Archive of ‘Classroom’ category

The Rocket Pencil (for handwriting)

The Rocket Pencil (c) Kristen Dembroski

Okay, you elementary teachers out there have probably heard of the Twist ‘n Write, and you’ve been using it for years. Well, I teach middle school, and I don’t always get to hear about the ‘latest and greatest.’ Furthermore, one would think that I don’t have a need for such a tool, but one would be mistaken.

Now let me preface by saying that I have no idea how to address handwriting concerns – this is just not something middle school teachers are even trained in. Yet, over the years (and maybe this has something to do with technology…) I am seeing more students who can’t stay on the lines, who crunch all of their letters together, who can’t apply consistent pressure to the pen/cil, etc. So I brought my concerns to our school’s Speech Language Therapist, who then referred me to the district’s Occupational Therapist.

I explained to the OT how I had one student in particular whose writing was completely illegible. I watched how he held the pencil – in a very strange way that didn’t look at all comfortable or effective. The OT recommended the Twist ‘n Write, which I lovingly call the ‘Rocket Pencil’ because of it’s shape. The Twist ‘n Write pencil is designed to help students who struggle with gripping pen/cils and, therefore, handwriting.

I demonstrated to my student how to use it, and he was very excited to be able to control the pencil much more with this new grip. The Rocket Pencil forces you to grip the pencil in the correct way. His writing improved – nowhere near perfect, but definitely a major improvement.

I purchased a few more, and now I keep 3 in my room at all times for students to borrow. Some try it out and find that the Rocket Pencil is the love of their life, and others find that it isn’t for them. I only wish that they were a little more affordable, and that they were refillable. But hey – it’s worth a try, and they are a great tool to add to your classroom!

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Stomp Out Bullying Day

Happy ‘Stomp Out Bullying Day’ – aka ‘Blue Shirt Day!’ It is a day to stand in solidarity and educate about bullying and cyberbullying.

My sweet students made these awesome posters, which we hung up around the school. They also created videos, poems, and raps to share with the class. We did this during PBIS time (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports), a time built into our school schedule for character building.

Did you celebrate ‘Stomp Out Bullying Day’ at your school?

Stomp Out Bullying Day (c) Kristen Dembroski

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You did it!

You Did It! (c) Kristen DembroskiAt the gym today, I came across this poster in the women’s locker room. It made me feel really great about working out – I did not procrastinate, complain, or come up with excuses. I just did it!

It got me thinking that this would be a great poster for my classroom. As soon as I get a spare minute (maniacal laughter inserted here), I will make this into a colorful, inspirational poster. It would be a great discussion piece when I check in with my more reluctant students. Just thought I would share!

If you wind up making this into a classroom poster, I’d love to see it! You can do it!


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PBIS – Classroom Management

Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (c) Kristen Dembroski

Have you heard of PBIS? It stands for Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports. It is the behavioral component of the RtI Response to Intervention system. The idea is to promote positive behaviors rather than focusing on the negative. Instead of saying “We don’t run in the hallway,” you would say “We walk in the hallway.” It may seem like a minor difference, but it is important to focus on what students CAN do, point out what they are doing RIGHT, rather than on the undesirable behaviors. Truly, 99.9% of the students in my school are extremely well behaved. I have to remember that the one kid who struggled today does not represent my whole class – I need to focus on what is going right!

iVoice Poster (c) Kristen Dembroski

PBIS is important because it creates a system in which you systematically teach students what you want them to be doing. For example, I might say to my class, “Quiet down.” What if they aren’t sure what quiet sounds like in a classroom? What if no one ever explained it to them? That’s where a PBIS lesson would come in. I use the iVoice system in my classroom, and we start the year by practicing each of the voice levels so that I know and the students know exactly what is expected. You may have seen my previous post about how we start the year doing a tour of the school, discussing expectations, and practicing how to behave appropriately at each location – some kids just honestly need a demonstration.

We have a PBIS time built in to our schedule. Every Wednesday, we have 30 minutes in which the whole school can focus on PBIS initiatives, including building teamwork and positive relationships and teaching (or reteaching) behavioral expectations. Character building lessons are part of this time, such as a lesson on Fairness and Trustworthiness. We also discuss the future quite a lot – goal setting and dream planning time. I love that we do this – it has a really big impact on so many students.

Fairness (c) Kristen Dembroski                  Trustworthiness (c) Kristen Dembroski

An integral part of our PBIS system at our school is the use of blue slips and yellow slips (our school colors). The text on the slips is exactly the same – it shows our PBIS motto (Be Respectful, Responsible, and Safe), and lists the expected behaviors. The blue slips are the positive slips – we give them to students when we celebrate them doing something positive. The yellow slips (think ‘caution!’) are a behavioral modification slip – we give them to students who need to make a better choice. Students can save up the blue slips and buy fun things from our school store, from erasers and candy to backpacks and gift cards. The yellow slips, on the other hand, go to the office and get recorded. If a student builds up 3 within 10 days, it becomes an after school detention. Students hate getting this, and sometimes all you have to do is mention the yellow slip or place it on the desk as a warning, and the behavior will get corrected right away. The office uses the information on the yellow slips to help target areas needing more attention and intervention in our school. Perhaps there is a trend of poor behavior in the hallways – we use PBIS time to reteach our expectations, watch a fun youtube video, or anything else to help communicate our message of being Respectful, Responsible, and Safe for the good of our school.

I know PBIS has a huge impact on students’ academic behaviors as well. Any good teacher knows that students can’t learn in an environment that isn’t respectful, responsible, or safe. When students buy into the system, they are more comfortable with the procedures and expectations of our school, and the students thrive on that comfort and safety.

So my goal is to give out 5 blue slips (positive) for every 1 yellow slip (negative). And if I give out a yellow slip – let’s say to Johnny for being disruptive in class – I make it my goal over the next few days after that to notice him behaving appropriately and reward him immediately to help get him back on track.

Signing blue slips got a little tedious, so I just purchased a self-inking signature stamp. Can I just say I am really excited for it to arrive?!?! I can’t wait to post a picture!

Do you use PBIS in your school? I’d love to hear about your system – we are always looking for ways to streamline and improve things. Please share in the comments!

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First Day Games/Activities

Welcome back, teachers and students! Today is my first day back with students. We are doing an all-school pep rally to start the day, then rotating through a shortened version of the schedule so students can see their classrooms/teachers, then after lunch we have a PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) activity for the whole afternoon to learn about school expectations.

I have quite a few ‘Get To Know You’ Activities planned. My goal is always to learn all 180 students’ names by Day 2. In reality, I will have about 7 names that just won’t stick by the end of Day 2 – I’ll get it by Day 3. I really take pride in getting to know my students and establishing a strong working relationship. I like to know what makes each student unique. Positive relationships are the cornerstone of my classroom management style.

The first activity is called ‘Get To Know You Bingo.’ It is a Bingo board with a question in each box. Each student will have his/her own worksheet and a pen/cil. They will have to walk around the room, ask a classmate a question, listen thoughtfully, and write the classmate’s name/response in the box. In this way, they should go around the room until they’ve gotten 5 in a row (or fill the whole board, depending on pacing and how much time we have). I encourage them to come up to me so I can appreciate their responses as well. You can see a preview picture of the activity below, and you can download the Get To Know You Bingo pdf here.

Get To Know You Bingo (c) Kristen DembroskiAnother fun activity that I can do in the last few minutes of class throughout the first week uses this ‘Question Ball,’ which I adapted for my 8th graders from this blog post. I bought a bouncy ball from the Dollar Store for $2 and then wrote 35 ‘Get To Know You’ questions using a Sharpie. Doing this every day for the last couple of minutes will really help me learn those names!

Question Ball (c) Kristen Dembroski1. What is your favorite dessert?
2. Do you belong to any clubs/groups?
3. How long do you sleep on the weekends?
4. How many times have you moved?
5. What do you do during recess?
6. What is something you’d like to buy?
7. What makes you really mad?
8. What is the last book or story that you read?
9. Tell about an injury you have had.
10. Do you have any chores at home?
11. What is your favorite summer activity?
12. What do you want to be when you grow up?
13. What is your biggest pet peeve?
14. What is your favorite breakfast food?
15. Do you like your name? Is it a good fit?
16. What makes you extremely happy?
17. Which class is your favorite?
18. Who lives with you?
19. Tell something that not many people know about you.
20. Do you have a favorite song, album, or musical artist?
21. How do you relax/unwind?
22. What is your favorite movie or TV show?
23. Which class is the hardest or easiest for you?
24. What is the strangest food you have ever tried?
25. Do you have a cell phone?
26. Have you ever been on Honor Roll or Student of the Month?
27. Where do you want to live when you grow up?
28. What is your favorite sport to play?
29. What makes you feel stressed?
30. How clean is your bedroom?
31. Chocolate or vanilla?
32. Walk or run?
33. Early or late?
34. Hot or cold?
35. Do you like surprises?

I’m really excited for today! I can’t wait to meet all of my new students!


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Seat markers

In our 2-story school, we have 4 minute passing time. Students have complained about this from the dawn of time, but it is what it is. My room is about 80 yards from the nearest restroom (it takes me about 4 minutes to walk there, use the restroom, and walk back. I’m sometimes late to my own classes, ack!). Therefore, I am a bit more lenient/understanding of students who are tiny bit late because they had to use the restroom. What I prefer, however, is that they come to my room first, drop off their belongings, and then go. Since we are going to have iPads this year, that is going to be a mandatory procedure because federal law and school rules mandate that no iPads are allowed in the restrooms.

So that students don’t have to hunt me down or interrupt a conversation during passing time to ask permission to use the bathroom, I put together these Seat Markers. A student can simply grab one from the side table, put it at their seat, and then off they go. When class starts and I am doing attendance, I will notice the visual cue at their desk that they are in the restroom. I may even branch out this year and allow my students to grab a seat marker and excuse themselves to use the bathroom without interrupting the lesson to ask permission – we’ll have to take that on a class-by-class basis depending on behavior.

I wanted something cheap, tall, and not at all appealing for students to destroy (no toys, no cups because they’ll tap that Cups song by Anna Kendrik). I managed to make these with a lot of things that I had lying around the house:

Seat Markers (c) Kristen Dembroski

2 empty Pringles cans
Decorative Duct Tape
Plastic flowers
Small, heavy rocks/marbles, etc.
Glue gun

The final product isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing thing I’ve ever made, but I know it will do the job. I wrapped strips of duct tape around the can, filled it with small rocks to give it weight, poked a hole in the cover to insert the flowers, then hot-glued it all shut so they couldn’t open it.

Seat Markers (c) Kristen Dembroski

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Zoo Animals

Do you ever get the urge to be creative? I know some people are just creative all the time, but I like to think that I’m a healthy mix of practical and creative. Unfortunately, the creative side doesn’t get as much face time as I would like. The result is that every once in a while, I get the ‘creativity bug’ and I go on a major binge. I’ll stay up late painting a mural, spend all afternoon knitting a hat, or find a new Pinterest project to occupy my weekend. A lot of these projects sit unfinished (shhh… let’s not talk about that…)

Well this weekend, I just felt like drawing. I love to draw. So I sat down and started drawing zoo animals. (I really desperately can’t wait to have my own kids so I can decorate their nursery!) Well after a while, I had a pretty great collection going! I made 25 total. Here are some samples, and some ideas of how I would use this in an elementary classroom, if I had one. These would be some really fun activities to do before a field trip to the zoo!

Zoo Animals

Zoo Animals (c) Kristen Dembroski


Camel - Zoo Animals (c) Kristen DembroskiIn Art, explore different art materials to create texture and shading.
Or, create a cool graphic design!

Lion - Zoo Animals (c) Kristen Dembroski

In Science, label the parts of the animal. Draw the animals habitat.
Write details in or around the animal about the lifestyle and eating habits. Hippo - Zoo Animals (c) Kristen Dembroski

In Language Arts, write a story or poem inside or around the animal.
Use the animal as an illustration in your own book.
Do a research project on the animal and use the printable as a note-taking sheet.

For Math, take a poll to see which animal is the class favorite. Use the animal printouts to make a giant bar graph. Use multiple printouts to represent proportions and ratios (ex. 1 lion to ever 5 elephants).

For Social Studies, research the current topics around an animal. Is it frequently in the news? Being used to help society in some way? Endangered? Create a large mural with several habitats, and allow students to place each animal correctly.

In Foreign Language, use the printables as posters with the target words (ex: name of animal).

For your classroom, determine each student’s favorite animal, write his/her name on the animal, and place it on the desk as a name plate.

There are TONS of ideas! I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section. If you’d like to download the Zoo Animals printable templates, click here! Thanks, and Happy Teaching!

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The Disappearing Pencil Trick

Pencil Flags (c) Kristen Dembroski

My students can do this amazing magic trick with pencils. Every year, I start with 50 beautiful bright yellow sharpened #2 pencils. By December, I only have about 2 left. WHERE did they GO? My students won’t tell me, because great magicians never reveal their tricks.

Well to combat the disappearing pencil trick this year, I decided to use pencil flags. They are inexpensive when compared with the flower pens, and an easy visual reminder that the pencil belongs in room 204.

I used Duck Tape brand rainbow-colored duct tape purchased from Walgreens for about $3.50.

Some former students (now seniors! ah, where does the time go?) were visiting me today as I set up my classroom. They said the flags were a cool idea and they think they might actually work. Here’s hoping!


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Reading Graffiti Bulletin Board

I set up a new interactive bulletin board today that I am very excited to start in the fall! The idea came from the ‘Life is Better Messy Anyway‘ blog. The Reading Graffiti Board is an interactive board in which each student can post one quote per book that they read. This encourages them to make very thoughtful decisions about THE BEST quote from their book, since they must choose only one. I can see a lot of my students getting very excited to write on the wall deface the classroom. 8th graders think they are so bad 😉

I am also looking forward to using this opportunity to teach my students how to correctly quote a source. I will require the following:

  • Copy the sentence(s) exactly as they are found in the book
  • Put “quotes” around the entire sentence/passage
  • Cite the author and the title of the book

I bought 2 silver sharpies, which I will be keeping in my desk. Students will have to have their quote pre-approved first, and I think this will help eliminate any possible shenanigans. If time permits within the class period, I’d love to invite students to read their quotes out loud and share why they chose it as the best quote. I will encourage students to choose quotes that are though-provoking, dramatic, interesting, and rich with word choice and imagery.

In addition to encouraging students to reflect and share their own reading, I hope this is an inspiration to other students who are looking for the next good book to read. I can just see students crowding around the board, reading a really juicy quote, and thinking, “Hey – I’d love to read that!”

To set the example, I started by adding the very first quote. It is from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. “Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”

Reading Graffiti Board (c) Kristen Dembroski

Reading Graffiti Board (c) Kristen Dembroski

If you are interested in the Reading Graffiti banner, you can download it for free here:

Reading Graffiti Banner <— Click to download

I will be sure to post updates as the wall begins to fill up! Can’t wait!


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The Back-To-School Fairy came!

Yay! The Back-To-School Fairy stopped by Room 204!

I’m very excited about a few things I ordered in the spring. Back to School shopping is such an exhilarating activity – it’s something I’ve loved to do ever since elementary school. Ahhhh…. the smell of new supplies! It’s better than roses!

Back To School Fairy (c) Kristen Dembroski

What I ordered:

  • Desk Calendar
  • Page Protectors
  • Manilla Folders – one for each student
  • Stickers (yes, even 8th graders love stickers)
  • Black Pens
  • Blue Pens
  • Lightbulbs (I have several lamps in my room for when we are using the SMARTBoard and the room lights are off)
  • Highlighters
  • Sharpies
  • Index cards
  • Invisible Tape + Dispenser
  • EXPO Markers for my whiteboards
  • Whiteboard erasers
  • Twist-n-Write Pen/Pencil – have you ever tried these? They are fantastic!
  • Pencils
  • Paper Clips
  • Binder Clips
  • Whiteout
  • An ELECTRIC Stapler! I squeal with excitement!
  • An ELECTRIC Pencil Sharpener! Be still my heart!
  • Another crazy super-powered stapler that can do 30 sheets at a time (P.S. WHY do my students always manage to break these? I buy 2 new ones every year!)
  • A Magnetic File holder (This is where I have students turn in their work)

I have a few things yet that I will be purchasing with my own money:

  • Candy (incentives). Since I must be mindful of nut and dairy allergies, I usually get Smarties, Dum-dums, Jolly Ranchers, Peppermints, etc. Even those aren’t safe from allergies, however. I had a student who was allergic to food coloring 🙁
  • Granola bars and snacks for the students who forgot breakfast/lunch.
  • A silver Sharpie so I can try out this new idea I saw on Pinterest for a Reading Graffiti Wall. Expect a detailed post once I have finished it!
  • Some fashion duct tape so I can make flags on my pencils. They always walk off!

I’m curious to see how much of these supplies I actually use this year, given that we are going one-to-one with iPads. I know there will still be a significant amount of handwriting, and we aren’t going completely paperless yet. I imagine my supply list will dwindle each year as we get used to relying more on our electronics.

Do you think there is anything I missed? Do you have some Back-To-School items that you always purchase?


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