Motivation Cards

Whenever I come across a new way to motivate students, I hold onto it like a lost treasure. I haven't yet found the silver bullet of motivation that works for all students, but I've found something discreet that works for me across multiple age groups.

One day, I wrote a note on a 7th grade student's paper commending him for being such an active participant in a previous day's discussion. The note was so well-received by this student ("I'm going to put this on the refrigerator tonight so my Dad will see it!") that it got me thinking about I should really be giving more positive reinforcement to students for all those wonderful things they do throughout the day, and make sure that the message gets home to parents as well.  Having lived through the teenage years of dinner-time-talking (grunts, groans, eye-rolling and a lot of "I don't know"s), I wanted to come up with a way for information to flow home once in a while. Parents love hearing those message from teachers, but middle school students aren't very good at delivering them.

I decided to get business cards made up with a simple message that I could attach to a paper, or toss on a student's desk during the course of the class without much fuss.  While there are many places to have business cards made, I found great deals through an online company called Vistaprint.  I had 500 cards made for under $10. Here is what they looked like:

The 7th and 8th graders enjoyed getting them tossed onto their desk during our class discussions. It made me want to expand my idea to other areas. I began commending them for taking out a book and reading, for keeping their journals up to date, and even for kind acts that I caught them doing.  When I took on a new role that brought me into classrooms of younger students as well for writing lessons, I tried them out. They were a hit there, too.


Now I have all types of cards that I carry with me, to use no matter what the occasion.  When I walk into a second grade classroom, I'll see the kids taking their pleasure reading books out in hopes I'll give them a card for being caught reading.  They seem to collect them now, and I'm fine with that. I'll continue to get different cards made up, and I'll continue to hand them out for as long as they work....

Let me know if you have a great motivational tip. I'd love to hear about it!




Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

I had an opportunity to spend time celebrating Dr. Seuss Day with a class of second graders.  It's amazing how timeless Dr. Seuss books are - and how timely. We read The Lorax, which brings a strong message to light regarding how we all need to take care of our natural resources. The students are always entertained by his rhymes and whimsical drawings, but Dr. Seuss really hit a note with this particular group of second graders. They were not happy at all that the Onceler was cutting down all of the Truffula trees!  But most notably was the sadness expressed for the animals who would suffer because of it.  Empathy. For animals. Wow.

I had to pause when I realized it. They wrote letters to the Onceler stating why he should stop cutting the trees down. Over and over the sentences mentioned how the animals would be affected because  the trees provided food and shelter for them.  It was wonderful to see how the students connected to the characters and understood the importance of taking care of were we live, not just for us humans, but for the animals. A great message by Dr. Seuss!

After reading and writing, we took the time to crate a Lorax to accompany our writing.  A quick, easy project that nicely complemented our Dr. Seuss celebration.




Launching Our First Literacy Fair

Over the summer break, our district toyed with the idea of holding a Literacy Fair during the school year. Much like a Science Fair, the event would consist of each classroom (Grades Kindergarten through 8th) showing off their writing process and samples of their work.  Seemed pretty straightforward. Now we just had to break the news to the teachers that yet one more thing had been added to their plates. (Just what teachers want to hear when they come back to school on Day 1!)

The first thing we did was pull together a small core team of organizers. I was one, along with our Technology teacher, and our Spanish teacher. After some quick Google and Pinterest searches, we seemed confident that we'd be able to share some ideas with the teachers at all grade levels to help them understand what was being asked of them. (I have to say, I'm not sure how teachers survived in the years before Pinterest!) We began a Pinterest page of our own, asking teachers to share any ideas they came across to help each other out.

We did stress to the teachers that the display could easily focus on the great work that we knew would be happening in everyone's classroom, and didn't require the classrooms to do anything additional just for this event.  But, knowing how teachers are perfectionists who LOVE to show off their student's work, we expected that everyone would throw their heart and soul into it. And they did not disappoint.

We acquired funding to purchase enough tri-fold boards for each classroom to have at least one display. The boards were given to the classrooms about a month prior to the event.  We also began reaching out to educational corporations such as GoNoodle, National Geographic and Makey Makey to request donations to be used in some free raffles for those who attended the evening event.  Newsela, that great online resource of non-fiction and current event articles that one can gear towards different leveled readers, graciously donated a one-year subscription to their service which we raffled to our teaching staff.  That was a very welcomed gift.

I'd have to say that the teachers and classes really stepped up to the challenge of the displays. Because literacy plays a role in all subjects, it was wonderful to see that the Middle School Math, Social Studies and Science classrooms also had displays highlighting key domain-specific terminology.  There was a Spanish class display, and the Technology classes showed off their blogs and other technology driven literacy projects. Having chromebooks displaying the tech projects made that table display very interactive for parents and guests.

One other display that turned out to be very popular was the projection of GoNoodle onto a wall at the back of the gym. We set aside an area free of tables in hopes of showing the parents how the kids get a chance to clear their minds and transition using quick GoNoodle activities.  Amanda was able to keep many of the kids entertained, much to their parent's amusement, by playing the short stretching videos and silly songs that the kids enjoy during their school day. The best part of this display was watching the kindergarten kids up through 8th graders all doing the dances together.

The "Project Academically Talented" kids volunteered to do a "wax museum" display. You may have heard of this: kids dress up like their favorite characters and stand like wax figures. A small bell is placed on the floor in front of each display. When someone rings the bell, the characters go through a quick 10-15 second skit or speech about themselves, then freeze again. It's interactive, and the little kids get a kick out of seeing the older ones "acting".

We invited our local county library to host a table to promote their wonderful events and sign families up for library cards. They also brought along their mascot, Sparks, to pose for photos with the children in attendance.  A former student-author, who self-published two books on the history of the town, was also given a table to display and sign his books. Connecting back to the community is important, and we will be sure to always make sure we bring in community diplays in the future.

Our local teacher's union donated cookies which were a big hit (refreshments are welcome at any event!) with both the kids and the parents. We handed out bookmarks that featured a picture of our school mascot as well.

To help spread the word about our event, I printed small labels with the time, date, and "Come see our work on display" colorfully written on them.  The younger teachers put them in the student's homework planners the day before the event to remind parents to attend.

Well, I have to say that we never expected to see a line of families waiting at the door for us to open that night. For the weeks prior, we struggled with predictions of how many families we might see at the event. We were thrilled that night to see our expectations exceeded threefold!

I know that this will be an event that we'll repeat next year, and we'll find ways to grow it.  Enjoy some pictures of our displays from our school's first Literacy Fair!


Working with Young Writers

One of the things I look forward to each year is my after-school Writing Club.  For 10 weeks, middle school students (aged 12-14) sign up to spend an hour after school with me just...writing.  Luckily, my district recognized that not all students are involved in sports so they agreed to allow me to host a club that focused on creativity and writing skills. It's not STEM, it's not homework, it's not chess.  It is just a keyboard, an idea, and a bag of pretzels.  We talk while we write. We talk about ideas, about characters, about showing and not telling, about really cool names for antagonists and protagonists, about plots and conflict and appropriate topics and inappropriate ones.  And we write. We laugh, too, and build relationships and trust.  We need to trust each other since we rely on one another to offer true constructive feedback on our writing pieces.

This is the fourth year we've had our Writing Club.  I'm hoping to expand it next year to include a second session for younger students who have reached out asking to participate. In that group, I'd focus more on writing skills as we write, as opposed to content.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on working with young writers. Feel free to comment!