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5 Tips to Assigning Homework

Whether you are a brand-new teacher or a veteran, here are 5 tips to help you create a mindful homework policy.

1)    The 10-Minute Rule – The recommended amount of time for a child to spend on homework is 10 minutes for each grade level. According to this guideline, a 1st grader should have no more than 10 minutes of homework each day, a 2nd grader no more than 20 minutes, and so on. 

NEA Reviews of the Research on Best Practices in Education

2)    Choose Quality Over Quantity! – Look for homework that is worth your students’ time. Avoid sending work that is just fluff, busy work, or a worksheet that has too many of the same things on it. 

Quality homework should be a short review of the curriculum that you taught, preferably spiraling through several standards and skills. It should be engaging, age appropriate, and take just a short amount of time to complete. Be mindful of assignments that require students to have supplies at home - like scissors, glue, and crayons – as many students don’t have them.  

Assigning nightly reading in leu of skill reviews is also an accepted practice in many schools.

3)    Be Consistent! - The time and effort you put upfront to find homework for the WHOLE YEAR will save you a considerable amount of time and stress later on.
Avoid “finding homework as you go” at all cost. Consistent and cohesive homework is better for your students and their parents, and definitely easier on you!

4)    Foster Independence! – Many children do not have help or supervision when they do homework. In some cases, language barriers prevent willing parents from helping. To increase homework completion, choose homework that has child-friendly directions, examples of how to complete the assignments, and create a predictable routine for handing out and turning in homework. On that note, since the conditions in which our young students do their homework is so diverse, avoid attaching grades to homework in lower elementary classrooms.

5)    Watch Those Copies! – Be mindful of how much paper, ink, toner, staples, and electricity the homework you select will use in the course of a year. Consider the layout and the homework content on the sheets you assign so they’re not too taxing on the budget or on the environment!

The homework I make, for example, has Monday - Thursday assignments, is printer-friendly, and requires only one page per student!

Use these tips to choose a homework that is just right for you and your students!

Want to see how my Homework is unique? Check out my homework's  5 Outstanding Features!

If you need help finding resources to use in your classroom, check out my line of Math and Language Arts Homework!

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.