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Crossword Puzzles: All Fun and Games?

Are Crossword Puzzles All Fun and Games?
Some educational resources out there are cute and fun but have very little educational value. Some are rigorous and relevant educationally but lack the engagement piece.

So where do crossword puzzles fit? We know they are fun and engaging, but are there other components that make them worth using during instructional time?

Here are some skills and practices that can improve with consistent use of educational crossword puzzles:

1. Vocabulary
We know that before a word becomes part of a child’s active vocabulary they need to read it, hear it being used, and practice using it a number of times.
Good educational crossword puzzles will repeatedly expose children to academic vocabulary increasing the likelihood of vocabulary retention and usage. 

Math Center Ideas Math Crossword Puzzles
View here
2. Writing Skills
Spelling a word 20 times to learn how to spell it is the most boring, torturous, unnatural thing ever! The natural way we learn how to spell is by paying attention to what we are writing!   Crossword puzzles require paying special attention to the correct spelling of every single word or they just don’t work! 

3. Reading Skills

When students read crossword puzzle clues, they must construct meaning to understand what is being asked and activate their schema to find the right answers. Without knowing, they are practicing important reading skills that can be applied to any text. 

Math Centers Math Crossword Puzzles
4. Logic and Critical Thinking
Solving a crossword puzzle requires following several steps and “tricks”. Kids have to read clues and locate the proper place to write answers, they have to consider how a new word will (or will not) work when intersecting with other words in the puzzle, they have to be aware of how many letters a word has and if it matches the number of boxes they have to write in, they have to pay attention to spelling, and other crossword puzzle specifics that require using logic and critical thinking – skills we want our students to have.

5. Integration
Integrating subjects is good practice and it helps teachers “fit it all in”.
Using educational crossword puzzles is a way to integrate reading, writing, content specific vocabulary, and background knowledge.

Math Center Ideas Math Crossword Puzzles
6. Stamina and Concentration
Educational computer games with moving pieces, sounds, intricate visuals, and extrinsic rewards serve a purpose, but they don’t help our children develop the stamina and ability to focus on a single task, which are requirements for sustained reading. There is something intrinsically rewarding about completing a crossword puzzle that motivates students to read all the clues and focus on what they are doing. This is an activity that helps build stamina and concentration.

7. Flow
Experiencing “flow”, or that feeling that nothing else matters and you didn’t see time go by, is a de-stressor. When children engage deeply in crossword puzzle solving, they are not burdening the frontal lobes of their brains with the stress that multi-tasking creates. It’s a relaxing activity.

8. Learning Alternative
Students who lack motivation, get tired easily, or simple don’t respond well to traditional worksheets, might find crossword puzzles to be an engaging alternative.

Math Center Ideas Math Crossword Puzzles
View here

9. Later On
Although we are talking about children, the Alzheimer’s Association recommends solving crossword puzzles to slow down the development of dementia.

If you’ve never used crossword puzzles in your classroom and feel like giving it a try, I hope these arguments help you decide if they are just fun and games or totally worth a shot! 

Math Center Ideas Math Crossword Puzzles
Click to Preview 1st Grade Puzzles 
Math Center Ideas Math Crossword Puzzles
Click to Preview 2nd Grade Puzzles

Math Center Ideas Math Crossword Puzzles
Click to Preview 3rd Grade Puzzles

20 Questions to Ask Yourself When Preparing for the First Week of School

I'll just say it.

It's not how cute your classroom looks. What truly matters on that first week of school is how carefully you have thought through logistics, and how present you are with your students.

Here are some things to think about during the Summer and pre-planning days. Figuring out answers to these questions will make a huge difference in how smoothly things will work in your classroom. 

1. How will I collect school supplies when my students bring them on the 1st day of school?

I struggled with this for too many years, and I don't want you to do the same! If you don't have a plan that you are happy with, take a look at this one.
Read about a 3-Step system right here!

2. Where will my students sit and what will they do when they come in on the 1st Day?

There are pros and cons to having assigned seats right away and to letting students sit where they feel comfortable. Think about both options and how you feel about each one. Also, consider a compromise where you let kids sit spontaneously at first, and once you become familiar with them, assign their seats. 

Make sure you have something engaging, educational, and that students can work on independently when they walk in the door. I had book bins and worksheets that reviewed Kindergarten skills.

My big tip here, is to model good independent work behavior as soon as possible. Students should know to spend quality time with each book even if they can't read all the words and to put effort into the morning work you give them.
Model the behavior you want to see.

3. How will I call students to the carpet? Where will they sit?

Think about what you want your students to do.  A few things to consider are: push chairs in, walk nicely, sit with enough space between each other, sit in rows or other assigned seats, put your work away and clear your desk, and other things like that.

Implement routines from the beginning.

4. How will I call students to line up at the playground?

How do you get them back?!
I've seen teachers clap, call, use a whistle or a chime. Let your students know what they'll need to pay attention to BEFORE going to the playground. 

5. How will I get students' attention throughout the day? How will I quiet them down?

YouTube is a huge source for this! I love the Attention Grabbers by Dr. Jean!
Practice these throughout the day and stay consistent.

6. What is my system for sharpening pencils?

Oh, boy. Another tough one! Pencil sharpening and pencil keeping are a struggle in everyone's classroom! I don't like to brag, but after a few years of trying different things, I nailed a system that worked really, really well! Read that blog post here!

7. What will my classroom rules be?

I'd suggest that you keep your rules short, simple, and easy to remember. Go over them for at least 2 weeks until your students really understand them.

8. How will I pass and collect papers?

Here's something to think about... 
If you wait until you want to do an activity to hand students one paper at a time, you will lose precious time and engagement. 

Some ways to pass and collect paper are:
  • Have a "paper passer" or a "table captain" at each table who is responsible for dispersing and collecting papers from their peers. In this case, you hand those kids enough papers, tell them where you want the papers placed at the end end, and they do the rest. 
  • Place a stack on each table and let the kids get their own papers. At the end of the activity the kids make a neat pile and you collect the papers all at once.
  • Lay out papers when kids are engaged with something else or before they come in.

9. Where will I keep the worksheets and materials I'll use each day?

Think of a system that you can follow consistently. It really helps to know where your materials are.

I always used folders. As soon as my copies were ready, I'd file them under the right day, and voila! 
Also a great system to have when preparing for a planned absence! Here, Substitute Teacher! All you need on Wednesday is inside the Wednesday folder! Easy, breezy!

10. Where will I keep the papers that I collect from the students?

Something that you might want to consider is separating work that needs to be graded from work that doesn't. You want to have quick access to graded work so you're not wasting time sorting through everything.

Also, how much are you planning on grading? How much are you planning on sending back home? I learned throughout the years that a small part of student work can be discarded. The work they do is necessary for them to learn, to practice skills, and for assessment. Be careful not to spend more time than necessary shuffling through papers.

11. Where will I keep samples of student work and other personal information?

Think about where you will keep your students individual folders. These are great for keeping samples of work for parent conferences, notes that parents write, and any other personal information that you might need later on.

A bin with folders worked well for me.

12. How will kids access their water bottles and snacks?

This is something I'd ask my fellow teachers about. Sometimes schools have policies, or grade levels have something they do consistently across the grade.

My students kept their water bottles on their desks and their snacks inside their desks. They would bring all of that out of their backpacks during arrival in the morning, and be all set when snack time came.

13. Will I have a newsletter to communicate with parents?

Again, some schools have a policy about this, so make sure to inform yourself!

If newsletters aren't mandatory for you, I'll argue that it's still a nice thing to do. Keep it simple if you are overwhelmed. Choose a template that has boxes and titles formatted for you, and add just a few important things. Once you get the hang of it, you can write something more detailed. 

Keep in mind that many parents are overwhelmed too and prefer newsletters that go strait to the point.

Check out these tips on how to make Newsletter Writing Easy Breezy!

14. What happens if a student needs to go see the nurse?

Do you need to send them with a form? Do they need a buddy to walk them? Ask your peers so you're informed from the beginning. 

15. How will I send papers home each week?

Typically, you'll have to send papers home at least once a week on Friday. Think about where you'll keep those papers and how your students will access them.

Mailboxes are a great way to send papers home. There are lots of options available!

16. What homework will I send?

If your school requires that you send the same homework as your team, then this question is taken care of. 
If you are in charge of finding your own homework, there are many excellent options out there, and I'm sure you'll find something that fits your needs. 
If you want a place to start, I'd love for you to check out the homework packets I made.
This link takes you to my TpT store where you can browse my categories (column on the left) and look for the type of homework and grade level that you need.

17. How will I prepare for days that I might be absent?

Getting student information and emergency plans ready for your sub should be a priority on your Back to School to do list.
It is the professional thing to do, and it might be what keeps you from going to school when you are sick!  
Here are some important pages to have in your binder. You can read more about how to create your own binder here!
Read about it here.

18. How will I dismiss my students?

Don't overlook this last part of your day. By dismissal time you'll be tired, and your students will be "done". This is the perfect combination for things getting out of control.

Allow yourself plenty of time to check that everyone has the correct bus tags, that they know where to go, that they have everything they need, and that they are paying attention to the dismissal process.

19. What happens if I need to leave the classroom (bathroom or other emergency)?

Ask other teachers what they usually do when they need to leave the classroom. It's nice to know in advance what the procedure is for leaving your students.

20. How do I call for help if there's an emergency with a student (classroom and playground)?

Another great question to ask so you are prepared. Some classrooms have a button on the wall and others have phones. Find out what your "emergency" plan is before that 1st day of school!

That's it!

I hope thinking about and finding your own answer to these questions helps you prepare for a smooth school year!

For more classroom management tips check out these posts:

For Back to School Resources click on these thumbnails:

See it here. 
See it here.

See it here.

See all of them here. 
See it here.

A 3-Step Plan for Collecting Supplies on the First Day of School

Collecting Supplies during Back to SchoolFirst day of school.

There's nothing cuter than little kids walking into a classroom carrying larger-than-life school supply bags. One after the other, they march in desperate to hand in the heavy, cumbersome items that are their tickets to starting a new school year.

But on the receiving end is ... you!

You!  Overwhelmingly trying to greet everyone, answering questions, giving directions, smiling at the new student that wasn't registered, AND collecting endless reams of paper, glue sticks, pencils, markers, and "hanitizers".

If you don't have a plan, you will end up with supplies piled up all over and a ton of extra work to do!

Here's a 3-Step Plan that can save you time and keep you sane when collecting supplies on the first day of school.

1. Lay Out Containers!

Collecting Supplies during Back to School
Use similar supplies to show students what goes in each bin!

Lay out containers on the floor. 

If you can, try to use the bins in which you will be keeping the supplies for the rest of the year. If not, big boxes will do the trick.

Place a sample of the supply you want to go in each container right in front of it.

2. Let Students Disperse Their Supplies

As students come in, direct them to where the bins are. Ask them to sort their supplies into each bin. All they have to do is match what they have with what's in front of the bins!

Paper reams and tissue boxes can be piled on the floor if need be.

Collecting Supplies during Back to School

Collecting Supplies during Back to School
At the end of the day your supplies will be sorted and ready to be put away.

3. Students Open Packages

Let your students open packages for you! Kids love being teacher helpers, right? Students who finished their Back to School work, students who are doing a good job listening, students who need a little break, students who need a reward for making better choices, everyone can benefit from this!

Collecting Supplies during Back to School

Collecting Supplies during Back to School
Have your students open all of these packets for you! They'll have a blast!

Personal items like scissors, pencil boxes, and notebooks can go directly into the students' desks, or into the place you have for them to keep their items. 

I liked having labels with students' names, or simply a sharpie that I used to write their names on everything they owned. Try to have that done within the first few days of school.

That's It!

At the end of the day, you will have significantly less to deal with, and your room won't look like a department store after Black Friday.

For more classroom management tips check out these posts:

For Back to School Resources click on these thumbnails:

See it here. 
See it here.

See it here.

See all of them here. 
See it here.

Control Pencil Chaos Once and For All!

Control Pencil Chaos Once and For All

I don't like waste. I was shocked when my students were going through so many pencils a week, not because they were using them, but because they were losing them!

I tried a couple of methods, but none compare to what I'm about to teach you!

Implementing this in your classroom in the first week of school sets up the tone for the rest of the year!

This is how I got that pencil chaos under control!

You will need:

  • 2 containers. One labeled "Sharp Pencils" and one labeled "Used Pencils"
  • 4 sharp pencils per student plus a few extra (about 10 more should do)
  • A heavy duty electric pencil sharpener

1. Use any two containers you want. I prefer pencil boxes, but little buckets work too.
Label each container to show which one will have the sharp pencils and witch one will have the used pencils.

Control Pencil Chaos Once and For All
Download the labels here.

2. Sharpen lots and lots of pencils, about 4 per student. This is the only time you'll have to sharpen so many.

*This is the kind of job you can ask a parent volunteer to do for you.

3. Start your students with 2 sharp pencils each and place the remaining sharp pencils in your pencil box labeled "Sharp Pencils".

4. Explain to your students that they will always start their day with two sharp pencils. All they have to do is give you their 2 used pencils and you will hand them their sharp ones. (This is VERY important for this plan to work!)

5. Explain that if they only hand you 1 pencil the next day, they will only receive 1 sharp pencil back. If they don't have any pencils, they are welcome to look around on the floor for one, dig in their desks, or see if a friend has an extra pencil that they can borrow.

6. The next day, once your students are settled and working, call a few students at a time to come exchange their pencils. Take the used ones and give out sharp ones.

Control Pencil Chaos Once and For All
Give 2, Take 2!

7. Take this time to look at each student and to be excited about handing them their sharp pencils.
Kids feel your vibes and they internalize that little reward of feeling good when they have their pencils!

8. When students comes up short (they will), be careful not to shame them. Just be casual about suggesting that they look around and join the line when they have a pencil. Ask them what they might do differently to have their pencils the next morning.

9. After talking to a student who lost pencils and looked around for them, give them a 2nd chance to start fresh with a set of 2 pencils.


Control Pencil Chaos Once and For All

At the end of the day, grab the used pencils box and sharpen your pencils. (This was my down time when I listened to music on my phone and chilled for a second.)
➜ OH! This also works wonders for glue sticks! Want a new one? Give me your old one!

Something to Ponder

I know you may be thinking that there is no time for this, but this little morning routine takes 5 minutes, it really works,  and it teaches your students important life skills:

Control Pencil Chaos Once and For All

  • How to make eye contact when interacting with someone
  • Saying thank you when given something
  • How to be accountable for their actions (if they didn't put their pencils away and lost them)
  • How to think about choices and make better ones 
  • Feeling that "feel good" intrinsic reward when they are responsible.

Feel free to email me at if you have questions about this process! I'd love to hear from you and brainstorm solutions for any issues you might face when implementing this plan!

For more classroom management tips check out these posts:

For Back to School Resources click on these thumbnails:

See it here. 
See it here.

See it here.

See all of them here. 
See it here.

What I'm Doing For Fractions

Fraction activities and ideas for lesson plans

I am so thankful to colleagues who knew more than I did back in the day, and were generous enough to let me see "what they were doing for fractions". We all need someone like that to lead the way and show us new things. That's how I feel. It's a team effort...

In the spirit of paying it forward, here are some of the things I did for fractions that I think were effective, engaging, and important to do.

1. Anchor Chart

I always start my lessons with an Anchor Chart, but my charts are never 100% ready when I show them to the kids for the first time.

Obviously, I plan ahead so I know what I want it to look like and what information it needs, but I make a point to draw and write IN FRONT of the kids. 

This chart had the title, the headings, and the drawings without the lines. I drew the lines as I explained, and wrote the vocabulary during the lesson. 

Fraction anchor charts and ideas for lesson plans

I do that because when students participate in creating the charts, they understand the content that much better. I also like showing them how I draw and write. 

I take my time, and say things like "Let me make sure to leave a space between my words." or "If I go slow when I draw this line its going to look much better."

I just think it's important to let them see how the things we tell them over and over apply to us in "real life".

2. Practice Worksheets - Watch the Videos!

Yup. I use them. 

But I use them skillfully.

I make sure each student is working on their level, that they're engaged, and that the work is relevant to what my curriculum is. I love the way these turned out.

I'm sure you have sheets that you use that work well for you.  If you'd like to see the ones I use - and have for sale on my TpT store, just play the videos.

Not for you? Skip right ahead to the Pizza Activity!


You have probably seen something like this before. I've seen teachers use cookie fractions as well. Either activity works the same here.

Fractions craft ideas and activities for lesson plans

a. I like to read a book that links to the topic we're learning. Sometimes the books go into things that my students aren't able to understand yet. If that ever happens to you, it's totally okay to pick and choose which pages you'll read, and skip the ones that aren't relevant to your lesson.

b. In the interest of time, I traced the large pizza circles on construction paper for the kids to cut, but I cut the little cheese strips and pepperoni circles myself. Those are the kinds of mindless things that I can do at home watching TV...

Some teachers cut mushrooms, olives, and green peppers. 

        Something to Think About
My rule is that the effort I put into a lesson needs to translate into learning. So for me, it's enough to have 2 toppings. More than that is cute and adorable and FINE to do. Just think if it adds to the activity enough to justify the time it will take away from other things you could be doing. 
Like resting. Or cooking something healthy. Or going for a walk.

Okay. Back to steps...

c. First I give them a pizza and ask them to fold in it half. They make each half with a different flavor.

Fractions craft ideas and activities for lesson plans

Fractions craft ideas and activities for lesson plans

d. Then, I give them another pizza and have them fold it into fourths and do the same. 
The ultimate goal is to have them use mathematical thinking and vocabulary to describe their pizza!

Once the pizzas were made, we glued them to a large paper and wrote about them. 

Fractions craft ideas and activities for lesson plans

Fractions craft ideas and activities for lesson plans

Fractions craft ideas and activities for lesson plans

Back then, I typed the papers quickly and printed a bunch. 

But for you, I made some cute templates that you can download below. I made them for halves, thirds, and fourths.

FREE Fractions activity download

OH! As the kids were working, I walked around and had each kid tell me what they were making and what they were going to write on their pizza papers.

I called the kids who weren't sure to my table and helped them with the writing. It's also a good strategy to have your advanced students become "teacher helpers" once they are done.

They can sit in a pre-determined spot and kids who need help can go to them while you work with your own little group.

I hope you give these ideas a try! As always I'm available at if you have any questions! And if you have other ideas that could help a fellow teacher, drop them in the comments bellow!

Want some ideas to teach MONEY? Check out this post!