Archive of ‘Classroom’ category



I have a Teacher Challenge for you. Yes you! When is the last time you used manipulatives in your classroom? If you don’t teach elementary math or science, then you probably rarely use them. But the students LOVE them, and they increase their engagement, communication, and learning! That is why I am challenging you to find a way to use manipulatives in your next unit of learning.

A manipulative is a physical tool for teaching. They are things that we can physically touch, rearrange, alter, and, well… manipulate. Manipulatives can include blocks, money, puzzles, or any tool that you give your student to use to explore a concept or skill.

I love using manipulatives because the students love DOING. They are engaging with learning through listening, speaking, and movement all at once. Students can explore tough concepts and find new ways to express their learning besides traditional reading and writing. This is a great way to differentiate for various student populations as well.

Language Arts Manipulatives (c) Kristen Dembroski

Let me share some examples of how i used manipulatives recently in my 7th grade Language Arts classroom. During a novel unit on The Giver by Lois Lowry, I wanted my students to practice vocabulary words as well as demonstrate their reading comprehension in some non-traditional ways.

Character Ranking Manipulative

This activity is designed to (formatively) assess Reading Comprehension and engage students in a deeper discussion of the novel. I had my students get in partners and cut out tiles with all of the main characters’ names on them. Then, I gave them various tasks for reordering the character tiles based on their knowledge of the character. For example, I had them rank/rearrange based on the following traits:

  1. youngest to oldest
  2. least to most authority
  3. least to most likable
  4. unintelligent to intelligent
  5. ignorant to wise
  6. shy to outgoing
  7. deceptive to honest
  8. happiest to saddest

I wasn’t looking for any one right answer (except for #1!), but rather wanted to encourage my students to discuss, challenge one another, and delve deeper into their understanding of the characters and their roles in the novel. I’m always shocked at the wonderful ideas and interpretations they share with the class. It also provided a great opportunity for teaching various concepts such as authority, wisdom, ignorance, and deception.

Triangle Puzzle

We did a fair amount of vocabulary instruction in class, so this activity was simply for reviewing. I created a blank pyramid (you can buy one here in my TpT store if you’d like), and filled it in with the words/definitions we have been studying. Then, in partners, I had my students cut them apart, mix them up, and attempt to recreate the pyramid. We did this for several days, attempting to get faster each day. They started requesting this activity because they enjoyed it so much!

A few tips on using manipulatives:

  • I keep a bucket of scissors in my classroom for this purpose
  • You only really need one set per class, but you can also have one set per student so they can take it home and practice on their own
  • Save all your business envelopes from the spam you get in your mail. They are FREE and great for storing your manipulatives!

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How Becoming Deaf for 2 Weeks Completely Changed My Perspective

And I was only deaf in one of my ears! 2 weeks ago, a nasty sinus and ear infection turned into a ruptured ear drum, which – if you aren’t aware firsthand – is incredibly painful. Teachers, take care of yourself if you are ill, and have so much sympathy for our littles when they complain of ear pain. It is horrendous!

My ruptured eardrum left me deaf in my right ear for 2 weeks. In fact, my hearing isn’t back to 100% yet, but it started slowly improving yesterday. Your first thought might be, as mine would have been a month ago, “Well, at least she could hear out of her one good ear!” This is an uninformed way of thinking and does not completely capture the impossible challenge of carrying on with life with partial deafness. I can’t emphasize this enough – being deaf in 50% of my ears reduced my ability to communicate by 80%. 

My students needed constant reminders that I was not functioning at 100%. They quickly forgot and got frustrated when I couldn't understand or respond to them.

My students needed constant reminders that I was not functioning at 100%. They quickly forgot and got frustrated when I couldn’t understand or respond to them.

Prior to this experience, I had heard of disabilities such as audio processing disorder, and I never fully understood it. I still may not fully understand it, but I have gained much more respect and understanding for the struggles associated with processing information aurally. Below is a list of everyday experiences that were altered for me during my short-term disability.

  1. I could not judge the direction of sound.
    This is huge. People / students would be calling my name, but I couldn’t tell where to look. Students would be talking out of turn, but I didn’t know who to discipline. Sounds were coming from various rooms of my house, but I didn’t know which. This will drive you insane. I felt like a chicken, constantly jerking my head in every direction erratically trying to identify the source of a sound. I can see how this would lead to attention deficit issues.
  2. I could not judge volume
    Without two working ears, it is difficult to judge volume. This included my own volume (no more private conversations, and having to repeat yourself if you were too quiet), and the volume of my students (I couldn’t tell when we were getting out of control, so I often lost control of my students.). I had to rely on others to give me constant feedback on volume.
  3. I needed to make eye contact. 
    To have a simple conversation, it was necessary to look the speaker in the eye. This allowed me to focus on them (while attempting to ignore the surrounding environment) and to try to read their lips. Unfortunately, young students quickly forget your needs, and they often talk to you from feet away without looking at you. And I believe several got frustrated when they thought I was ignoring them when, in reality, I had no idea they were speaking to me.
  4. I could not separate specific sounds from the ambient sounds.
    When I would go to pick up my daughter at daycare, and the workers were trying to talk to me about her day, all I could hear was a sea of babies crying. I couldn’t pick out what the daycare worker was saying to me. You can imagine how this went in my classroom. During work time, a student would ask me a question, but all I could hear was a sea of everyone’s conversations. As I told my class, it sounded like the Peanut’s mom, “Waaahmp Waaaaahmp.” Impossible.
  5. I felt completely lonely and isolated.
    One-on-one in a quiet room, I could easily have a conversation with one person. However, this is not life. I went to lunch with my coworkers, and I missed key words and therefore could not follow the conversation. It was like playing Madlibs where every 5th word was deleted. I mostly just nodded and smiled, but had no idea. I went to a birthday party and tried to hold a conversation with several people – nope. I don’t want to be that person who is constantly asking, “What? Can you say that again?” I know that is annoying. So I suffered in silence.
  6. FOMO – Fear of Missing Out
    Along with feeling isolated and alone, you also quickly realize that you missing out on so many whispers and inside jokes and subtle conversations. Everyone is smiling or laughing, and you’re not sure why. You are on the outside looking in.
  7. I no longer watched TV or listened to the radio.
    I know Close Captioning exists, but after a long hard day of teaching, that can be pretty taxing on a brain that isn’t used to it. It wasn’t worth it to me, so I just sat in silence. Pretty sad!
  8. I couldn’t hear my alarm clock or my baby cry at night.
    If I accidentally rolled over and buried my good ear in my pillow, I was COMPLETELY deaf. I couldn’t hear the baby monitor or my phone alerts. As you can imagine, this was very problematic!
  9. I felt like I had short-term ADD.
    When you spend all of your energy deciphering the words people are saying instead of trying to comprehend them, this is very similar to how our young readers spend all of their energy decoding words on the page instead of trying to comprehend the message. What you get is a fragmented sense of the meaning of things. My brain couldn’t handle the overload, and it felt very fragmented. I found myself focusing on minutia instead of the big picture. It was very frustrating!
  10. I was completely exhausted every night. 
    Enough said.

It’s worth repeating. Partial deafness, for me, meant a full-on assault to my brain and my ability to function and comprehend. Life was incredibly taxing. I have a new appreciation and understanding for our students who are hard of hearing, deaf, or who struggle with audio processing disorder.

In the future, if I had a student with any of these concerns, I would alter my behaviors in the following ways: always make eye contact, provide written instructions, keep the classroom environment quiet and focused, re-voice student questions and comments, allow them to work in small groups / pairs in a separate quiet environment, provide extra time and frequently check for understanding, provide a quiet place for socializing during lunch or recess if they would like, and generally offer as much patience and compassion as I can muster.


Here I am at the ENT after being told my ear has healed and I should get my hearing back within 2 weeks!

Here I am at the ENT after being told my ear has healed and I should get my hearing back within 2 weeks!

I would love to hear your feedback if you or anyone you know have ever experienced partial or temporary hearing loss.

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Lockdown Drills

If you work in the field of education, you have become all-too-familiar with the Lockdown Drill. This is our generation’s version of the Duck and Cover. Within my school, we do lockdown drills several times throughout the year.

During the drill, we turn off the lights, lock the door, and sit silently in a corner out of sight from the windows and doors. We remain this way for at least 15 minutes while an administrator, playing the role of ‘intruder’, walks the hallways jiggling each door and peering into windows to see if s/he can find anyone unprepared. This is how its done in every school across the country.

To prepare for lockdown drills, I always keep my door locked – always on the defensive. I’ve covered the windows by the door with paper. I keep a mental checklist of extra steps I would also take in a real lockdown situation, including having students barricade the door with furniture, shoving smaller students into closets and cabinets, grabbing my cell phone, and distributing classroom objects that could serve as makeshift weapons if our door is breached. Sounds pretty scary and….dark, doesn’t it?

You see, I’m quite serious about lockdown drills. Dead serious. I’ve been through active shooter training with the cooperation of our local police  and fire departments. They fired a weapon in the school so we could hear what it would sound like. We practiced triaging and treating students, It was horrific, sobering, and terrifying all at once. I hope I never forget… no wait...never use the critically important information I received in that training.

I recently read this article, and it really hit home. It is written from a teacher’s perspective on the psychological trauma she and her students experience while ‘Rehearsing for Death’ during a particularly memorable lockdown drill with her Pre-K students.It emphasizes something I always tell my middle school students to keep them focused and serious during the drill. I tell them to treat each drill as if it is the real thing. Why? Because it could be, and we may never know. We have both planned and unplanned drills, and they all start the same way. We are simply told to “Go into lockdown.” The word drill is never used.

Preschoolers are hopefully blissfully unaware of the purpose and history behind lockdown drills, but middle schoolers actually know what’s going on in the world and that there is real reason to be frightened. As this mother asks, how do we talk to them about this? How do we mentally prepare them? How do we – can we even – protect them from the psychological trauma of simply living in fear of this very real and possible situation?

Is this upsetting you yet? It upsets me. It upsets my students. It has become our school culture of preparing to die. Imagine how this affects students’ learning and wellbeing. Will it always be this way? Are we ok with that? What will it take to enact a change?

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New Year, New Room, New Gig

Happy 2015-2016 School Year Kick-off! I hope you are all having a wonderful start to the year!

Well after teaching 8th grade for 8 years, I have been moved to the 7th grade this year. I will be teaching Language Arts, Social Studies, and FPS Future Problem Solvers (a Gifted and Talented LA class). It’s a lot of change!

To top things off, this also meant a room change for me. Have you ever moved 8 years worth of classroom ‘stuff’? It was a major undertaking! Luckily I am blessed with some wonderful colleagues who leant a hand.

Here is the ‘Before’ picture of my new room (ho, boy…):

Before Classroom

I was able to spend 1.5 days fixing it up, and here is the ‘After’ photo:

After Classroom

I have a LOT more work to do, and I still have a big blank bulletin board at the back of the room. Look for pictures throughout the year as we add to our classroom and make it feel more like home.

Decorating a classroom may seem like a trivial thing to some, but it is very important to me. It communicates many things to my students: that I care, that this is a space they can enjoy, etc. It was well worth my time to give up 2 extra days of my summer to come in early and prepare my room.

Here’s to a new school year with new adventures!

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Trying Some New Things This Year

Welcome, 2014-2015 School Year! This is my 8th year teaching Language Arts at my school. I am always looking for new ways to streamline, engage students, and improve. To that end, I am trying out a few new things this year.

First of all, my schedule has changed quite a bit. Last year, I taught only Language Arts. This year, I will teach Language Arts, Social Studies, a Reading Support class, an Academic Support hour, and I will also be the Reading Specialist. Phew! While that is quite a change with a lot of new things to learn and teach, I also think I’m going to love the variety. Teaching the same thing all day long can get kinda boring and repetitive. I welcome the challenge!

Below are a few new things I am excited to try this year:

1. Common Core Learning Target Web – At my school, and likely at yours, we are required to communicate the daily learning targets to our students as well as visually display the targets. Students benefit from knowing the intended goals and outcomes of instruction. That being said, changing up the learning target on a nearly daily basis can become a cumbersome task. To streamline, my partner and I decided to create a web of ALL the targets we will hit in our first unit (about 1 quarter). Then, we can simply put a laminated bullseye sign on the target(s) we are working on any given day. Seems like this will make things a lot easier. This has the added benefit of showing students a preview of all of the targets and where we are heading throughout the unit.

Common Core Target Web (c) Kristen Dembroski

Common Core Target Web (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. Talk Partners – For the past 7 years, my room has been organized into table groups (4 students). This fit nicely with my classroom philosophy of collaboration, group work, and community. However, it became distracting at times. Put socially-motivated 13-year-olds into a cluster, and shenanigans will happen. This year, I am trying a new idea called “Talk Partners.” You can see from the new seating chart, which I call Chevron Tables, that students are now more in rows instead of clusters. Each table will consist of one pair of students, talk partners, which I will switch up every week. The infinite campus grading program that I use can create randomized seating charts at a click, so this will not be too difficult. I will also work in more reflecting and communicating time into my curriculum. I will pause more often and say, “Explain to your talk partner what you just heard / understood” or “Ask your talk partner a question you still have about this topic,” etc. The goal will be more focused interactions.

Chevron Seating Arrangement (c) Kristen Dembroski

Chevron Seating Arrangement (c) Kristen Dembroski

3. Leveled Literacy Instruction – I will be teaching a Reading Support class this year, which is a new offering at our school. It will be for students who are performing below grade level on our district-wide reading assessments, yet aren’t receiving any other kinds of support (not Special Education). The LLI is an elementary school model that is releasing a middle school component in September. Since it’s not released yet, I can’t tell you much about it other than the Reading Specialists that use it at our district elementary schools love it and see very positive results!

LLI (c) Kristen Dembroski

4. Snacks! Okay this has absolutely nothing to do with my curriculum, but I am excited anyway. I signed up for Graze this year. School starts at 7:45 and lunch isn’t until 12:50, so I’m very likely to get hangry… So Graze seemed like a perfect solution for me. They will deliver 4 snacks per week (or every other week) directly to my school mailbox, and I can customize the snacks based on my tastes, dietary needs, etc. It’s only $6.49 a box, and I don’t have to do any shopping, prepping, or packing. Food! Yassss!!! Below is my first box that I received during Teacher Institute week. Loving this idea! If you would like to sign up and get 2 free boxes using my referral code, click here.

Graze (c) Kristen Dembroski


Are you trying out anything new this year, or embarking on a fun new adventure? I’d love to hear about it!

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Web Memes and Classroom Management

funny-Darth-Vader-quote-legs what-i-look-like-if-youre-talking-while-im-talking

For Back-to-School this year, I’ve decided to use web memes to communicate my classroom expectations to students on second day of school. Pro tip: Don’t waste your breath going over rules and expectations on the first day – they will never remember a word you say. The first day back, for 8th grade at least, is all about the outfits, the friends, the lockers, etc. I always wait until Day 2 for this discussion.

I’ve been collecting funny web memes for years now on my Pinterest Boards, and I decided that I had enough to put together an entire presentation. My favorite two are pictured above. If you’d like to download my entire Powerpoint presentation (so you can edit it and make it your own), click here:

Mrs. Dembroski’s Classroom Expectations
Web Meme Powerpoint Presentation

I’d love to hear about your experiences using it, and/or any funnies that you might add to your own version. My goal is to get kids to relax, smile, and think, “Hey, maybe this isn’t going to be so bad after all!” All of my rules stem back to respect for yourself, your education, your classmates, and your teacher. Respect – that’s really all there is to it.

My students won’t arrive until after Labor Day, but I know some of you are starting this week (eeek!) Best of luck to you all, and have a great first day!


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Teacher Appreciation 2014


Did you know that this week is Teacher Appreciation Week? I smile that we get a whole week 🙂

At school, our principal is treating us to lunch on Wednesday, and the Student Council is treating us to breakfast on Thursday. So sweet!

I also wanted to share with you a few fun ideas about Teacher Appreciation. Are you looking for some fun freebies, deals, and discounts?

Chipotle Teacher Appreciation 2014

Chipotle – In celebration of Teacher Appreciation Day, all educators – teacher, faculty, and staff – bring your valid school faculty ID to any Chipotle in the U.S. on Tuesday, May 6th, from 4pm until close and you’ll get schooled with buy one / get one burritos, bowls, salads, or orders of tacos. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED… I’LL BE THERE.

Applebee's Teacher Appreciation 2014

Applebee’s – Want a free dinner or lunch? Teachers eat free during Applebee’s Teacher Appreciation Day. Choose from any one of these select six entrees: Three-Cheese Chicken Penne, Bacon Cheeseburger, Chicken Tenders Platter, Fiesta Lime Chicken, Chicken Fajita Rollup, Oriental Chicken Salad. I don’t know how I’m going to eat Applebee’s AND Chipotle in one day, but rest assured I will figure this one out…


Discounts – By the way, did you know you can get a teacher discount at the following stores? Just show them your staff ID, or bring in a recent pay stub. Fantastic!
* The Limited
* J. Crew
* Ann Taylor
* Loft
* Banana Republic
* New York & Company
* Coldwater Creek
* J. Jill
* Talbots
* Christopher & Banks
* Aerosole Shoes


Sale – And now, my favorite sale of all – a Teachers Pay Teachers site-wide sale! Head on over to TpT on May 6th and 7th, and you won’t regret it. This is simply the BEST time to stock up on lesson plans and items for your classroom. If you are like me, you have a wish list a mile long that you’d like to clean up. You’ve also planned out the rest of this school year, and you are already looking forward to the fall. It’s a great time to make a purchase! TpT is offering 10% off site-wide, and I’m also throwing a sale on everything in my store for 20% off. For you math whizzes, that’s a total of 28% off everything in my store. Just use the coupon code above at check out!

Gifts – Do you have a special teacher or colleague in your life that you would like to give a gift to for Teacher Appreciation week? Below is a collection of some of my favorite teacher appreciation gifts (click on the pictures to go to the original webpage).

Teacher Appreciation Gift

Teacher Appreciation Gift

Teacher Appreciation Gift

Teacher Appreciation

And of course, any heartfelt idea or even a gift card is always so appreciated. My favorite gifts from students have been sweet notes or letters that I hang up on the wall behind my desk. I’ve also been so appreciative of gift cards, which force me to treat myself to something nice like a coffee or something I wouldn’t have otherwise justified purchasing.

But honestly? I really don’t need or expect gifts or lunches or anything – a simple ‘thank you’ once in a while goes a looooooooong way. Former students visit me and tell me how they are working really hard at high school, and this is the BEST feeling of all. Material things come and go, but the feeling that we have worked hard and made a lasting impact is a bright light that can never be put out.

Take some time to thank an educator in your life that has made a difference!

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Close Reading and Saint Valentine’s Day

The History of Saint Valentine's Day (c) Kristen DembroskiCan you believe it’s almost February? I’ve seen Valentine’s Day items popping up at stores around town, and I suddenly realized it’s only one month away! I have 2 great Valentine’s Day reading activities to share with you.

First, I will share with you a close-reading activity on The History of Saint Valentine’s Day. This 10-page activity includes a 3-page handout about the mysterious history of St. Valentine the martyr, and the evolution of today’s Valentine’s Day holiday. It gives 2 different historical accounts of the Christian martyr’s life and death, plus an explanation of Pagan influence on this celebrated holiday. There is also an explanation of Valentine’s Day as it is celebrated today, and the symbols and traditions around this special day.

The History of Saint Valentine's Day (c) Kristen Dembroski

This is a close-reading or text-based reading activity because the text is divided into smaller, manageable chunks with follow-up questions after each section. The student must find evidence within the text to answer the questions (following Common Core Standards and language) by highlighting or underlining.

Close Reading The History of Saint Valentine's Day (c) Kristen Dembroski

This would be an excellent activity to do with your entire class, or with an intervention group of struggling readers. It would easily align to your Language Arts / English, Social Studies / History, or Religious Studies curriculum as a cross-curricular lesson. You can use this text any time, not just for Valentine’s Day! If you would like to purchase this activity, you can click here.


Author's Purpose Valentine's Day Activity (c) Kristen Dembroski

The next activity I will share with you is Author’s Purpose Guided Practice for Grades 6-10 a FREE activity. In this activity, students will learn about PIE: Persuade, Inform, and Entertain. Then, they will read 3 sample texts and discuss how each is an example of persuasive, informative, or entertaining writing.

If you enjoy this FREE mini activity and want to purchase a full lesson plan on Author’s Purpose, I also have the Identifying Author’s Purpose full lesson plan.

Author’s Purpose (c) Kristen Dembroski

The Identifying Author’s Purpose activity includes 15 writing samples that students will first identify as either persuasive, informative, or entertaining. Then, they will decide what the author is trying to convince them of (persuasion), inform them of (informative), or entertain them with (entertain). It includes a handout explaining the key features and genres of persuasive, informative, and entertaining (PIE) texts, model/sample writing for each category (3 total). Read and discuss as a class, and guided practice sample writing for each category (3 total). Students can read, discuss, and identify the sample texts in small groups, while they also engage in close reading to determine the type of writing (PIE) and the author’s specific goal.

I hope these activities can help you and your students to engage in some close reading strategies and techniques throughout February!

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The Science of Tubing

The Science of Tubing (c) Kristen Dembroski

We had a blast on our annual Science of Tubing field trip. Every year, we go to Sunburst Winter Sports Park and the students engage in a day of science and fun! They are given a packet to complete and 2 hours to calculate data about the hill, mass, friction, average speed, acceleration, work, and power for snow tubing on the hill. They work in small groups, and they are given a spring scale, angle finder, and stop watch. We also used the iPads and downloaded apps like Speed Box, which has a speedometer function. It was the perfect balance of education and fun!

Measuring Mass Science of Tubing (c) Kristen Dembroski


Field trips are wonderful opportunities to teach the ‘Hidden Curriculum.’ We learn how to behave on a bus, behave in public, be responsible for tools and equipment, clean up after ourselves, thank staff for their assistance, and how to have fun in a safe and respectful way. I love having a chance to bond with my students outside of the classroom. Believe it or not, they ask the teachers to join their group, ‘link up,’ and do a tube run with them – just for fun.

The teachers have a lot of fun, too! In fact, I don’t know who has more fun – the students or the teachers! We race kids. We joke and have a great time. We lend students our extra hats and scarves to let them know we care about them. We sing songs on the bus. These are the lasting memories that make school fun and learning possible. These are the memories that make it so hard to say goodbye to them in June! Tubing Fun (c) Kristen Dembroski

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State Test Week

WKCE (c) Kristen Dembroski

It is WKCE week at my middle school. Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination. A time that is loathed by students and teachers alike. Well, I take that back. I kind of enjoy testing, and I feel really guilty about it. The room is so quiet, and I get SO MUCH done! I reorganize my files, respond to emails, clean off my desk, and just catch up on everything. Plus, I don’t have to grade it, right? I’m so sorry for enjoying it, dear students!

I do try to have a bit of fun during testing week too, especially with reading the directions. You know the directions, right? They are so tedious and repetitive. But legally, we have to read every word. Well by about the 4th session, I pause mid-sentence and let the kids guess the next word. Like “make your mark heavy and ___” “DARK!” They shout gleefully 🙂 And I also enjoy reading the directions in various accents – Southern, Jersey, Russian, Micro-Machine Man, etc.

How do you feel about standardized testing week?

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