Update: All of my Homework Helpers featured in this post are now available in a bundle. Click HERE!

So, it's spring break in Florida and it's COLD! Well, cold by Florida standards. We're on vacation in Orlando and have a poolside cabana booked and everything...and it's pretty much just sitting there. Sixty degrees is way too cold for this girl to get in the pool. Sadsville. But we're making the best of it and just enjoying some downtime. Of course, I'm never far from my laptop, but I actually really love having uninterrupted time to create and blog. Today's post is about my newest obsession, different ways to use my monthly Homework Helpers pack.

One of the best things you can do for classroom management is have a consistent routine. That's why I like having something my kids can handle independently but is still a bit challenging and fun for them. This year, it's been my Homework Helper packs. I started out making them with first grade in mind, so I was surprised when I tried them with my own class and they really enjoyed them and actually needed the practice with the skills on each page.

Almost immediately after I posted the first pack for sale back in November, someone asked me to post a copy with the word homework removed so they could use it in class - brilliant idea! In the November through March packs I included two separate files, but for April I just removed the word homework altogether so that you can use the pages however you choose - homework, morning work, seat work, or even enrichment activities! Or mix them up - I've made them progressively harder to include new skills we learn as the year goes on so even though the format is familiar, you won't hear your kids claim that it's too easy, boring, or repetitive.

Each set has seasonal graphics and activities to keep the kids interested and teach them something new. I researched all kinds of different holidays and celebrations for each month so that besides the obvious, there are pages with topics like Golfer's Day, the first space shuttle launch, Children's Book Week, Poetry Month, and Scrabble Day. Making the Scrabble Day page was a serious nightmare labor of love, starting with making my own little baby Scrabble-like tiles. In fact, I have to share that page with you because after all that work I want it to be used by as many people as possible! Just click here to download that page along with my Poetry Month page for free. {Wait till you read my poem about parrots and carrots. I have no idea where this stuff comes from...}

One of the things I always, always, always think about when I'm creating is "Is this worth the copy?" I know that copy budgets are limited and I often find myself at Kinkos paying for copies myself. So I want to be sure that I pack each page with so much relevant, rigorous, meaningful work that the answer is always - yes. So with these sets the kids will spend time searching a book they're currently reading to find certain parts of speech, they'll read clues and use phonics and critical thinking to determine a word, they'll practice editing and grammar skills, they'll get some review and practice on a math concept or two and they'll write a sentence or explanation on a given topic. To me, that's definitely worthy of a copy. And removing the stress of finding appropriate homework, morning work, or seat work that will keep the kids engaged and excited is a huge weight lifted. I've been asked if I have a bundle of these for sale - not yet. But as soon as I create the sets for May, June, September and October I definitely will. However that's not likely to happen until the summer.

So be sure to download and try out the freebies here and let me know what you think! 

And just a couple of little updates - Ashley B was the winner of the Kindle Fire giveaway. Yay! I hope you all really loved the free resources as much as I did. I'll definitely be using more of them with my kids.

And finally, the printable companions have now been added to all of the writing task card sets for December, January, February, March, April, May, and June as well as
Bundle 2. Now I'm working on the rest to complete Bundle 1, which will be done way before we need them for next year.

Well, I'm going to get bundled up and find something fun to do today. Shouldn't be too hard - after all this is the happiest place on Earth, right?

So, let me start with a little personal story. When I was about 13 years old, one of my sisters was already married and living in a little house with three small children. One early morning, we got a frantic call that her house was on fire. By the time we raced over to her, the entire duplex was engulfed in flames. Nothing could be saved. I'll never forget the surreal feeling of seeing the appliances and furniture melted into unrecognizable twisted black objects. I can still picture the firemen shoveling debris out of my baby nephew's window and seeing part of his favorite My Buddy doll among the mess. Luckily my sister and her family made it out in time, but they lost everything they had.

Fast forward about 10 years to my other sister living in New Jersey. Another panicked phone call. Another house destroyed by a fire. This time due to a downstairs neighbor falling asleep with a cigarette. Another sister who lost everything, but thankfully wasn't home at the time.

I know it's hard to believe that both of my sisters' houses burned down, but it's true. And it's the reason why I am vigilant about fire safety in my own home. So as you can imagine, fire safety is a topic near and dear to my heart, so when I was approached to review these materials from FEMA and the National Fire Protection Association I immediately responded.

Although thinking about a fire in your home can be a scary prospect for a little kid, the videos produced by FEMA/NFPA do a great job of informing and teaching without bringing out that fear. Check out this first video called Little Rosalie. {You can also access it on You Tube or School Tube}

It's suggested for grades prek-1, but my second graders actually really liked it. Around the middle of the song when everyone is dancing outside, they asked if it was a brain break and if they could dance along!

This next video is called What's that Sound and it's aimed at grades 2-3. It features a rapper with some interesting bling who flies around on a smoke detector. And the kids loved it. They were up dancing and singing almost immediately. Be warned, the Beep Beep chorus will be stuck in your head for a while after watching! {You can also access it on You Tube or School Tube}

There is also a wealth of quality prek-third grade teaching resources available free to you at Sparky's Schoolhouse. I was especially impressed with the opinion writing activity - complete with great common core standard connections for second and third grade. It is really well thought out and includes printables, teaching ideas, assessment ideas and integration of the music videos.

Taking just a bit of time to incorporate these fun videos or lessons could literally save a life!

And as a thank you for watching the videos and checking out Sparky's Schoolhouse, they are giving away a Kindle Fire to one lucky blog reader! All you have to do is enter using the rafflecopter widget below. Good Luck, stay safe and check those batteries in your smoke detectors!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
I have a lot of thoughts on teaching writing. I love to read a great mentor text and lead my students through a shared writing experience. I know the importance of teaching my students the entire writing process, and I do teach it. I also know that the schedule of most teachers' classrooms doesn't always allow for this leisurely pace of writing instruction on a daily basis. I've also seen that many teachers struggle with teaching the writing process at all. If you are not comfortable writing, if you do not consider yourself a writer, how can you teach others to become writers? Writing is an art form and great writing and real authors are not born out of scripted writing programs or formulaic structures. But yet, that's exactly what we're expected to do.

Most schools probably have some type of writing curriculum in place or some outline that teachers are expected to follow. You may or may not agree with it. You might love it. You might hate it. But unless your kids are actively writing every.single.day and being exposed to MANY different forms of writing beyond expository and narrative, the budding authors in your class will probably not blossom they way they otherwise might.

So to bolster my other direct writing instruction, I've been using printable writing journals with my students. They actually started out as monthly task cards that I would put out at the writing center. 

The topics were fun and varied, and the kids seemed to enjoy them, but the results always left a little to be desired. If the task was to create a venn diagram, write a letter, or design a poster, they would spend so much time working on the layout that little time or effort was left for the actual writing task.

For a while, I had the idea to make printables of each task card to leave at the center. Then when I thought about the copying and management, I decided against it. Then back in December, I decided to make them into little printable books that my kids would keep and write in each month. Perfect solution!

At first, I was having the kids work on them independently as part of Work on Writing for the Daily Five and the results were better, but I knew they could still be improved.  

So now instead of just letting the kids loose to write in the journals we're taking a different approach and the results have been amazing! 

Now we take about 10 minutes each day to read a topic together and discuss the real objective of the activity - which may be writing a good list, completing a graphic organizer to compare, do a little research, write a story, share an opinion, or reflect on a topic to name a few.  Then sometimes I model one way to start the piece or ask students to share how they might start. We then turn and talk to our table partners to gather some more ideas, then we write. Since these activities are all on half pages, the kids are a lot less intimidated to get busy. I swear, seeing a whole blank page really stops some writers right in their tracks. They get stymied just wondering how they will find enough words to fill up that whole giant page. Now, that pressure is removed and along with the discussion and modeling, even my most reluctant writers are making awesome progress! 

They loved writing the story about how a leprechaun would trick a teacher. Some were so inspired they needed more room to write, so we used a large sticky note. And this is from kids who used to count lines on the paper and freak out thinking about how they would fill them all!

When we miss a day of writing, I have kids asking for it. Now that has never happened to me before. They get excited when I tell them we're going to work in our journals. Just knowing that I'm taking away the writing anxiety that some of my kids had and bring a love of writing to some others makes this all worth it.

Another plus is that parents now get to see the writing their kids are doing in class. Previously, I would keep all of our writing in our writer's notebooks which only went home at the end of the year. I send these booklets home at the end of every month. 

Each set comes with 24 seasonal topic cards.  The printable journals have two topics on each page. I choose about 6-8 pages and staple them into a little booklet with a long reach stapler. Sometimes I collect the journals during the month and read through them, sometimes I wait until the end of the month since I hear them share and I read as they're writing most of the time. But I always respond to their writing with a short note on the reflection page. The reflection page was a real learning experience. They really didn't know what to do! I had some of them answering the questions just like general life questions. For "The piece I'm most proud of" I had one kid write about not fighting with his brother... we're on track now though.

I've made the journals from December through April, with May really close to completion. If you've previously purchased any of the cards, just re-download them to get the new version which includes the journals. I'll be adding the journals to the bundles when they are all finished, but if you buy the bundle, I'm happy to send you the printable journals directly - just email me with your tpt user name.

Just in case you're considering purchasing them for your class here are some links:

Bundle 1 which includes Back to School, October, November, December, and January
Bundle 2 which includes February, March, April, May, and June

Last weekend was a total blast. I drove up to Orlando for a meet up with some fellow Florida Girls!

Orlando is actually a bit of a drive for us, about 3 and a half hours if we make good time. But hubs and I made a little weekend out of it which  was fun. The meet up itself was at a local Olive Garden - look at this great turn-out!

It was organized by Lisa from Learning is Something to Treasure, Mary from A Classroom Full of Smiles, Amy from Learning Lessons with Labrasciano, and Tammy from Primary Paradise.

I snagged this nicely labeled pic from Applicious Teacher who is stinkin adorable and married to the clone of Mitchell from Modern Family. Seriously.

Before the meet-up I got to hang with the uber talented Kimberly Geswein. She was sweet enough to pick me up at the hotel so we could shop for a bit before the lunch. Check out this selfie. It might be my most favorite picture of me! All credit to Kimberly. If you follow me on IG or FB, you know I'm not a serial selfie poster because every time I try I look absolutely hideous! KG has mad selfie skillz.

During the meet-up I got a text from the hubby that he walked across the street from our hotel to check out Universal Citywalk. He sounded like he was having a grand old time by himself, so Jen Ross from Teacher by the Beach and I hopped in her van and headed over there to meet him! Her van did not like me. Or maybe it liked me too much because I had some serious complications trying to get out of it. I wish I had pictures or video of the moment. And that was before we started drinking out of mini-blenders!

Shortly after that, Stacy from Simpson's Superstars joined in the fun. We learned a lot about Stacy. Like she wants to have a pajama wedding with a donut cake. Sounds good to me! 

Later on Fern Smith joined us with her hubby. And later Yvonne from Mixminder and her stopped by for a visit. We ended up occupying that table ALL DAY. Like seriously all day. From about 3:00 to 11:00. It was great though. Hanging out with these girls was worth the trip in itself. I left wishing all of them lived even closer to me so we could hang out more often. Maybe Jen's good workout skills would rub off on me (probably not...)

If you ever have a chance to go to a meet-up, go! I've been on the fence about going to some in the past. I would think about all kind of weird things like, "everyone there will be so cute and trendy and I don't even own a bubble necklace" and "I'll go if I lose 20 pounds by then" to "what if I go and no one knows who I am?" Weird right? And so, so wrong. Every single meet up I've gone to has been totally worth it. The teacher blog world is warm and welcoming - accepting and loving. I may walk in feeling a bit anxious, but I leave feeling like I've been in the company of family. {The good side of the family, not the crazy, dysfunctional family you dread on Thanksgiving}

It was back to work on Monday, which was not so bad at all, especially when my Donor's Choose project arrived!

The big box contains an amazing bookshelf. I also got about 50 leveled non-fiction books, those two centers you see and 12 of the blue book boxes. I love those boxes so much I already ordered 12 more. I think I'm going to change out my whole library with them.

So of course now my room is upside down because as I'm changing my library around, it's leading to changing so many other things around... You know, classic Give a Mouse a Cookie stuff. But that's par for the course in my room.

So, that's what's up for now. I feel like I lost my blogging mojo for a little while, but I think, I *think* I feel it coming back! I've been doing some cool things in my room and snapping lots of pictures along the way. Can't wait to share them with you!

Have a great weekend, my friends.

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