Square Root Clock

I’ve shared in the past how I prefer to decorate my classroom with things that support what we are studying. Most of those decorations are intentionally chosen, but every once in awhile something finds a permanent home in my classroom by pure happenstance. My square root clock is one of those items.

The Inspiration

For four years, I had the privilege of working with a very energetic, creative, new math teacher. She came up with some of the craziest ideas, but they often ended up being some of the best. I’ll never forget how she solved the problem of students tipping back in their chairs. After about the third time one fell, once again minorly injuring himself in the process, she told all of the students to stack their chairs along the side wall of the classroom. When I went to pick up my students for intervention time, she explained to me why everyone was either standing or sitting on the floor and asked for my support by denying the students chairs in my room as well. After school I asked her if she wanted help putting the chairs back out around the tables. She informed me she didn’t need help because the chairs were going to stay stacked. When questioned her as to how long they’d stay stacked, her answer was, “Until they prove to me they can use them properly.” A week later, she decided it was time, we put the chairs back out, and not a single student ever tipped back in one again. But it wasn’t just interesting classroom management techniques I observed in her classroom, she had some excellent teaching ideas as well. It was preparing my students for a math lab in her class involving cookies and candy that inspired my Pi Day Circles activity, as well as the Nutrition and Percentages unit I designed. However, the one thing that became a permanent part of my classroom did not join my decorations until nearly a year after I moved to a new district.

The Implementation

As any experienced teacher will tell you, being smarter than the students is a major part of teaching. This is very likely more true for middle school teachers than any others. One year I was working with my eighth grade English language learners on exponents and roots. I told my students they needed to memorize their square roots, at least through the square root of 144 (12). My students just looked at me and, in the way only middle schoolers can, said, “Whatever, you can’t make us.” I, being a veteran of middle school teaching, simply smiled and sent them on to their next class, never saying a word.

That night, remembering the square root clock from my previous colleague’s classroom, I made a few labels for our classroom clock (you can download your own copy for free, the link is below the picture). When the students came in the next morning I still didn’t say a word, I simply waited. It didn’t take long for one, convinced he’d been in class for at least an hour (rather than the two minutes that had actually passed), to glance up at the clock. His immediate reaction was priceless. He literally jumped out of his seat, pointed at the clock, and started yelling in Mandarin. I didn’t need a translator to help me understand what he was upset about! This got all of the other students’ attention and soon my classroom was in a multilingual uproar.

After giving them a few moments to get it out of their system, I retook control and began to restore order (and the use of the English language) to my room. Once everyone was back in their seats and listening to me again, I simply repeated the exact words I’d spoken the day before, “You really need to memorize the first twelve squares and their roots.” I then continued the lesson as if nothing had happened.

The Result

The next week we had a quiz over exponents and roots (I covered up the clock). Every single student passed, most received 100% on the first twelve. I decided to leave the labels up as reinforcement for their learning (and because the clock was quite high on the wall and I didn’t feel like climbing on a chair on a table to take them down). The next year when I was putting up decorations, I put the labels back up simply because they were in the box with everything else. Later that year, the new-to-the-building math teacher came to see me. It seemed my students were outperforming all others on exponents and roots and she wanted to know what I’d done. I simply showed her the clock.

Happy teaching, everyone!

Alternative Seating

Alternative seating is not something I learned about in school, university, or even student teaching. When I was going through all of those stages, classrooms had very limited seating options. There were carpets in the lower grade classrooms, elementary desks (the kind that the top lifted up and you kept your books inside), upper grades desks (the kind with a wire basket under the seat for your books), lab tables with stools, and that was about it. So alternative seating was something I learned through trial and error.

Alternative Seating Fails

As I’m sure you know by now, or will soon learn, not everything you try in your classroom will be a success. I have certainly had my share of, “This was a much better idea in my head,” alternative seating moments! Here are some of the things that did not work in my classroom:

Scoop Chairs

These chairs may work fine with the youngest students, but my students found Scoop Rockers to be incredibly uncomfortable. I tried to get the largest, strongest scoop chairs I could find, but they just didn’t make the cut. Even my third and fourth graders declared them too small and uncomfortable.


Stools were also not a hit with my students, especially my middle schoolers. While they all thought they were great in concept, and even helped write the request for funding, the students quickly abandoned using them after they arrived. We tested several different types: adjustable height wobble stools, stackable round stools, and rectangular metal stools. They were all fun for a time but very quickly students started complaining about their backs getting tired and starting to hurt. Everyone agreed: if they are going to sit on something for any length of time, it needs to have a back to lean against.

Tire Chairs

This one was such an epic failure that it never even made it into my classroom. I’d seen cute pictures of chairs made from old tires and lots of videos about repurposing old tires into chairs and thought it’d be a fun addition to my classroom. I very quickly learned several things: old tires are not easy to come by, it is nearly impossible to get them clean enough to work with, and the DIY directions are much more complicated than they look. While I have no doubt there’s a person out there with more talent and patience than I have who can make this work, I did not want to put in the effort required or risk not getting it clean enough and having some student ruin his/her clothing.

Alternative Seating Successes

I’ve had plenty of other alternative seating failures, but those were my three largest. The good news is that I’ve had far more successes than failures. Here are some options my students have loved.

Bungee Chairs

One year the PTA had some extra funds and gave teachers the opportunity to submit proposals for their classrooms. I told my students that if they completed the proposal form, I’d submit it on their behalf. Bungee chairs were one of the things they asked for and received. I will admit that when I saw them my first thought was, “Those look like the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever seen.” My students loved them though and would fight over the chance to sit in them for the entire class period, even going so far as to pull them up to our group tables for whole class instruction time. One day I was tired and told them if they didn’t stop fighting, I would take the chair and sit in it so none of them could use it. Being middle schoolers towards the end of the day, they didn’t stop fighting and I ended up with the chair. By the end of the class period I was so convinced I looked for and bought myself a bungee desk chair (that I still use and love years later).

Saucer Chair

The other thing the students requested in their proposal was a couple of saucer chairs. These were highly sought after as well but this time I wasn’t surprised. Many of my friends had papasan chairs when we were children and I loved sitting and napping in them. The saucer chairs my students chose were perfect because they were foldable and easy to move around the room. These too were dragged up to our group tables for whole class instruction time, making for some very crowded tables!

Body Pillows

My reading corner consisted of an area rug and a bunch of pillows. One year I tossed a body pillow with a fun colored cover into the reading area just for fun. It quickly became the most popular pillow in the reading area. Sometimes students would take it out of the reading area, toss it on the floor somewhere, and lay on it during independent work time.

Arm Pillows

Another popular option, especially in classrooms with carpeting, were arm pillows. Most of the time they lived in our reading corner, but they tended to travel around the room as well. When working in small groups, one group would inevitably grab all of the arm pillows and move to a different corner of the room, leaving the regular pillows for whatever group was in the reading corner. They were also a hot commodity during independent work time because students could put their phone in the small side pocket and listen to music while they worked in a corner by themselves.

Short Table & Cushions

I mentioned this option in my post about Out of the Blue Favorite Classroom “Supplies.” I rescued a short table from a trip to the dumpster one year and it quickly became a popular place for students to work on their computers, or when they needed to write and use a textbook at the same time. Students would sit on chair cushions and my last class of the day would simply toss them on top of the table so the custodians could easily sweep around and under the table.

Tall Table & Chairs

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, another popular option was the counter height table and chairs. What always made me laugh was it was my shortest students, often those whose feet couldn’t reach the chair’s foot rest, who were most attracted to this table. This was easily the most expensive option and we only had one because it was donated by a family who was returning to their home country. If you want something similar, you might see if someone is getting rid of a tall dining room table set. Such a set would also allow for small groups to work around the table.

Teacher Desk

The final option was one that surprised me greatly, an old teacher’s desk. It had been placed in my classroom because I was supposed to be assigned an assistant that year. She quit to take another job very early in the year and was never replaced. One day during independent work time a student just sat at the desk. The next day another student chose to sit there. Very soon it was one of the more sought after locations to work. To this day I have no idea why an old metal desk was so popular, but they enjoyed it and it was free!

Do I think alternative seating is a necessary thing? Absolutely not, especially if you have to fund it yourself and are just starting out. It will never make my list of recommended classroom supplies, but it is fun to play around with if the opportunity presents itself. Whatever you end up doing in your classroom this year, I hope you have a great one. Happy teaching, everyone!

Out of the Blue Favorite Classroom “Supplies”

I am a big proponent of NOT buying a lot of stuff for your classroom, especially as a novice teacher. I also recognize that I’m a bit of a hypocrite in this area as I have A LOT of teaching materials and love getting new things for my classroom. Some things I’ve purchased, tried, and not been impressed with. Other things get the job done but never become favorites.

What I’d like to share with you today are some of the things I’ve used over the years that have become absolute favorites for one reason or another. I hesitate to call them supplies, as you don’t actually need any of them (the only “must have” classroom supply is a dedicated teacher), but they are all great for one reason or another, as I’ll explain. So, in no particular order, here are ten of my favorite out of the blue classroom “supplies.”

Stikki Clips

Over the years I’ve had classrooms with all different types of wall surfaces: painted brick, unpainted brick, painted cinderblock, unpainted cinderblock, poured cement, sheetrock… What they all had in common was a prohibition against damaging them in any way, shape, or form. Stikki Clips have been my best friend for hanging things on all of these walls. These wax clips go up easily, remove cleanly, and are reusable. For larger, heavier objects, I simply used more clips.

Lava Lamp

One year, for who knows what reason, I decided to put a lava lamp on my desk. I turned it on when I arrived in the mornings and it would be warmed up and moving by the time students arrived. After students left for the day, I’d turn it off for the night. What I never expected was effect it would have on my students, and even myself. There’s something very calming about watching the bubbles in the lamp form and rise to the top. Even my most energetic students would settle and be more focused after a few minutes of watching the lamp in action. There were even times I caught myself just sitting and watching the bubbles for a few minutes during my prep period, lunch, or after students had left for the day.

Lego/Puzzle Tables

One year I had a couple of extra tables and several extra chairs in my classroom. Since I always get new students as the year goes on, I set them up against the back wall of the classroom to start the year. When the first day of school rolled around, the classroom wasn’t 100% finished (yes, it’s ok if your classroom isn’t done the minute school starts), and apparently as I was putting things away the day before I’d left a jig saw puzzle on one of the tables and a pail of Legos and some baseboards on the other. At some point during the first day of school, a couple of students indicated they wanted to work on the puzzle. When I said yes, they happily dumped it out and started putting it together. Later, a couple of other students sat down and started building something out of Legos. I never did get around to putting those items away and the two “centers” became popular places for students to relax when they had free time.

Teacher Rug

The majority of my career has been spent in middle school classrooms, so carpet time wasn’t something we did. I’ve also spent a lot of my career teaching in older buildings with cement floors. One year I decided to cover up some damage to the floor in front of my whiteboard with an area rug. It wasn’t long before I noticed that my feet and knees didn’t hurt nearly as much as they had in years past. The difference that industrial carpet rug made was tremendous and I’ve tried to put one over the areas I stand/walk the most ever since. They do make specific mats for cushioning your feet, and I’ve heard good things about them (my father has them in his workshop and swears by them), but I’ve always liked the homier look of the area rugs.

Low Table / Cushions

Another year the custodian was throwing out a low table and he mentioned how it was too bad a perfectly good table was going to waste. On a whim, I told him I’d take it and he moved it to my classroom. Having no idea what I was going to do with it, I put it to the side of my classroom and just waited for inspiration to strike. The next day, a couple of my students took their computers over, sat them on the table, sat on the floor in front of them, and started to work. A couple days later, they did the same thing, this time grabbing pillows from our reading area on which to sit. That evening I stopped by the store and picked up some seat cushions, tossing them around the table when I came in the next morning. That table and cushions became one of the most popular locations for independent and small group work in my classroom.

Wallpaper Sample Books

Did you know that wallpaper sample books are generally thrown out every few months or so? I heard this and went by my local Sherwin-Williams store to ask about it. Turns out it is true and, if you ask the manager of the store, they will give them to you for free. After the managers at my local store got to know me, they started saving them for me. Wallpaper is more durable than construction paper and makes great covers for journals and other paper books. My students also loved using it in projects because there were so many more colors and patterns to choose from than construction paper.

Hanging Shoe Organizer

I stopped fighting the, “Why don’t you have a pencil?” battle long ago. I now issue every student his/her own pencil case filled with several pencils, pens, erasers, etc. My only rule is the case has to remain in my classroom (and if you run out of, or lose, your pencils before I replace them you are stuck with golf pencils until then). I have also issued students with their own sets of earbuds for use in my classroom at various times. While this generally solved my, “I don’t have a _____!” problem, it didn’t solve the problem of how to organize/store everything. My answer to that ended up being hanging shoe organizers. I started with the basic pocket form, but found that not everything fit easily inside of them. That was when I found organizers with larger, and more sturdy, sections for shoes. These worked perfectly. I labeled each section with a student’s name and he/she was able to grab his/her supplies at the start of class and quickly put them back at the end.

Hanging File Organizers

Trying to organize all of the papers that come across our desks is a never ending challenge! I finally settled on a system using hanging file folders. I’d have one row for each subject/period of the day and one column for each day of the week. On Friday, I’d make all of my copies for the next week and place them into the folders for the day I’d need them. It was then easy to grab the Wednesday third period folder at the start of that class and everything I’d need would be right there (and if I changed plans, I could just as quickly grab the needed folder from the row). It was also easy to toss in announcement fliers, notes for specific students, and even make up work–meaning I’d be reminded to pass out whatever it was when I opened the folder at the start of the class period. The last column was for paperwork that related to staff meetings, department meetings, and other general school business. This was an easy solution to my outgoing paper problem, and did not take up an inch of my very limited desk space.

Storage Cubes

As an ESL teacher, I taught five to six different classes every day. Elementary teachers know how hard it can be to keep supplies for that many different preps organized! The system I settled on was to have a storage cube for each class. At the beginning of a unit, I’d bring all of the various physical materials (task cards, games, manipulatives, etc.) I’d need from home and load up the storage cube. The cubes were all in an organizer next to my desk for easy access. As I used the material, I’d toss it in a tote to take home with me each night or week and be put away in my supply area. The system worked great–I always had what I needed and never had to waste time looking for it because it was in the labeled storage cube. One note: I learned the hard way that not all storage cubes are the same. The cheaper ones you can find at Dollar Tree and other stores do not last nearly as long. It is worth the money to invest in nicer cubes.

Rolling Milk Crate

As any specialist teacher knows, you don’t always get your own classroom. I have been the teacher who changes locations every 30-45 minutes. I’ve also been the teacher who has to travel between multiple buildings in a single day. This milk crate organizer was a lifesaver for me! I had enough room to put teaching materials, files, and books in the center section. The pockets kept all of my pens, sticky notes, and various other small supplies organized. The wheels saved my back and, as long as I didn’t overload it, it lifted in and out of my car easily while keeping things from spilling all over as I drove. I still use it from time to time when I have to take large or heavy materials back and forth to the college and adult classes I teach now.

As I said, none of these are “must have” classroom items. They are simply things that I’ve used over and over again, things that either made my job easier or my students really enjoyed. If you’re looking to try something new, or already have all of the basics, you might give one of these items a try. Happy teaching, everyone!

Famous Quotes Bulletin Board

Famous Quotes Posters

When it comes to classroom decorations, mine have tended to fall into one of two categories: things students and I use as part of our lessons and for reference year round (ex.: Vocabulary Word Wall and our Genre & Author’s Purpose Wall), and things the students create themselves as part of a specific lesson (ex.: Shades of Meaning and Spooky Synonyms Bulletin Board). The most popular bulletin board by far doesn’t exactly fit in either category, but is closer to the second.

Each year I choose a bulletin board, or section of the wall, to be my “Wise Words from Famous Figures” display. My students insist on calling it “Wise Dead Guys,” despite the fact not all of the people represented are dead and about half of them are women, but I have to admit it’s kind of catchy. Before school starts, I post the twenty posters that make up my personal collection, being sure to leave plenty of space for additions.

On the first day of school the students and I look at the posters, take turns reading some, and talking about which we find particularly inspiring and why. I then challenge students to help the collection grow. They can participate by bringing me a name and a quote from people they learn about throughout the year, or people they know of and admire for some reason. I then do my best to find a photo of the person (Creative Commons has some good search engines to help you ensure the images are royalty and copyright free.), add the quote and their name, print, and add the newest poster to our board. If students wish, they can design and submit the completed poster themselves, but I never want lack of knowledge, or access to a computer and printer, to prevent anyone from participating.

The other option students have for participating is to submit different quotes by people already represented on our board. These I type up and print on 3×5 cards, attaching them around the original poster. Some people end up with many additional quotes, others end up with none, but that’s fine with me. Each year’s board is different and I love how unique they are.

Other teachers often remarked on the board and expressed a desire to have one of their own, but specific to the content area they taught. In response, I developed seven more sets of posters, each for a different content area. Each set has 15 posters, with the exception of the presidential set which has 45. My American history and government friends got a presidential set, including a quote from every president from Washington to Biden. My STEM friends ended up with three sets to choose from: computer/technology, mathematicians, and scientists (there are a few people who repeat, but I tried to ensure the quotes were different in each set). Before you think I forgot the A in STEAM, I didn’t, there’s a complete set of quotes from famous artists. Physical education teachers often don’t have many bulletin boards, but I created a set with quotes from athletes as well. Finally, the one closest to the area I teach, is the authors set, designed for my friends in ELA. To my music teacher friends, I am sorry, the set of musicians and famous composers has yet to be finished.

This bulletin board, whatever you choose to title it, is truly one of the most popular ones in my classroom. The students really get into curating our collection of quotes, and it helps me learn a lot about who they are how they think. If you have some blank wall space I highly suggest you give it a try. Happy teaching, everyone!

Decorations With A Purpose

Frequency Adverbs Poster–FREE!
Steps To Comprehension Poster–FREE!
Shape Poster–FREE!
CER Posters–FREE!
Story Elements Poster

I have not had themed décor in my classroom for nearly two decades now. It’s not that I’m against it, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it and I marvel at photos of classrooms I see on the internet. I started out theming my bulletin boards and classroom to some degree, but it didn’t work for me. After a couple of years I started to observe my students and take note of what they looked at and utilized in the classroom (something I highly suggest every teacher do, preferably earlier in your career than I did), and I noticed that it was not my beautifully designed/themed décor. What my students actually paid attention to were the things that helped them complete their work. This was a beginning of a shift in how I spent my time, money, and available wall space in the realm of classroom décor.

This change was reinforced by a conversation I had with a student several years after my approach to classroom décor altered (please forgive the grammar, my students are all English language learners):

Student: Miss, you have a poster that tell how do the math!

Me: I know, I put it there, you can go look at it if you want.

Student: Why you do that? It tell answer!

Me: You’re right, it tells you how to find the answer. I did it because I want you to know how to find the answer. Knowledge isn’t a secret, I want you to learn as much as you can. {students gets a confused, I think my teacher is crazy, look on her face} Why don’t you go look at the poster and then work on your math some more?

This conversation made me a little sad because the student had obviously come to the conclusion that teachers are supposed to try and hide information from them in some way, as if knowledge is something that is to be kept secret. This, of course, is not the case, and I don’t know any teachers who would try to do this. While knowledge is something to be worked for, it is not a secret. I want my students to work and seek out knowledge, but I don’t want them to feel as if they have to somehow beat the system or cheat in order to learn and succeed. This clip from the television show, Boy Meets World (season 2, episode 20) sums my point up nicely:

Every teacher I know does everything he/she can to help students grow, learn, and succeed. That is why we create resources and enjoy talking with other teachers about new ideas and methods. My move away from themed/coordinated decorations was another way that I could do this (Kudos to you if you can manage to produce anchor charts, word walls, and other decorations that are also coordinated to a central theme, I cannot!). The focus on anchor charts and other decorations that help students remember procedures and detailed information also goes along with my desire to give more authentic assessments. In order to keep the walls from getting too cluttered, I have a few things that stay up year-round (such as my word wall, genre/author’s purpose wall, and famous quotes board), but other resources get rotated based on what we’re learning. I try to have up the resources related to the unit we just finished and the one on which we’re currently working.

I’ve included links to several of my various posters/anchor charts in other blog posts (click the pictures to go to the poster, click the blue captions to go to the blog posts), but I’ve seen so many social media posts lately about classroom themes/decorations that I wanted to explain how and why my thinking on the matter has changed. I also thought it’d be a great opportunity to share with you some of the various posters and anchor charts that I’ve been successfully using for years (many of them are free). Again, I have only admiration for the beautifully themed classrooms out there, and I stand in awe of teachers who can theme their anchor charts and word walls too. This is simply what works for me and my students, and hopefully it will be an encouragement to others who, like me, find the prospect of theming and coordinating an entire classroom’s décor a little daunting. Happy teaching, everyone!

Need some posters/anchor charts for math? I’ve got you covered:

Genre & Author’s Purpose

A lot of things frustrated me as a teacher, such as how students would ignore the word wall and fail vocabulary tests until I made it an integral part of my teaching (see my Vocabulary Word Wall post from Monday for details), but nothing made me crazier than having students not know basic vocabulary for genre and author’s purpose. Then one year it hit me, it was my fault. I realized that I taught multiple genres, but never addressed the subject as a whole; I taught author’s purpose on occasion, but it was largely a one off unit. I decided that I was going to change all of that and created two new reference areas in my classroom, right next to our word wall.

My ultimate goal was to do with genre and author’s purpose what I’d done with vocabulary: make it an explicit and integral part of every lesson involving text. After discussing the vocabulary and adding it to our word wall, my students and I would turn our attention to genre and author’s purpose. By this point we’d already been skimming the text to find the vocabulary words and read the sentences they appeared in, but we took one more look back at the various text features. Based on the vocabulary, example sentences we’d read, images, and other textual clues we’d seen thus far we would make a prediction as to the genre and the author’s purpose for the text. We’d write the title of the selection on two small shapes (pre-cut calendar shapes work great), attach one to the appropriate genre poster, and the other to the correct section of our author’s purpose pie. We’d then proceed with our lesson and, after we’d thoroughly studied the text, return to our predictions and adjust it if needed.

The students quickly became comfortable with the names of various genres and sometimes engaged in quite heated debates over distinctions such as if a text was historical or realistic fiction. The words persuade, entertain, and inform also became commonplace and the discussions over where to place a particular text could sometimes only be ended by placing it on the line between two sections. The real test came that first spring when standardized testing rolled around. I knew my students could determine genre and author’s purpose as a group, but would they be able to apply their knowledge as individuals, and in a testing situation? I needn’t have worried, they all did great, and their scores rose tremendously on all areas of the test.

I wish I could tell you where I found the genre posters. I know that I downloaded them for free from some location on the internet, but have forgotten where over the years. The only one that I know for sure is the humor poster, which I designed myself to add to my set. All of the posters can be downloaded via the buttons on the above (they are letter sized PDF files). I highly recommend using a cold laminator to protect your posters. The cold lamination lasts much longer than the hot and is not nearly as prone to peeling. The author’s purpose poster is something I made by hand. I used a piece of poster board and then traced around a laundry basket to make the circle. Then, using what little bit of geometry knowledge I have, I measured the diameter, found the center point, and divided the circle into three sections. The letters were stickers I bought at Walmart, or some other similar store. I hung everything on my classroom wall and the fun began.

It really is amazing how small differences can make such a big outcome in student learning. The new vocabulary, genre, and author’s purpose posters and supplies cost less than $25 for the year (and most were reusable), and the discussions only added about ten minutes total to my teaching time. Such a small investment for such huge gains! 

Vocabulary Word Wall

Academic Vocabulary Units–Inside Level A
Academic Vocabulary Units–Inside Level B

As discussed in pervious posts, I spend a lot of time on vocabulary instruction. Besides the CCSS academic vocabulary units I work through with my students, I also do a lot of content and reading specific vocabulary work. One of my favorite middle school curriculums to teach is National Geographic Cengage’s Inside curriculum. The students and I all find the reading selections interesting, and it pairs well with topics they cover in other classes, especially science and social studies. The only complaint I have is that it needs a lot of supplementation in the areas of grammar and vocabulary instruction. This entire blog is filled with the grammar activities I use to supplement various curricula with, but today I want to focus specifically on vocabulary supplementation.

Most teachers have some form of word wall in their classroom, and I am no exception. I was never happy with mine though, it seemed largely decorative and my students generally ignored it; until I started making it an integral part of our lessons, that is.  I started by expanding the word wall from a small bulletin board to the largest one I had (in one classroom I had entire wall made of bulletin board panels–that one was great for this!), and even using the wall around the board. I then divided it into sections, one for each of the major parts of speech, and put up labels that not only named the part of speech, but also defined them. Finally, I used lots of color so you couldn’t miss seeing my word wall if you tried.

My next step was to go through my curriculum and make a word wall card for every vocabulary word in every story. Each card had the word, a student-friendly definition, and a picture. You can download the pdf version of these cards for yourself using the buttons above. I will warn you though, I never actually taught all eight units of either book, so I never actually finished the final unit of level A, nor the last two of level B. I also realized too late that I would eventually need to sort these cards out again and it might be good to label the back of them with the level and unit number. Hopefully you can learn from my mistake and save yourself some time and work. 

Then came the fun part: the teaching. Before we’d read a selection in our books, my students and I would all gather around the word wall. We’d discuss the vocabulary for that selection one-by-one, talking about the word and its definition, discussing the part of speech, finding it in the text and reading the sentence, and then creating example sentences of our own. We’d then staple the word into the correct section of our word wall and move to the next. By the end of the year we had quite the collection of words, but now they were all words we had carefully considered and used, we’d actually learned the vocabulary. 

Besides the vocabulary from our readings, we also worked with academic vocabulary from two different sources. The first was the previously mentioned CCSS academic vocabulary units I did with all of my classes, and the ELA teachers at the schools used as well. The second was the academic vocabulary addressed by the Inside series. The text books themselves had virtually nothing addressing academic vocabulary, and what was in the workbook was weak and (in my opinion) boring. I ultimately made a list of the words practiced in each unit and created my own academic vocabulary instructional plan and activities. Besides the word wall cards, for each unit we also had a cart we completed (word, picture, definition, example sentence), sort cards, clip cards (center held the definition, the words were around the edges), match-it cards, worksheets, scrambled word sets, and an assessment. The entire package is available for both Inside level A and level B (click the pictures above), but can also be used with any curriculum as they don’t depend on the Inside texts at all.

It took time for the students to adjust, but the word wall became a valuable resource with students often perusing it to remember old words and discover new. Since we spent significant time discussing the words before adding them to the wall, the students felt a sense of ownership over it. When I tried to take some of the older words (from first semester) down to make room for new ones, they protested quite vehemently saying, “Don’t mess up our wall!” I was ultimately forced to expand the word wall to a second (and sometimes third) bulletin board, but I didn’t mind, my students were learning and using new vocabulary!

August 2022 update: Get labels to create CD spinners and play Word Wall Spinner Challenge in Connected Vocabulary.