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Inspire Your Little Picassos With These Art Time Tips for Your Classroom

Let’s get creative! Most of you know me as an ELA and math teacher for the primary grades, but did you know I also teach art once a week? Jill of all trades over here! Planning creative and engaging art projects for students can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re limited to just one hour per week like I am. All the prep time, the materials to gather, the mess... sometimes it’s hard to know where to start! Let me help you out with some of my favorite tips and tricks to teaching art.

Tip #1: Don’t play it safe—choose projects that will challenge the kids and you!

My goal with each art lesson is to choose something that will challenge everyone. Anyone can print off a coloring sheet, but it takes some real finesse to lead a class of primary students through a multi-step art project. Sure, I experience my fair share of frustrations when I try something new and somewhat complex, but I also have loads of fun! And so do my students, of course! :)

Tip #2: Use Pinterest for inspiration, and then put your own spin on it!

I’ll be honest: most of my ideas come from Pinterest. Sometimes I’ll use an idea as is, but usually, I combine a few different ideas into one. For example, I found a cute penguin craft, which would have been just fine as a standalone project. I added an extra layer of creativity by having students design a colorful winter background with tissue paper. 

Tip #3: Keep them guessing!

This is one of my favorite strategies for teaching art! I like to keep my students’ curiosity piqued by revealing the project step-by-step. They won’t know what the end result should be until the very end! It’s fun to hear their guesses as we go. I also find that it helps some kids lean into their creativity more. Without an end product in mind, they can create something that is truly their own!

Tip #4: Borrow extra time for extended projects!

What if you need more time for a longer art project? An hour of art time absolutely flies by! I have a couple of solutions to this.
  • Have students complete the first half of the project during week one, then return to it the following week. This can be great if you have a project that needs time to dry, like one using glue and/or paint.
  • Borrow an hour from next week. When I want kids to work on art for two solid hours, I will plan that time in my schedule for one day, and then next week we’ll skip art time.

Tip #5: Build your supply stash!

Be prepared for all sorts of quick or impromptu art projects with these supplies:
  • Construction paper
  • Glue
  • Safety scissors
  • Markers
  • Washable paint
  • Rulers
  • Crayons
  • Colored pencils
  • Yarn

And don’t forget to use found items, aka scraps and other free stuff! Some items you should consider collecting:
  • Tissue paper or gift wrap leftovers from birthdays or holidays
  • Toilet paper and paper towel rolls
  • Old magazines or newspapers
  • Egg cartons
  • Jars and plastic bottles
  • Cardboard boxes

If you don’t have much of a budget, try reaching out to local businesses or your students’ parents for donations. Having a good stash of art supplies on hand can really cut down on prep time for you.

A few fun art ideas for your primary students:

  1. Make a colorful mosaic with scraps of construction paper. Students can begin with a particular shape, like a heart, and fill it in to make a unique design.
  2. Name art. Print out each student’s name in large block letters and have them color in each letter with a different pattern.
  3. Pastel and watercolor art. Have students draw lines with pastels or wax crayons, then fill in using watercolors. We’ve made sunsets and winter scenes using this method, and they always turn out great!

Learn about artists around the world!

Last year, we learned about artists like Ted Harrison and Keith Haring. My students LOVED recreating their art. They felt like real artists! ;)

For more ideas, check out my art highlights on Instagram @allstudentscanshine!

Do you have any favorite art projects? Drop your ideas in the comments!

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Creative Ideas for Math Manipulatives That Won’t Break the Bank

I don’t know about you, but my classroom wish list can get a little out of hand sometimes! Between Pinterest and Amazon and all the teacher-bloggers I follow, I always have my eye on new supplies or products for my students. Some women collect shoes, I collect bulletin board decor! 😂

Unfortunately, there’s one small obstacle that stands in my way of collecting all the classroom supplies of my dreams: budget. I’m sure you can relate—most schools have very small budgets for their teachers, so you have to be picky about what you purchase. Not only that, but stocking up on too many manipulatives can cause storage headaches in smaller classrooms.

Don’t worry, we’re teachers! We won’t let little things like space or money stop us! I put together a list of free (or mostly free) items to use as math manipulatives, plus I have a digital resource that will help you cut down on how much storage space you need.

Why use math manipulatives

I’m sure you know a lot of the theory behind why we use math manipulatives in our classrooms, but in case you need a little refresher from your undergrad days, here are some main reasons to use hands-on manipulatives with your students: 

  1. They help students visualize abstract concepts.
  2. They’re a great way to differentiate for various learning styles. Your visual and tactile learners do really well with manipulatives!
  3. They keep math lessons fun, engaging, and interactive.

Let’s take a look at some of my favorite manipulatives for primary students.

Free or mostly free math manipulatives for your classroom

Sure, you can buy colorful sets of math manipulatives from name-brand retailers, but I’m a big fan of saving money whenever possible! With enough creativity, you can make math manipulatives out of just about anything.

Personally, I think every primary classroom could benefit from a huge stash of math manipulatives, but sadly, that’s not always possible because of budget or storage limitations. Here are several ideas for everyday items you can use as math manipulatives:

Popsicle sticks or straws + rubber bands

Use these instead of other fancier place-value tools. You can make bundles of ten, and then ask students to combine bundles until they reach 100.

Egg cartons

Looking for an alternative to the regular ten-frame? If you cut off two of the cups of an egg carton, you have a 2x5 grid! Fill it with inexpensive counting objects like paper clips, buttons, or beads. This can be used for teaching addition, subtraction, and for modeling multiplication and division.


Every boy mom out there has a ton of these lying around! Don’t have any in your house? Ask around your friend group or on social media. Chances are, you’ll know someone who is ready to destash! Repurpose Legos to use as counting blocks or for sorting into patterns.

Coins and play money

Raid old board games like Monopoly or Life and use the play dollars in your classroom. As for coins, I suggest keeping a few sets of real ones on hand. Set a jar for loose change by your laundry room, and you’ll have a stash in no time!

Dice and playing cards

Dice are great to have on hand for impromptu math games, and you can get so creative with a deck of cards! Kids can sort by suit, practice number recognition, play games like War or Spoons, and so much more!

Paper plate clocks

Teach children to tell time by giving them a clock with movable hands. You can make your own with a paper plate, a fastener like a brad, and some clock hands cut from card stock or index cards.

Last but not least: never underestimate the power of a simple piece of paper, a ruler, and a pencil! You can work with students to create their own number lines, grids, and more! Folding and cutting sheets of paper can also be a great way to teach shapes, fractions, and symmetry.

Math manipulatives for virtual learning

Can’t share materials because of social distancing or virtual learning? I created these digital manipulatives to help you out! If you’re in the classroom with students, you can project these on your smartboard. If students are learning from home, they can access these on their devices.

Social distancing aside, these Google Slides files are great to have on hand if your classroom is low on supplies or storage space. 

Here are some of the manipulatives that are included:

Counting bears
Pattern links
Popsicle sticks
Base-ten blocks
Coins & bills
Number lines
2D shapes
3D shapes
Fractions -- circles & rods

Students can work on math problems right from their device, or you can lead your class through a lesson on your interactive smartboard. 

What tips do you have for using math manipulatives?

Come see me on Instagram and share any of your favorite tips and tricks for math manipulatives!

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The Key To Building A Strong Classroom Community With Morning Meetings

Are you a morning person, or not so much? Whether we like them or not, mornings set the tone for the day. A lazy, sluggish start usually translates into a blah, unproductive pace that’s hard to shake. It’s true for me as an adult, and it’s especially true for our kiddos. When we start our day with a plan and focus, we feel energized and motivated!

My favorite way to start a school day for my primary students is with a digital morning meeting.

What is a morning meeting?

A morning meeting is your chance to set the tone for your school day and connect with your students. It usually consists of a greeting, some brief guided learning activities, sharing time for your students, and a preview of the day’s agenda.

Many of us are used to holding our morning meetings face-to-face in the classroom, but this year is unique, to say the least. The good news is, the morning meeting translates well to a digital format for virtual learning.

We know kids crave routine, which has been severely lacking for most of us these past several months. Even though back-to-school looks a lot different this year, it does signal a return to some normalcy. Kids look to us for predictability and stability, so let’s do our best to provide that for them!

I’ve adapted my regular in-person classroom routine into a meaningful virtual format. The goal remains the same: to check in with our students, set the tone for the day, and offer a degree of normalcy and predictability.

What’s included in the digital morning meeting slides?

With this bundle, you’ll receive TWELVE themes, so you can choose a new one for each month! Each theme has the same slides and includes moveable pieces, so students can interact and follow along on their own device.

Here’s the breakdown of each morning meeting slide:

  1. A note from the teacher: Say hello, give a word of encouragement, and set a positive tone for the day. If you are teaching virtually this year, you may want to pop in a photo of yourself every so often to help students make more of a connection with you.
  2. How are you? Each day, ask your students how they’re feeling. Happy, sad, excited, worried? You can create a graph to display the results, showing the overall mood for your class.
  3. Weather report: Teach weather terms with fun visuals!
  4. Day of the week: Yesterday was, Today is, and Tomorrow will be.
  5. Monthly calendar: Highlight the current day of the month.
  6. Days in school: Keep a running total of the school days, with space for a visual representation of hundreds, tens, and ones.
  7. Today’s number: Make numbers and math skills a part of every morning with these two quick review slides. Each slide includes space for the numerals, the spelling word, a visual representation, tally marks, and a simple equation.
  8. Warm-up: Encourage movement with stretching exercises—so important with all the screen time right now!
  9. Share time: Each day, choose a student to share with the class. You can ask them to share on specific topics or treat this as a show-and-tell time, bringing whatever they’re interested in at the moment.
  10. On the menu: Give a brief overview of your learning activities for the day so your students know what to expect. This morning, we will… This afternoon, we will…
BONUS: A fully customizable slide! You can add in any additional topics or lessons you’d like to include for your class.

How do morning meetings benefit our students?

There are so many benefits to morning meetings!
  • Your connection with students is strengthened.
  • Students have something reliable and consistent to look forward to each day.
  • They help foster a sense of belonging and community.
  • You can sneak in short reviews, mini lessons, and other reinforcement of your classroom objectives. Kids don’t even realize they’re learning math skills as they count out the number of school days! :)
  • Morning meetings motivate students to show up on time and ready to learn.

Have you found success with digital morning meetings?

Virtual learning is a challenge for many reasons, but I’ve found that this simple daily routine makes a huge difference—for me, and for my students! Have you found success with a morning routine in your digital classroom?

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3 Reading Intervention Resources Your Students Will Love

After months of non-traditional learning, our students may not be too keen on getting back to lessons. With a bit of effort and creativity, though, we can craft lessons our students will love.

The trick is to find a good balance between what will keep students interested while remaining educational. After months of non-traditional learning, many students may struggle to grasp new concepts or find success with previously learned skills. We want to create a pressure-free environment for our students to learn and thrive in as we ease back into a new routine.

There are a few different ways that we can kick off our reading instruction to increase our students’ chance of success. I love to do this with engaging and fun reading intervention activities! 


Reading warm-ups are a great way to get your students primed and ready to read. There are different ways you can use reading warm-ups for your class, but they are intended to be a more concrete way for your students to follow along and practice. 

For example, fluency sheets can be used to practice independently during morning tubs, or you can lead the class by calling out a picture and having your students read the corresponding line. Your kiddos are able to get repetitive practice, and you can feel confident knowing they are growing their phonics skill set!

In my classroom I use my Reading Warm-Ups throughout the year. They are so versatile that they can be used to sharpen a variety of reading skills, including phonics sounds, word families, CVC words, and more. They can be used as assessments to monitor students’ individual progress, and there are editable pages for you to create your own! When I was creating the bundle, my goal was to have the needs of both students and teachers in mind!

They are simple for students to understand and can be used as a reward by allowing them to color the pictures on the page when they are done with the warm-up. This allows you to get one-on-one time with one or two students who need more individualized attention. 

And I know that not all districts have the same curriculum when it comes to phonics instruction, so I made sure to include editable pages so you can create what works for you! Each set includes:

  • 30 reading warm-ups

  • 30 assessment pages + 30 teacher copies

  • EDITABLE pages to create your own!

For our distance learners, there is also a paperless option. With the bundle you get 30 digital reading warm-ups including instructions. It’s really a great way to start off your reading lesson and build skills!

Phonics Fluency Mazes

When I’m teaching phonics to my students, the best thing to do is practice, practice, PRACTICE! Three is the lucky number because that is the amount of times that students need to read something to help with fluency. 

I’ve found that combining phonics with a game like a maze has made my students much happier. They get a break from the usual phonics routine, and I know they are still practicing their fluency. It works beautifully for all of us. 

I have a variety of phonics mazes, each one focusing on the sound I’d like my little learners to work on that day. They practice reading each word, color in the letter sounds, and move on to the next word. As they complete each word they can color in the box. There’s also a place to mark each time they go through the maze until they have completed it three times. 

The Phonics Fluency Maze Pack has over 50 sounds for your students to practice. It even has an editable page for you to customize. All you need to do is print and watch your kids shine!

Reading Intervention

Sometimes it can be frustrating when we spend so much time going over sounds with the class just for students to end up not even recognizing these sounds in words! I know I’ve been left bewildered by this and wondering what I was doing wrong. 

All we want is for our kids to be fluent readers, right?

That’s why I created my Reading Intervention resource: to expose my students to words and sentences right from the beginning. 

They’re able to see the connection between sound patterns and their words. Reading becomes more meaningful by having them sound out the words, matching them to the correct picture. When they associate the word with a visual, they are more likely to remember it. 

It’s also for little learners to practice their one-on-one correspondence while reading because it doesn’t always come naturally for some kids. With this resource, they are able to practice by pointing to each word as they read it. 

As a reward, have your students color in the pictures on the page! Don’t forget to have them color in their smiley face to make sure they are getting through the page three times to increase fluency. 

This also comes in a digital version with Google Slides included to use while distance learning!

Download Reading Intervention to get access to 53 sounds for your students to practice.

Stuck on where to start with fluency? 

I have a freebie just for you! 

It’s great for those that are teaching distance learning this year, but it can also be used as printables in the classroom. This packet will help get your little readers fluent in no time. 

To get your free NO PREP Fluency Printables, CLICK HERE

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