Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Fine Motor Skills Interventions

The dread of every teacher and parent- a whole page of work a student has toiled over for hours, and it's completely illegible!  Fine motor skills can be tricky for students to master, especially with the emphasis on typing.  Parents and teachers can use strategies in the list below to encourage fine motor skills in students of all ages; these have been collected from occupational therapists, teacher friends, and my own classroom experience.  Start with one that sounds the most engaging to your student!

Pencil Pushups
Take a pencil in your hand and  hold it the "correct" or most ergonomically comfortable way for a typical writer.  First, keep your "stop" fingers tucked in, just like when you write.  Then, pull in your three "go" fingers (your thumb, index, and middle finger that grip the pencil) so that each finger is bent and retracted as closely to the hand as possible.  Finally, extend your "go" fingers so that they are completely straight.  You've just done a pencil pushup!  Repeating this movement a few dozen times a day will help build muscle strength of those tiny finger muscles; this will make it easier to have the stamina it requires to write.  It also encourages the "correct" grip on a pencil, which will make it more comfortable for the writer, and will allow them to write for longer periods of time with greater accuracy, and less pain or discomfort.  Teachers can begin or end a certain subject area, like at the end of math, every day that the whole class does pencil push ups.  Set a timer for a few different times during the day to help build pencil pushups into your daily routine! 

Handwriting Levels
I have a set of mini drawers that I keep different "levels" of handwriting in.  The first level is the sentence, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog!" on large  handwriting paper.  The second level is the same sentence but on regular lined paper.  Next comes, "THE FIVE BOXING WIZARDS JUMP QUICKLY?" on large handwriting paper.  Level four is the same wizard sentence on regular lined paper.  Level five is the alphabet in cursive and level six is the fox sentence in cursive on handwriting paper.  The fox sentence in cursive on regular lined paper is level seven, and level eight is the student's name in cursive on regular paper.  To pass a level, a student must fill the page with the letters/sentence in legible handwriting.  Then they "graduate" on to the next level.  This set of handwriting levels helps students master basic to more complex handwriting and they feel accomplishment as they graduate from each level.  I used to spend about a half hour a week on handwriting levels, but now that cursive handwriting is no longer part of Oregon state standards, I just pull intervention groups for students who need help with their fine motor skills/printing.

Pencil Grips
There are a wide variety of pencil grips available for purchase.  Through a grant I wrote, I got my entire school a set of the little Steno pencil grips, like these-
 They are inexpensive, help force students to hold their pencil correctly, and provide some cushioning support for smaller fingers.
I also have these available for just my students that  have difficulty with fine motor skills.  They have more cushioning and also help students grip their pencil ergonomically.

Detailed Coloring Sheets
Before detailed coloring sheets became popular a few years ago, the only ones that I could find were created by Dover Publishing.  I love them because I chose pages that correlate with whatever we're learning about, and they each include a little informative paragraph that explains what is happening in the illustration.
Personalized Handwriting Practice
Either use a handwriting font on Word or go to a website like to create customized worksheets. My students love pages of their name in cursive, sentences I've written about our class adventures or interests of theirs.  This offers higher levels of engagement because they're interested in what they're writing; it's not just random sentences!

What Works Best for You?
What are your favorite ways to practice handwriting and fine motor skills?  What do your students or your child like the best?  What made the most difference in your own fine motor skill development?  Leave a comment below, share this post, and subscribe to make sure you don't miss any new teaching goodness that comes out!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Add Intervention Time with Wonderful Word Work Ideas!

Independent Language Work
It sounds like a dream, doesn't it?  Your whole class, focused independently on meaningful language development so you have time to pull an intervention group, meet with a behavior student proactively, touch base with your IA so she knows what to cover with her small group today, or any of the thousands of things we do as teachers.  Here is a huge list of ideas to help students develop their spelling & language pattern identification independently.  If you're a parent, you can use these strategies at home to help  your child become a better speller.  Experiment with these ideas, find what works best for your student, and stick with it!  Because there is so much variety, students don't get bored, and many different learning styles are addressed.
*Vocab Ring- Students find challenging vocabulary from their reading & write it and the word’s definition on one side of a note card.  On the other side, they use the word in a sentence, and draw a picture that symbolizes its meaning. Note cards are hole-punched and collected on a metal ring.

*Write a synonym & antonym for each word.

*Body Spelling is something we do in class.  For tall letters, like t, h, and l, raise your hands.  For, letters that go below the line, like p, y, and q, bend over.  Bring your arms to the sides for the rest of the letters.  Practice each word with this method daily for results.

*Stamps/Beans/Wikki Stix/Pipe Cleaners/Scrabble Letters/Alphabet Blocks- Use these or other small manipulatives to spell each word and find patterns between them.
*Read the words aloud, letter by letter.  Then read them aloud as students write them down.

*Write each word 10 times as you say it aloud.

*Stencils-Use stencils to write out each word.
*Rainbow-Use three different colors, and write the word three times, overlapping the colors.

*Ladder Words- Write the word horizontally, then write it vertically from the same starting word.

*Circle the vowels & underline the consonants in each word.

*Keyboards - have an old keyboard laying around?  It doesn't matter if it doesn't actually work or even if it's missing the backspace.  I collected a set of obsolete keyboards for my students to take to their desks to practice typing in their spelling words on.  They simply type the word, then write it on their page.  This also helps with keyboarding skills since the computer lab is always booked for testing from winter-spring!
*Beat/Clap the syllables- Write each word, clap the syllables, then draw lines through the word to show where the syllables start and end.

*Stair Step- write the first letter of the word on the first line, the first two letters of the word on the next line, and so on until the word is spelled completely.

*Sort the words, by length, sounds, vowels, alphabetically, or any other attribute.

*Chalk- Write each word with sidewalk chalk outside or on a chalkboard.
*Alphabetize the words.

*Make flashcards with the correctly spelled word on one side and a picture about that word on the other.  Practice with these by first holding up the word side and having them repeat the word aloud, followed by how to spell the word (“Dog. D-O-G. Dog.”).  Then flip the card over to remind them of the picture they drew that symbolizes that word for them.  Then practice the words by showing them the picture side, having them tell you the word and how to spell it.

*Make the words with play-doh or cut them out of paper.  I get the bag of tiny Play-Doh containers at Target during their Halloween clearance and it lasts my class well for the year.  I organize my Play-doh, pipe cleaners, and beans in a set of drawers for students to easily access.

*Look up each word in a dictionary and thesaurus.  I usually have my students write down the definition or synonyms. 

*Wipe boards- Have your students write each word on a wipe board.

*Use each word in a sentence, or make up a story with all the words in it.

* has great ways of practicing spelling on the computer and you can put your own words in for students to manipulate on the website.
Students can grab a bag of letters and go spell!  What's your favorite way to encourage spelling and language pattern skills?  Leave a comment below and share this page with friends.  Don't forget to check out my store at TeachersPayTeachers-

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Greek Goodness~ A Writing Unit Focusing on Greek Characters

I'm excited to announce that I finally finished writing a new unit that helps students research a Greek mythology character, take notes on their findings, outline an essay, and write a rough draft as well as a final copy.  It also has guidelines for how students can create a high-quality poster and develop a presentation all about their character.  The following 19 fourth grade CCSS are covered in this unit:
4.RL.3, 4.RL.4, 4.RI.1, 4.RI.2, 4.RI.4, 4.RI.9, 4.W.2, 4.W.4, 4.W.5, 4.W.6, 4.W.7, 4.W.8, 4.W.9, 4.W.10, 4.SL.4, 4.SL.5, 4.SL.6, 4.L.1, and 4.L.2. This fits many 3-6th grade standards as well.  My new unit even includes audience member expectations so that you can keep all your students engaged during presentations!

Below is the unit schedule and general information on audience member guidelines.  You can find the complete product, ready to print & use with your students, on my TeachersPayTeachers account at

Unit Schedule
I usually give my fourth graders about 3-4 weeks for this unit, depending upon how much time we can devote to writing each day and the level of skill & speed of my students for the year.  Generally, I have about a half hour for writing each day.  You can adjust the following schedule to fit the needs of your students and your writing schedule:

Week 1: I introduce the unit with the included materials, students choose their mythology character, gather books from the library, print information from websites like , and start writing the information into their outlines (blank copies for student use are in the unit).

Week 2:  I introduce the sentence frames included in this unit's rough draft and review editing later in the week.  Students draft their essays with the help of the sentence frames in the included rough draft.  I only let my lower-level students have a personal copy of the sentence frames to actually write on, and I discuss and display the frames on the SmartBoard to assist the rest of my class, but encourage them to write their own sentences.  Students begin editing.  If I’m using this for an official writing assessment, I don’t let them peer edit or use the exact sentence stems in their final copies, but otherwise they work with at least two other people to edit their work.

Week 3: I show students example final copy essays, like the one included in this unit, as well as posters created by former students.  Students finish editing their essays and write their final copies.  They begin work on designing their poster (I have them create them at home as homework over a week).

Week 4:  I introduce converting an essay into a speech (writing the keywords from one paragraph of the essay on each index card for their presentation).  Students summarize their essays on their notecards, practice presenting, and present their character to the class utilizing their posters!  When students are not presenting, they are listening attentively to the presenter to provide feedback because everyone is expected to tell a presenter what they did well on and how they could improve their presentation.  

Audience Expectations during Presentations
Once the presenter finishes, we clap for them as a class, students raise their hands, and the presenter calls on a student of their choice- the first student they call on gives positive feedback, the second gives something to work on.  Once a student has been called on a speaker, they can’t raise their hand again until everyone in the class has gotten a chance to give feedback.  i tell them before hand that I sometimes cold call a student who doesn’t seem to be paying attention to keep them listening to their peer’s presentations and evaluating their work.  After the two pieces of feedback have been given to the presenter, the speaker gets to choose a fun way to be congratulated, like a round of applause, a microwave (students wave to the presenter with just the tips of their fingers), etc.

Again, if you’d like to cover a plethora of standards in one fun writing unit, this is the perfect product!  This unit includes:
*a weekly unit schedule to guide your teaching
*an outline for students to gather information on
*a blank rough draft complete with sentence stems to help students frame complete sentences and flowing paragraphs for the whole essay
*a completed rough draft with sentence frames filled in so students know how to use them
*a sample final essay
*a title page for student’s essays & space for an illustration
*guidelines for a poster
*tips for success presenting orally about their Greek character
*expectations for audience participation

Find it at Thank you so much for buying this product and supporting my work.  Because of your purchase, a teacher’s request on will be a little closer to being funded, and great new supplies will soon be in the hands of our youth.  Your purchase will also help provide food, clothing, shelter, medicine, or the start to a new small business for the world’s most impoverished people through Food for the Poor  (I give 20% of my profits to charity).  I greatly appreciate your support.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

St. Patrick's Day Shamrock Art

This is a fun project that my students enjoy doing a few weeks before St. Patrick's Day.  First I read aloud from a few different St. Patrick/Irish books, like St. Patrick & the Peddler, Jamie O'Rourke & the Pooka, Daniel O'Rourke, etc.

Then I start with a mini lesson on some art vocabulary, including line, color, and mediums.  We talk about how we'll only be using one color, green, but that there are many shades of green, like we observed in the Irish texts from the Emerald Isles.  I discuss the different types of lines in art, like dotted, dashed, swirly, and straight lines (I also contrast this with the mathematical definition of line; in math, a line has to be perfectly straight and it goes on forever in both directions).  Last, I talk about the different mediums they'll be using- the paper shamrock, colored pencils, markers, crayons, and glue.

After showing a few examples of how to use a variety of green lines to decorate their shamrock, students are released to start their creations.  We glue them onto a black background for better contrast, and then write one Irish phrase on it.  Students can choose an Irish phrase they remember from one of our read alouds (with teacher check ins), or they can choose one from the list I display on the Smartboard.  Some of the phrases I display include:

It’s easy to halve a potato where there is love.
Mind the pooka!
Laughter is brightest where food is best.
Beware o’ the leprechaun!
Top o’ the morning to you!
Happy Saint Patrick's Day!
If you don’t know the way, walk slowly.
Saints preserve us!
Luck be with you!

There's an easy art lesson for a fun holiday!  What do you do for St. Patrick's Day or other spring holidays?  Leave your idea in the comments below.  Happy St. Patrick's Day to you!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Back to School Share

What is your favorite back-to-school teacher hack?  What do you always forget about until you step foot in your classroom in the fall?  I'm compiling a list for a new teacher (and hope to give it out to all of my student teachers and for free on as well), and I hope to have a "Teacher To-Do List for Back-to-School."  Please share your thoughts in the comments below to help other educators.  I've put some questions in bold to think and share on, but I'd love to hear input on any back-to-school subject.  Here are some basic ideas that I've come up with so far:

*Organize the furniture.  Usually having large furniture up against the walls will open the room the most and make it seem bigger.  It will also make for easy flow of student traffic.  How do you like to arrange the furniture in your classroom?  More specifically, where do you place your teacher desk?  Check out this site that has a bunch of different layouts & styles of classroom decorations- 

*Set up your student desks how you plan to teach.  If you want a lot of silent, independent work time with lots of teacher lecture/instruction, separate all your desks and have them all face the main board of instruction. If you like more student interaction, peer learning, and cooperative work, I suggest making long rows of students facing each other so that everyone in the classroom need only turn their head slightly to face the main instruction area. I usually have three long rows, split into six cooperative learning groups with a bout 5 students in each group (heterogeneously grouped with talkers near quiet students and my ELL's, and behavior/attention students near the front or with an empty desk nearest them, etc). Above and below are a couple pictures from a few years ago, when I still had each table group separated instead of in longer table rows:
*Hang up your emergency folder in a visible area near the emergency exit.  Mine is a red pocket folder that has a student roster and what to do in case of each type of emergency on one side, and all of my students' emergency forms on the other (with where to send them in case of an early closure).  Make sure you/someone on your team has an emergency kit to take out with you during a fire drill/ real emergency.  What's in your emergency kits at your school?
* Put up posters. Decide what you want up for the students to read on the first day when they walk in where you want to put posters you'll create with them and display.  I've organized my posters by unit of study, and I'll get a blog up about that one of these days! :)  Make sure to leave room for necessary postings, like the map to the nearest emergency exit, what to do in a Lock Down drill, etc.  What posters do you display on the first day of school?  What posters/visuals do you make with your students during the first week?

*Plan your first week of lessons.  I always plan more than we could possibly do, because it's better to have too many things planned and knock some of them off/save them for the next day than to have too little planned.  

*Plan what you're going to say in the first 10 minutes of class.  They will set mood for the whole year.  Harry Wong's First Days of School is a great place to start if you're a new teacher.

*Prepare all the worksheets/books/materials you will need for the first week of school.  Dust off the text books, send homework to print, and ready the manipulatives!

*Put students' names/numbers on everything.  I just write their names on little address labels (you could easily print them too).  I put names on:
-backpack hooks/cubbies
-student work files
-name plates for their desks
-my teacher pensive with all of their writing & reading conference notes/running records/goals/etc

I put their student numbers on:
-a dry erase marker (to keep inside their desk. If they lose it or ruin it, they get a new one, but it costs 5 Pioneer Dollars, which is the money they earn in the token economy we do in my class)
-an editing marker (also kept inside their desk for writing)
-the homework chart (along with their name. This is where we keep their name & number posted throughout the whole year so they can look up their own number in case they forget, or figure out which student the editing marker they just found on the ground belongs to).
-their clicker/smart response remote for answering questions on the Smartboard.

*Write your back-to-school/welcome letter and send it to print.  What do you include in your letter to parents?  I'll get a copy of mine on TPT, or I can email it to you if you leave your email address in the comments below.

*Organize your classroom library.  For tips, see my post about it here-

*Decorations/theme-  I'll need to write an entirely separate post about decorating a classroom, but I generally like to choose a color theme rather than a specific thing.  Instead of doing owls, cupcakes, a popular movie, etc, which will be slightly awkward to repeat the next year and will undoubtedly go out of fashion in the near future, I chose to go with a blue and purple theme and selected different timeless decorations, classroom furniture, accessories to match.  (I do love owls, cupcakes, movies themes, etc, and I've seen many of my colleagues have absolutely darling rooms with these themes, but I also see them spending at least $20, if not hundreds, every year or two as each popular theme loses popularity.

*Write a grant on  The best time to get a grant funded is in August & September, because those are generally the months that large corporations want to get some time in the spotlight for their generous contributions to the schools.  Think about what you still need/want for your classroom in the last few weeks of summer and take an hour to write up a grant for it.  It's one of the easiest things that I've done to gain over $5,000 worth of products for our classroom in a little over a dozen grants.

*Think about a class pet. If you want one for free (or nearly free) visit and fill out the easiest grant you'll ever write in your life!  It is literally TWO sentences long!  See my post about the many benefits of having a pet in your classroom-

*Write your back-to-school/welcome letter and send it to print.  What do you include in your letter to families? I'll get a copy of mine on TPT, or I can email it to you if you leave your email address in the comments below.

*Bring in some oxygen when you bring in some plants.  Read my posting about how you can increase the oxygen levels in your room and implement some educational ventures with some green leafies as well here-

*Prepare a substitute folder. I created emergency sub plans for mine, ones that any sub could whip out and employ on any given day in the year if some emergency came up where I couldn't make lesson plans. Make sure it's somewhere easily visible, and include any health plans or notes on particularly challenging students.

Okay, mastermind teachers!  What are your other tips for preparing the classroom for the first day of school? Please leave your advice, ideas, & questions below!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

New Blog- Pennywise Pursuit!

Want to save a few thousand dollars each year with some small changes?  Check out my new blog, to do just that! My husband and I are working together on it to share ideas on simple ways to have more money for the important things in your life.  

Take a look and let us know what you think!


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Getting Creative & Multilingual with Table Group Names

Instead of having the same, boring table group names for the entire year, I like to mix things up and make them educational at the same time.  Below, you will find a plethora of table group names that fit the different units we do throughout the year, like this one from our first math unit- place value!

Here are our table group names for our geometry unit.  You could do them in two languages, have the picture on one side and the name on the other, or do the name of the figure on one side and its definition on the other like I've done here.

One of the highlights for third and fourth grade for social studies is state history.  Here are some pioneer-ish table group names; one side is English and the other is in a different language.
For our temperate rainforest unit, I have the name of a common temperate rainforest animal on one side of the table group name and its name in a different language on the back.

In our fraction unit, we use these table group names with a common fraction written in words on the front with the picture shown in bars, and the fraction written numerically on the back with the fraction shown in a circle.  I just hole punch a little hole at the top of each piece of construction paper after I laminate it, thread a string through it, tie a little thumb tack to the end, and pierce the ceiling tile so it dangles over the center of the table group.

We also cover Oregon geography and the continents, so I have created these table group names to put up during those units:

What are some of the table group names that you have used in the past?  How do you connect them with the units you teach?  Leave a comment below, and check back for more teaching goodness!