Teach it Tuesday: Language Arts Gems

This is going to be a quick post to give a few ideas on some of my favourite activities for language arts right now:

Partner Reading

I started doing this activity last year with a novel study and it has become one of my favourites. It is so simple but allows for some great opportunities! I pair kids up (we have AB partner magnets with their names so that’s quickest for me to do in the morning after attendance) and they read the assigned chapters out loud to each other switching at the paragraph or page, their choice.

Things I love about it:

  • The sound of 15 kids reading out loud (but quietly) at the same time!
  • How easy it is to just read with a partner that you don’t know well (I’ve noticed much easier than having a discussion at the middle school level)
  • The ability to poke my head in and listen to kids read – for assessment or enjoyment!

Beginning, Middle, End Writing

Reluctant writer writing away

This activity is originally from 6+1 Traits of Writing but I’ve adapted it a bit to fit with in class and tutoring. For one of the students that I tutor, this is the only activity that I’ve done where he has willingly sat down and wrote almost a page! Basically you just give students the beginning, middle, and end of the story and they fill in the rest.

Things I love about it:

  • It allows for creativity without that feeling of being totally lost in options that can come with creative writing
  • It can be adapted to different interests and situations (for tutoring we threw in the dogs name – always a hit!)
  • This activity can easily be accessed by students of different ability levels as a quick write with guidance
  • I think already having the ending there takes away the pressure of getting your story to the end and helps students write

Quote and Note

I’ve written about this one before (here) but it continues to be a favourite! I haven’t been able to get as in depth into this one this year due to time constraints but it has still been rather effective after a lot of scaffolding to get them to the right spot.

Things I love about it:

  • The concept is simple for students to understand but the writing you get can be really in depth
  • Again, it allows students to access at what level they are at
  • It really helps me to get a good idea of students comprehension of the novel we are reading

What are some of your classroom favourites these days?


How I Teach Math (for now…)

Along with this post is a new math activity on our Teachers Pay Teachers site – Take a look here.

As you probably know, teaching is one of those things you do which is ever changing. Even if you are doing the exact same lesson in the exact same unit with the exact same grade at the same school… something WILL be different! That’s because our students are always different. And it is one of the things I like most about teaching because I find it new and exciting all the time. So with that in mind, this is how I’ve been teaching math as of right now, the moment I’m writing this… Ask me tomorrow and it might have changed – ha!


One of my goals this year was to really work on how I teach math effectively. My learning (or Pro D I guess) started with the opportunity to test out the Educating Now website and continued through the For the Love of Math conference. Along with both of those resources have been MANY long conversations with colleagues, friends, family… Really anyone who would listen and answer my questions! About a month ago I realized that I was starting to teach math in a way that really worked for me.

Note: Most of these ideas are from other people that I have adapted to suit my needs. I apologize if I have not been able to give proper credit to sources but I had so many conversations that I can’t necessarily remember who said what. Please know that I am beyond grateful to everyone and anyone who has helped me on my (math) teaching journey.

Interactive Math Notebooks

IMG_3460I started this in January and I absolutely love how well they are working in our class! Most of my information I have on them is from Runde’s Room (she has an AMAZING resource on her Teachers Pay Teachers site that is worth every penny!) and then I have adapted my own activities from there. Basically every time we start a new section for math we have some sort of interactive notes that will become an entry in the notebook. Some helpful tips:

  • Keep a table of contents current on your board somewhere so kids can check that they are up to date.
  • Make your own notebook as a demonstration that can also be given to students who were absent to catch up
  • Have each student glue an envelope in the front cover of their notebook to keep spare pieces
  • Make sure you have lots of scissors and glue!

Small Groups

I started doing some small group lessons in the fall but hadn’t found an effective way to incorporate them into my practice. This is the one area that will definitely change as I continue to teach math because it really depends on class dynamics. Right now I am using a practice one of my administrators told me about: after each whole class lesson I assign some practice questions and then I ask students who are not quite understanding to meet me at the back table. There are a few students who by myself or their parents, have been told to come each time, there are quite a few who make the choice to come each time and then there are a few who come to the back as necessary. Together we work through a couple questions and using the small whiteboards I can quickly check to see who is understanding or not. This has been a great support for some of my students and I have noticed a big difference in their understanding.

Math Stations

This is another time I use small group teaching too. On Fridays we have a double block of math in which we usually do math stations. Although with Pro D Days and early dismissal we haven’t done this quite as often as I would like! For the math stations I have 5 or 6 stations set up that we rotate through in the double block. Usually the stations look like this:

1. Basic Facts Practice (a routine we have set up in our classroom)

2. Problem Solving (whiteboard markers and window space make this a fun one!)

3. Small group teaching (I go over a new lesson or extra practice similar to the above small groups)

4. Unit Specific Game (This is where I love TPT resources – Especially the free ones)

5. Basic Facts Game (The dice game Pig is a favourite)

6. BuzzMath (Sometimes we do this one on the iPads)


This is one of my favourite new practices I have learned from a colleague! For our assessments we are now using a 4 question assessment for each Prescribed Learning Outcome (PLO) from the curriculum. Basically, my teaching team and I have sat down and created these assessments that have four leveled questions relating to the topic. The first question will show a basic understanding of the topic, usually something covered in a previous grade. The second question will be a very basic, practical application of the concept. The third question will show the application of the concept in context and the fourth shows higher level thinking either through problem solving or combining multiple concepts. This is such an easy way to get a snapshot of a students understanding and it takes away the pressure of the big math test.

Unit Plan and Assignments

When I go to plan a unit I usually look back at the curriculum from grade 6 to remind myself the basics that they should have. We always start our units with a good review of previous topics (I love using Math Aids for this, although not super interactive it is a lifesaver when it comes to prep time!) One of my biggest obstacles this year was trying to figure out what to mark myself, what to record, and how to help kids take responsibility for their own learning. What I have been doing for any assignments/homework that I give from the textbook is that the expectation is now that a completed assignment is finished, marked, AND corrected. The day the assignment is due I walk around with a clipboard and check students off for their assignments. Yes having students mark their own work is a bit of a risk, however you can usually tell who is doing the work properly and it really has put the learning back on them! It has also helped my student to make sure they let me know if they have had trouble or questions about their assignments.

Where Am I Going From Here?

I am going to continue with most of these practices for the rest of the year. My main efforts are going to be trying more project-based learning in math for our last few units. I am not quite sure how this will go but I will keep you posted! As far as plans for future teaching? The only thing I would like to change is to really increase my use of small group teaching. I’ve struggled a bit with the classroom management aspect of this with my current class but I think in the future I will have a better idea of how to lay out expectations and practice appropriate behaviour as we begin meaningful math practices.

I would love to hear your feedback!

What do you do in your math class?

What Makes a Good Substitute Teacher?

Substitute teachers, Teachers-On-Call (TOCs), Supply Teachers… Whatever your title in your district is we are all in this together! Sometimes you feel like a babysitter, sometimes a drill sergeant, sometimes a self-promoter, and, hopefully more often then not, you feel like a “real” teacher. This substitute territory can be tricky to navigate for the classroom teacher and substitute alike. This post was written to bridge the gap a bit when it comes to expectations and what is helpful for the classroom teacher – as always we would love to hear your feedback!

In the last few weeks we’ve experienced some teacher angst among our more established teacher friends.  A new school year is about to begin and those teachers with their own classrooms and students are facing another year of struggles…finding a good sub. We can attest to these struggles because we both had small contracts last year and we both got sick and needed to book substitutes for our own classrooms.  Unfortunately, we never got the chance to sub for one another, but we did manage to find good people to cover for us when we needed them too.  So what makes a good substitute teacher, then? We’ve asked a few of our teacher friends to help us out with the answers to this question.

Here’s what they have to say:

Have a bag of tricks with varied lessons, games, activities and art projects for a range of subjects.  Be “friendly tough” with students – don’t put up with silliness or rudeness, but also don’t publicly shame students if they do cross the line.  Using your sense of humour goes a long way!  Don’t assign homework unless you’ll be around to mark it (i.e. longer term stints), or if the teacher has specifically asked you to assign homework (when a substitute assigns homework it usually doesn’t get completed and can turn in to a “make work project” for the enrolled teacher).  Similarly, when a substitute creates lessons that don’t get finished in class, it can be hard on the enrolled teacher because he/she doesn’t know how to finish up the lesson or mark it (if you, the sub, are doing an in-class project, make sure you have the time to mark it yourself).  *This next point is specific to the style of the teacher: Prepare to do your own planning/prep if you are subbing for more than one consecutive day.

A nice reminder for tonight, because we know that we will not be sleeping soundly at all! A mixture of nerves and excitement has taken over.

A nice reminder for tonight, because we know that we will not be sleeping soundly at all! A mixture of nerves and excitement has taken over.

Karley’s thoughts:  I am definitely not a pro by any means, but I’ve found some key things that really tend to work in my favour when I’m subbing.  When subbing I try my best to be as competent as I can.  I always show up at least 30 minutes before the bell rings (I’m usually more like 40 minutes early), I check in at the office in the morning and meet the office staff and principal/VP if possible, at the end of the day I make sure the classroom looks like it did at the start of the day, I leave a detailed note or email for the teacher, I introduce myself to neighbouring classrooms teachers (“Hi, I’m Karley Alleyn and I’m subbing for _______________ today.  I just wanted to introduce myself and let you know I’ll be here all day” kind of thing), and I always bring a few good stories (my own, personal stories) or quick activities.  I find that establishing myself in the classroom as best as I can before the school day starts is what really sets the tone for the day.  These things might seem like “no brainer” actions, but I do know of subs who don’t engage with the school and the students from the moment they set foot in the school; ignoring to establish immediate rapport can set one up for disaster before the bell even rings.

I always introduce myself to the students in a fun, yet clear and concise, way.  I make sure the students know that even though I’m “just a sub”, I mean business.  I frequently have had students switch names on me, or sit in different seats…when things like this happen I don’t let it bother me, but rather I approach the students in a warm manner (I’m not the kind who raises their voice and yells) and let them know that I have the seating plan right in front of me (most times I actually DO have it right in front of me).  I let students know that the name switching thing might be funny, but it is actually a safety issue.  I tell the class that if we were to have a fire or earthquake that I would be doing attendance outside and if they were joking around with switched names we could all get into serious trouble, or worse.  If it sounds like I’m in “lay down the law” teacher mode during these discussions, it’s because I AM! I can pull a quality “serious face” and in my experience kids seem to get the point straight away and come clean with the switched names.  Of course I never hold a grudge on the students who try to play games; they’re just testing the waters!  For me it’s basically just about setting the boundaries as the TOC from the moment the bell rings; if I let the kids know they aren’t getting away with their silly antics from the get go, then we are usually good for the rest of the day, and beyond, because we are able to establish trust with one another.

Meaghan’s thoughts:

I actually really enjoy subbing! Not that I want to do it for the rest of my life or anything and I definitely prefer being a classroom teacher but I think subbing is fun and that really helps me out with the job. For me, attitude is the most important part of it – I need to have a positive attitude about the job from the time I get the call to the time I leave the school at the end of the day. Yes there will be those moments where you have no idea what’s going on but hey, what can you do? That’s all a part of it.

Karley is exactly right with being prepared, that’s how you start the day off right! Now I’m not so much of a morning person so being 40 minutes early has probably never happened for me despite my best intentions haha but 30 minutes for sure! You never know what you might have in the classroom so it’s important to make sure you have enough time to prep, plan and photocopy. One of my best days of subbing was when there was absolutely no day plan for me – getting to do whatever I want for all the subjects = AWESOME! I got to try all of my best one off lessons for every subject all day and the kids really enjoyed it as well. However, many times you will get a detailed day plan left by the teacher and it’s important to try to follow the plan to the best of your ability. Most teachers will be fine if you couldn’t get to something or had trouble with a part of a lesson (as long as you leave a note) but I think it’s really important that you at least try to get through everything. I’ve heard of a few situations where a substitute just did their own lesson even when there was a detailed plan left by the teacher… This is a no go for me. Teacher’s have timelines and missing a day of work could really throw things off especially when there is a deadline like report cards or a holiday coming up. Unless a teacher gives you the option to do your own lesson you should always follow the plans that are left.

My best advice on being a good substitute teacher is to truly enjoy it: make connections with the kids, participate in your own games and activities, be positive, and be your best.  If you are anything like us we are working towards those full time contracts so we won’t be substitutes forever and there are many positives to being a substitute (little or no marking/planning, less time at school, etc.). We have the unique opportunity to try out different grades, schools, classrooms, and routines on a daily basis – Let’s enjoy it!


A Little Inspiration…

As you may know, I am currently a research assistant at our local university. We are working on a project about a type of self-directed inquiry called “Transformative Inquiry.” I joined this project in the summer before my final year of university and it has been an influential part of my teaching ever since. In our final year we take the Transformative Inquiry course and it is one of the first opportunities where we are able to really look at our place in this education system: what we bring in as a teacher, what we want to change, etc. Through this process I have really begun to understand who I am as a teacher and what I am going to bring to my students that I feel this world needs.

My "Path with Heart" from my TI Project

My “Path with Heart” from my TI Project

The freedom of being able to look a topic of interest was a turning point for me when it came to the delivery of curriculum in my own classroom. When I took my contract this year I knew I wanted to incorporate some of this style of learning but I wasn’t sure how.

After Christmas, I ventured into the personal inquiry project with my students and it began to take shape. Each student looked at a topic they were interested in and had to research it, talk to friends/family members about it, conduct an interview with someone, etc. And then we looked at their topics with a global lens to see how connections could be made worldwide. The students then had to do a personal, community, and global connections piece and a presentation for the class.

The project was far from perfect… We needed more time on a few parts that I tried to rush through and much less time on other areas. It ran too late into the end of the year and not everyone had the opportunity to present. Some students were confused about the process and very focused on an end result. Some lessons went off the rails pretty quickly and we had to switch gears… But in the end there was a lot of great connections and learning that came from the project and I am so happy that I ventured into the unknown with this one.

My subject connection was to language arts, although I believe you can connect personal projects to most, if not all, subjects. I think writing and sharing about their interests was some of the most effective learning this year. When the students were talking about something they were passionate about they seemed to get lost in their topic and speak from their heart. Their writing was deep and moving – well written and again, from the heart.

I learned a lot from doing this project but the thing that was most astounding to me was watching the students talk about their topics and share the information with each other. In June, when some of the students were presenting, I saw something come alive in the class. There were students sharing very personal information and the rest of the class appeared to be truly listening to their peers. I saw connection and understanding grow between many students. It was amazing to watch and I felt so inspired.

The beautiful words from a student...

The beautiful words from a student…

I received a note from one of my students on the last day of class that thanked me for the opportunity to present to the class about a topic that she did not feel she had been able to talk about otherwise. In this note she said that I had inspired in her a love for English and expressing herself through writing and then she said that she only wished I had found the same inspiration this year. Well all I can say is that I truly did… I am inspired to continue to have students complete personal projects and I am inspired by the passions and ideas that the students have. I have found more inspiration in watching these students share than I ever could while reading or researching anything on my own.

Do you do any personal projects or inquiry in your classroom?

Would you like to hear more about the specifics of my project?

Also, please share some of your inspiration from your students!


Creating Safe Spaces

Somewhere between Spring Break and now the tone in my classroom changed. I can’t pinpoint when it happened or why I didn’t notice the change until recently…

Well, let’s put it in perspective – I teach a lively group of middle schoolers who love to laugh and joke with myself and each other. Since I started in the job this has been one of the highlights, I just love how much I get to laugh out loud when I’m at work! The jokes have almost always been harmless and respectful… nothing to worry about I thought.

And then the switch happened. At some point the jokes became hurtful and I found myself in a disciplinary role far more often. I’ve been told that it’s common at this time of year, when the weather is nice and the kids are getting restless. I understand that part but I feel as if there must be something more. When did laughing with one another turn to laughing at one another? And why is this way of interacting deemed acceptable in some settings?

After talking with some other teachers and friends, I decided to have the “adult” conversation and let them know that I felt the way they were joking with one another wasn’t okay. We talked about how just because you think something is funny and on the outside the other person is laughing doesn’t mean that what you are saying isn’t hurtful. After that it has been easier to monitor what’s going on, reminding them of the conversation we had. So far it’s working but I am just hoping each day that it will last.

What do you do to make your classroom a safe space?

Any thoughts on the “End-of-School” attitude shift?

Be well,