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Social Emotional Learning Activities for Upper Elementary and Middle School Students

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) has been found to promote academic success and increase students' commitment to school. Generally, there are five key components that make up social emotional learning. These competencies include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and decision making. 

Today, I'd like to focus on ways to help students develop self-awareness. Self-awareness includes one's ability to recognize emotions, have an accurate self-perception, identify strengths, develop confidence, and show self-efficacy. 

Researchers have found that a student's ability to control his or her feelings, thoughts, and behaviors can be linked to academic success. So, let's take a look at some easy ways to help students develop an awareness of their individual characteristics and personal emotions.

All About Me - ...

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Engaging Writing Lessons for Reluctant Writers

Let's face it...classrooms are often filled with reluctant writers. (And if we're being really honest, reluctant teachers of writing). For many students (and teachers) writing is intimidating and often paralyzing. 
It makes sense. There's no real formula for "good" writing. There's no equation for putting together an excellent written piece. The pure openness of writing is often what makes it so overwhelming. Students struggle with where to begin and often where to end, and many times, teachers are right there with their students. Teachers also wonder where to begin and where to end their writing instruction. That's why I'm sharing 5 easy ways to help students love writing
Check out my tried and true ways to make writing FUN. ...
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Valentine's Day Activities for Big Kids

Teachers everywhere know that Valentine's Day always seems to bubble over with anxious anticipation and candy-fueled excitement for many students. There's a unique buzz in the air as students in upper elementary and middle school classrooms navigate Valentine's Day celebrations. That's why I love finding fun ways to harness all that energy with educational games and activities. Capitalizing on all of the excitement is a perfect way to engage students. 

I've put together a list of my favorite Valentine's Day activities and games for big kids. I hope you find some that your students will love!

BONUS: Many of these ideas work for virtual instruction as well!

Fact Hunt - Make learning about Valentine's Day super fun with a fact ...

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Virtual Classroom Activities for Zoom or Video Conferencing Platforms

Games are a tried and true way to engage students. Whether teaching in-person or remotely via a live session like Zoom or Google Meets, teachers know that games, brain breaks, and icebreakers are an awesome way to get students actively involved in learning. With the ever-changing landscape of education, I thought it might be nice to compile some versatile activities that challenge students in really fun ways. Best part? They can work in a virtual or an in-person setting!

These activities encourage students to listen, solve problems, be creative, and practice critical skills. They're designed to be easy to do with little to no prep. You can easily add one of these games to any distance learning lesson as a ...
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The Socially Distanced Classroom: Learning Activities that work with Social Distancing


When I first imagined a socially distant classroom, I had an overwhelming sense of sadness. I was flooded with images of classrooms under "normal" circumstances. I had flashbacks of kids rotating through fun learning stations, playing games together, reading in small groups, completing learning fact hunts, doing hands-on projects, and getting imaginative with their learning. For an instant, I felt like those days were over. 
Then, I remembered the most fundamental truth about educators: "Teachers are innovative." 
I knew it was time to think creatively about instruction. So, I took a deep dive into some of my favorite ways to get kids learning, and guess what? With small tweaks, we can still make learning engaging, motivating, and meaningful...and ...
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Connecting with our Community - How to Create a Robot Hunt

My family needed a project. Nearly a month into social distancing, it was time to figure out a way to connect with the friends that we all missed desperately.

So, I recruited our two boys and my husband to create a robot hunt. I thought we could make some robots, hide them around our town, write some clues for the hidden robots, and share the Robot Scavenger Hunt with our friends. 

Turns out, it worked! Our friends and their families got outside, hunted down some robots, and shared photos with us along the way. We had such a great time doing it, I thought you might want to try it in your own community.

(Click HERE to download the ...
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Tips for Learning at Home - From a Teacher-Mom

I don't know about you, but it felt like Remote Learning came into our household like a tsunami. When we first got word that schools were closing, there was that brief moment before the tsunami hits. It was that strange calm when the ocean recedes, and for a moment, I was like, "OK, yeah, we've got this!" I mean between my husband and I, we have over 30 years of teaching experience. So, while I knew we were going to be faced with the challenges of the new routine and all the sad ripple effects of the pandemic, I felt like the "home school" element was definitely within our wheelhouse. I had visions of home school being just like this... ...
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Lessons, Activities, and Projects to Support Remote Learning

If you're a teacher or a parent looking for fun ways to help kids learn at home, then you're in the right place. I've put together a list of the 10 best ELA activities, lessons, and projects for kids to complete at home. To make it on this list, each resource had to meet this criteria...

--- Kids can complete the work independently.
--- The lessons require no additional planning for teachers and/or parents.
--- The activities are fun and engaging.
--- They are easy to share with families.
--- And most importantly...they tap into critical ELA skills like reading, writing, and grammar.

Some of the resources can be completed digitally. Others, require just a piece of paper and ...
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Ideas for celebrating National Poetry Month in the Classroom

National Poetry Month takes place every April. I'm pretty sure I love the month-long celebration of poets and poems as much as students love a snow day!

National Poetry Month first began in 1996. It is organized by the American Academy of Poets as a way to build awareness and appreciation of poetry.  Since its creation, it has become the largest literary celebration in the world. Wow! Pretty cool, right? Publishers, poets, libraries, and book vendors celebrate National Poetry Month, so it only makes sense for teachers and students to celebrate too.

I've put together a list of really easy ways to celebrate National Poetry Month all April long. In addition, I've compiled my favorite poetry lessons (many ...
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5 things Happy Teachers Do!

Since teaching can be one of the most challenging, exhausting, and downright difficult professions, I thought it might be interesting to figure out exactly what happy teachers are doing to meet the challenges of the teaching profession. I went on search for 5 things happy teachers do. You actually probably do a lot of these things, but I hope that you'll find an idea or two to help you feel a little happier in the classroom.

It's a fact...happy teachers laugh. That's no surprise since science has proven that laughing can lower your blood pressure, improve concentration, and reduce anxiety. Teachers need opportunities to laugh. Of course, it's great if you can laugh at work, but if you really ...
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5 Rules to Break in the Classroom

As teachers we’re pretty amazing at creating rules. We have rules for just about everything. There are rules for how to behave, how to participate, how to get along, how to move, how to speak…well, you get my point. And it’s a good thing. Without rules and guidelines, a classroom and the children in it would go absolutely bonkers. However, as they say, “some rules are meant to be broken.” I’m here to suggest that it might be time to break some of our standard classroom rules and encourage our students to learn in new ways.
If you’re OK with breaking some rules (and being a bit of a rebel), here are just a few rules that you might want ...
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Join the fun!

I absolutely love spoiling teachers! That's why I created the Brain Waves Instruction Club. It's absolutely free and especially for teachers on the hunt for free lessons, activities and resources. Just add your information HERE and you'll receive fun freebies, news, and updates right in your email inbox.

When you sign up, you'll receive a set of 5 creative writing lessons instantly! I love these lessons because they work perfectly in any classroom on any day. They're perfect to leave behind for a substitute teacher too!

Then, every couple of weeks, you can expect more fun freebies. I've put together a set of lessons for special occasions...and it's 40 pages! There are games, homework tips, and ideas to make ...
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Tips for Managing and Handing Back Papers in the Classroom

Do you ever feel like you're drowning under a mountain of students' papers? Sometimes, as a teachers, it feels like we're constantly shuffling and sorting papers. I don't know about you, but after creating a lesson plan and grading students' work, it feels like getting the papers back to students can be a serious hassle. There has to be a better way! And...good news...there is! 
I surveyed a group of dynamic teachers about how they manage and hand back students' papers in their classroom. They came back with some awesome ideas! Check them out...

Setting up a central system of mailboxes is a great way to get materials back to students. Jennifer F. sets up a mailbox for each student. ...
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Mindfulness in the Classroom

Mindfulness is the act of slowing down and noticing what is happening. The purpose of mindfulness is to calm our thoughts and focus on the present moment. 

(GUESS WHAT? I've put together exclusive FREEBIES for mindfulness. Click here to receive them!)

Mindfulness meditation is a way of focusing the mind so that it is fully attending to what’s happening right now, to what we’re doing, and to the space that we’re currently in. Cultivating mindfulness means to be present, to pay attention, and to be aware of our emotions and the way that we respond to them.

Recent neuroscience research points to many benefits of mindfulness meditation: 
   ➧ increased focus
   ➧ a sense of calm
   ➧ decreased stress ...
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Attack Of The Adolescent Brain! What Every Middle School Teacher Needs To Know

Teaching adolescents can be hard. Being an adolescent is harder. During some of my most difficult days in the middle school classroom, I always found comfort when I remembered how I felt when I was a middle schooler. Those tween days of awkwardness and change were some of my worst. Something else that helped me as a teacher? Science! I found that understanding the adolescent brain was super helpful. That's why I thought I'd share a few facts about the adolescent brain that might make it easier for you to teach middle schoolers.

Adolescents sometimes get a bad reputation for being unmotivated and even lazy. As teachers, we know what a big impact kids’ academic performance can have on their ...
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The Benefits of Teaching Creative Writing

This is an era of standard-based teaching, with lots of curriculum to cover in very little time. Teachers are pressured to make tough decisions that will have a serious impact on their students' education. We can't do it all, so what subject matter shall we prioritize? What's most important? If it's not likely to be on "the test", can we afford to spend time on it?  

Something has to give, and creative writing is all too often the first candidate for the chopping block. It's a subject that doesn't fit well into a standardized test. It's tricky to grade. Its value is difficult to justify by means of the standard research data. 

In fact, the value of creative writing ...
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Favorite Literature for Middle School Students

I don't know about you, but I love teaching literature that not only challenges students to become better readers, but also to become better people. There's nothing quite like a beautiful piece of literature that nurtures students' minds and souls. That's why this round-up of my very favorite pieces of literature to teach in the middle school classroom includes literature that teaches lessons about kindness, community, gratitude and hope. I'm sure some of your own favorites have made the list, but I hope you'll discover something new to share with your students!

My favorite short story to teach is "Thank You, M'am" by Langston Hughes. As you may know, "Thank You, M'am" is the story of a boy who ...
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Positive Notes for Students

Let's face it, there are times when we all could use a little encouragement...and our students are no different. Sometimes, a little note does just the trick! That's why I put together a collection of note cards that you can share with students on any day of the year! I've even got ideas for how to use them in the classroom.

First, things first, if you'd like a free set of the note cards, just add your information below. Then, check your email and download the cards instantly. (I'll provide another link for signing up at the end of this post in case you want to keep reading.)

Sign Up & Download the Positive Note Cards!Add your name and ...
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Laughing and Learning in the Classroom

Did you know that the American Psychological Association found that laughter leads to learning? I bet you're not surprised. We all know that laughter lightens the mood, it brings pleasure, and it connects us to others. However, according to Zak Stambor, laughter can even help our students learn. That's because laughter has been found to increase students' participation in class and heighten students' ability to pay attention. If you've been in a classroom with laughing kids, you know that there's nothing better!

Here are some easy ways to get students laughing AND learning in the classroom!

FUNNY VOICESLet's face it, silly voices are so much fun! Here are some super easy ways to get students laughing with ...
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Free Halloween Lessons and Activities for the Classroom

Are you on the hunt for some fun (and free) Halloween activities? If so, then you're in the right place! 
I'm sharing 3 of my favorite Halloween-themed lessons that will have students writing, reading, and analyzing poetry! That's right! Who says that a holiday-themed lesson can't be rigorous AND engaging? Not me! I love lessons that pack an academic punch and these freebies do just that!

Capitalize on students' natural love for Halloween with this fun creative writing activity! The writing activity begins when students roll story element dice (setting, character, obstacle, and a story starter) to create a random set of story components. Once students have their story elements, they'll plan and write a spooky story by combining all ...
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Easy Ways to Get Students Doodling (and learning) in the Classroom!

I’m a huge fan of using doodling to help students learn…and today I’m going to share why doodling is important plus easy ways to help students get their "doodle on" in the classroom. Oh, and I’ve put together a sampler with free doodle resources that you’re going to love! It's a FREE PDF filled with tips, links and EXCLUSIVE DOODLE FREEBIES. I've provided the link at the end of the post!
Here's the thing, when I was a kid, doodling on our papers was not allowed…and now I spend my days coming up with ways to encourage students TO doodle on their papers! That’s because doodling has been shown to help with memory, stress relief and ...
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Picture Books for Teaching Theme, Figurative Language, Kindness, Creativity, and Writing!

Ready for one of my favorite ways to teach students about writing, reading, creativity, and even kindness? It’s something that elementary teachers have known all along…it’s the picture book!
The picture book is a powerful instructional tool that can work in any classroom…and I thought I’d share some examples of my favorites with you today.
I’ve put the collection of books in a simple (and free) PDF with links that you can download by clicking this LINK. I’ve also paired each book with a ready-made unit that you can easily teach in your classroom too. Feel free to download the PDF at any time.
In the meantime, let’s take a look at some of my favorite picture books ...
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Favorite Back to School Activities

Ready to "cook up" a great first day of school? It's easy with this recipe for a successful start to the school year!
PREP:➤ Think about how you will set the tone for your classroom on the first day of school.➤ Plan to keep students engaged and active.➤ Prepare to build a positive rapport with students from the first instant that they become a part of the classroom community.
INGREDIENTS:➤ Warm-Up Activity➤ Get-to-Know-You Activity➤ Game that gets students out of their seats➤ Get-to-Know-the-Teacher Activity➤ Writing Prompt➤ Extension Activity
Once you've gathered your ingredients, you can get "cooking!" 

STEP 1: Begin with a ...
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Round Up of My Favorite End of the Year Lessons & Activities

Before you know it, it'll be time to say goodbye to your students as they head off into summer. With the last day of school rapidly approaching, I thought I'd share my favorite ways to make the most of the end of the school year. (I've also filled this post with some exclusive freebies! So exciting!)

Here's a quick listing of the ideas I'm going to share today:

➧ Unit to teach:  Roller Coaster Persuasive Writing Unit
➧ Gifts for students:  Motivational Gifts for Students
➧ Whole-class review:  Grammar Escape Rooms (with a twist)
➧ Doodle reflection:  End of the Year Doodle Suitcase or Locker
➧ Freebie: Accordion Book Reflection
➧ Summer reading project (and FREEBIE): Summer Reading Project
➧ Free plan books: May and ...
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3 Easy Ways to Make Poetry More Fun!

Why does poetry have such a bad rap? In my experience, every time that I would mention poetry to students, their response was always a deafening protest.  Every year, it makes me wonder:  why are students so averse to learning how to read, analyze and write poetry? 
There seems to be a massive misconception about poetry among students (and maybe teachers too). Poetry is often perceived as this mythical type of literature that only the most gifted and insightful can interpret and create.  But, it's not!  Sure, there are some challenging pieces of poetry, but there are so many wonderful ways to make poetry FUN!  Here are just a few ideas...

CREATE A POETRY CULTURE:  One simple way to make ...
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