nine weeks, as the student does something “note-worthy” all I have to do is write the quick message and then drop the postcard in the school mailbox. A few days after I send a note, my student always comes in and mentions how they got the postcard. I’ve learned over time that it isn’t what you write or the event that you choose to reference. It is the fact that you send the note.  By addressing them all ahead of time, I don’ t lose track of who I’ve sent the notes too, and I don’t worry about leaving someone out. By keeping them on my desk, they are also another reminder to keep myself always looking for the best in my students! And, if you are bit geeky like me, I love making my own postcards too.

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