Build Community with Class Books – Book #1: The Collage Book

Build Classroom Community Through Book Making

Photo Credit: Dave Rogers via Flickr, CCL 2013

As we begin the school year, building a sense of classroom community is at the top of our teacher “to do” lists. One simple way to accomplish that goal is by publishing class books. These are books BY your students and FOR your students. You’ll be amazed when you see how powerful they are in terms of increasing student motivation to read and write. They also build community quite naturally, as they are often about your students and/or are created collaboratively. There are so many fabulous ideas out there for this type of classroom publishing. For the next several posts, I’ll share a few of my own “tried and true” book-making ideas with you.

Book #1 – The “Life in Pictures” Collage Class Book

This might be the easiest publishing project you can do! Early in the school year send home a blank sheet of card stock with each student. Include a cover letter (link to free download below) explaining that each child needs to create a collage of images showcasing their likes, talents, and interests. Photos are encouraged but not required.

Students then cover the page with photos, drawings, stickers, etc. at home and bring the page back to school. (I always show them mine as an example before I send this assignment home.)

Student Collage sample

Student sample page- notice the captions! I encourage that but don’t require it.

Students are invited to share their collage pages with the class- a few per day- and the pages are then placed into clear plastic page protectors (with a little piece of clear tape closing the top.)

Once complete, this book travels home with my students so their families can get to know the other children in the class too. It becomes a VERY POPULAR item!

After visiting the students’ homes, the book is placed in our classroom library and remains a treasured title throughout the year.


Click on the image below for the *free* cover letter for parents via Teachers Pay Teachers.

Life In Pictures Cover Sheet My  students have done this project many times over the years and never get tired of it. In fact, my son and daughter have been engaged in similar projects throughout their school careers and love every aspect. Creating the collage is a wonderfully fun “homework” assignment but getting to check out the finished class book to bring home is just as popular. They spend ages studying each page.

There are so many ways to create class books that build a sense of community while also supporting literacy instruction. In my next post I’ll share how you can use in-class photography to create simple but effective class publications.

PS- I know I promised puppets. Don’t worry- puppet posts are in the queue! With VIDEOS!!

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Back to School Success

Back to School Ideas Photo Credit: Joe Duty via Flickr CCL, 2013.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: back to school! I say that as both an educator who loves all things “back to school” as well as a mother who is quite thrilled to get my kids back into a routine.

We teachers are truly blessed that we can reinvent ourselves and our teaching methods afresh each year.

I know many of you are already back at it, but it’s not too late to make sure you are laying the foundation for an awesome school year. Here are 5 things to keep in mind as you go through the first month of school.

1- Establish strong classroom community. It’s so tempting these days to jump right into content. The Common Core Standards are here and there is a lot of pressure to “get it all in.” However, if you skip the community building step, you will find yourself dealing with lots more misbehavior and “drama” than necessary all year long.

Want to learn more about how to build community? Visit the Responsive Classroom. That site is FULL of great resources and ideas for community building. Also, check out these previous posts:

Start Your Day With a Morning Meeting – Morning Meetings are a great way to start the school day with a positive sense of community. Now that I’ve seen the power of  daily meetings to impact student attitudes and behavior, I would never teach without them again.

Greetings for Morning Meeting – This is a list of my favorite “greetings.” Even if you don’t use “Morning Meeting,” some of these greetings make great ice breakers at the beginning of the year, as do…

Activities for Morning Meeting – Another fun list of games and energizers. Great for back to school fun!

2- Take time to teach procedures. You already know this. It is the same idea as community- do it right up front so you don’t waste time for the rest of the year dealing with sloppy classroom procedures and routines. This post I wrote on bonding with your students has a free download listing the procedures you’ll want to remember to teach! Very helpful list!

3- Make Movement Part of Your Daily Routine. Movement is such a powerful motivator for students and is also a fantastic learning tool. I’ve written about it before. Check out these posts:

5 Reasons to Get Children Moving

Tips for Managing Classroom Movement – Do you struggle to manage movement-based activities in your classroom? This post is for you!

4- Establish a Positive Connection with  Parents. Aside from the “normal” communication methods (weekly newsletter, homework agenda, etc.) find a simple and personal way to let each child’s parents know that you see something valuable in their child. There are many ways to do this: a short note home, a quick email, a phone call, a brief conversation in the pick-up line,  etc. The goal is to communicate that:

1) You are getting to know their child

2) You like / care about their child.

That simple reassurance goes a long way with parents and will also set a positive foundation in the event that you need to communicate with them in the future about academic or behavioral concerns. Select 2 or 3 students each day and take a few moments to connect with their parents in a positive way.

One easy technique is to use a simple note template. This “Wow Note” is a cute freebie on Teachers Pay Teachers and it’s open-ended.

5- Have fun! Teaching should be fun for you and your students! Look over your plans and try to find places to insert a “fun factor” each day.

For example, my daughter came home on the second day of school bubbling with excitement about a science assignment. She had been asked to read a portion of the science book and then work in a small group to present the information in a creative way. Her group chose to perform a short skit. Another group performed a rap (with break dancing.) She was grinning from ear to ear and telling me every detail of the content she learned. Not only did the teacher succeed in getting the content across in a memorable way, but she built community and inserted some FUN! A worksheet wouldn’t have come close to accomplishing all the facets of learning that my daughter experienced.

Wonder Teacher- Ideas for making learning ful Of course, this blog is all about “creative teaching designed to engage childhood wonder” and fun is a natural byproduct.

I am so excited to start a new school year with you. Stay tuned… I have a lot of fresh ideas for “Wonder Teaching” up my sleeve.

And by the way… have a FABULOUS beginning to your school year!

PS- What’s on your list? What do you make sure to do during the first month? I’d love to hear!

Photo Credit: San Mateo via Flickr CCL 2013

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Revising Recess

Revising Recess with Wonder Teacher Photo Credit: Wm Chamberlain via Flickr, CCL 2013.

Excerpt from an actual letter I received from a former student several years ago:

“Dear Mrs. Antonelli,

Hi! How are you? I am fine. I miss you and everyone at _____ School. Middle school is OK but it’s not nearly as fun as elementary school. My favorite classes are Science and PE. Recess is totally lame. We’re not allowed to play soccer or tag. The teachers said we’re not even allowed to run

That letter made me sad. Why do we sometimes treat 11, 12, and 13 year olds like little adults?

Recess is critically important. Going out to run, play, laugh, jump… MOVE is critically important for our children’s mental and physical health. I’ve addressed this topic before in my posts on Working with Challenging Students and 5 Reasons to Get Students Moving.

So let’s just assume that you already agree with me and believe that recess is important. Let’s assume that wild horses couldn’t keep you from the playground for any reason other than inclement weather.

The purpose of this post is to discuss what happens once you and your students get outside.

What’s next? What can they do on the playground?

The reality is that many of them struggle with that question, especially if the playground is crowded and the swings/ play structure are full. We teachers like to say, “Go play!” but what does that really mean?

As a teacher, when I used to tell my students to go and play, I imagined they would organize a group game like tag. Or maybe they would find a shady corner and play a pretend game of house using pinecones and gumballs as their “food.” These were the things I played with my friends growing up.

Times have changed. I remember walking up on a group of students who were standing around bickering. When I asked them why they weren’t playing they said there was “nothing to do.” I started to chastise them, but realized that in one sense, they were right. The swings were full. The soccer field already had 2x more kids than safe playing a game that loosely resembled soccer. The playground structure was big and flashy, but the “things to do once you get on” factor was fairly low.

I suggested that they play a game and they all looked at me with blank faces. “Like what?” asked one little girl.

“Like Freeze Tag! Or Sharks and Minnows! Or Capture the Flag!”

More blank faces. One of the students in the group said, “We don’t know those games, Mrs. Antonelli.”

Of course they didn’t. Kids today don’t usually run through the neighborhood and play outdoor games in large groups. In fact, I hadn’t done that either as a child of the 70s. Where had I learned those games? Summer camps, church youth events, and school. But still, most of those games had been handed down kid to kid. Often it was the older children who taught us those games and “refereed” us through them as we learned. These days there is little contact between older and younger children and much less opportunity for playing these kinds of games. I could go on a long rant about our media-based culture and how kids don’t play outside enough etc. but I’m not big on ranting. Let’s just say that kids today don’t always know how to play together the way “old school” kids knew how to play together.

I realized that day it was time to rethink recess. About that same time a fellow teacher and friend, Taylor Schapiro, mentioned the idea of explicitly teaching children to play group games at recess. She had recently attended a Responsive Classroom training and recess was one of the topics discussed. She suggested that I teach my students a new “group game” each day at recess for several weeks in order to build up their repertoire of recess play ideas.

I’ll be honest with you: I really had to talk myself into it. Recess was usually a “break” for me. While I did have to remain on the playground and supervise my students, it still felt like down-time: twenty minutes to touch base with my peers, get some separation from the children, and be quiet. I really didn’t want to become the “game leader” and essentially add yet another “lesson” to my busy day.

Still, I did it. The payoff seemed worth the effort.

The next day I taught them the basics of how to play tag correctly. We learned how to:

  • tag with light “butterfly” weight tagging hands (just hard enough to be felt, not hard enough to “push”)
  • establish a perimeter for the game-field
  • be honest about being tagged
  • play with more than one “it” so that the game is more competitive/ fair
  • install methods so that students could be “unfrozen” once tagged and continue playing the game.

We started with a simple game of freeze tag. There were two “its” (the “King and Queen of Winter”) and one student who was identified as “Spring.” Spring had the power of “thaw” and could “unfreeze” any student who had been frozen by “Winter.” It was very simple. Once I taught the game I stood out of the way and observed, calling out encouragement and any necessary corrections (“Not so hard!”) After a few minutes we stopped the game and switched roles, naming new “Winter” and “Spring” players.

After an energetic 10-15 minutes, I told the children they had some recess time remaining and that they could either 1) Go do something else or 2) Keep playing.

The children absolutely loved it. As we walked back into the classroom everyone was happy and talking excitedly about the game. They had all gotten a great cardiovascular workout and were ready for a read-aloud so they could cool down.

In that first day, I became a believer in teaching children to play group games.

There are so many fun games you can teach your students. I’ll share some of them in future posts here on Wonder Teacher, as well as other ideas and suggestions for improving recess time for our students.

What do you think about the current recess “state of affairs” at your school?


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