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Start Your Day with Morning Work Students Will Love

For nearly fifteen years, my classroom morning routine consisted of a packet or a worksheet that I wanted my students to complete. At least once I week I would scramble to print something off in my room for the next morning. I would spend hours making my own morning work each week to include the skills I wanted my students to review.

My kids would drag themselves into our classroom and groan over another set of sentences to correct. In reality, they didn't need more math problems to solve, or a crossword puzzle to work out. I dreaded adding another set of papers to be graded. No one enjoyed morning work!!

During a morning meeting last year, we were talking about tardies and absences. There were several kids who were perpetually tardy, and I wanted to "crowdsource" some solutions.

Teacher Truth: Children at any age are unabashedly honest.

One of my darlings spoke up and said, "They are probably trying to get out of morning work."


Talk about a gut check. I could've answered that a million different ways. But they were right. Morning work was boring and terrible --- not how I want to start my day.

I took a breath and said, "Then I guess we need to figure out how to make that better!"


I started by asking them what they would like to do in the morning. I made sure they understood that "nothing" wasn't an option. I thought about the morning work alternatives I'd tried in the past. They didn't seem too enthused. ðŸ˜‚ I had heard of "soft start" mornings and explained it to my students. They were ALL IN. We started by making a list of things we'd like to have available in the mornings:
  • Legos
  • puzzles
  • games
  • art projects
  • books
  • technology
That night, I went home and started a Donor's Choose grant for all of the materials. I made sure to include organization drawers and tubs so that storing everything wouldn't be an issue in our classroom. When we reconvened the next day, my students helped me revise our Donor's Choose list until it was practically perfect. 


I love these rolling carts because the students could move the materials to their work stations and then roll them back when it was time to clean up. We also requested several Sterilite tubs to store some of the puzzles and logic games with smaller pieces. In my experience, game boxes aren't very sturdy and I wanted something that would last longer than a couple of months.

Once the materials arrived, there were definite favorite activities that stood out each morning. The LEGO station was always popular, and the books we ordered for inspiration were a hit as well.

The kids also rushed to play with the IQ games each morning. I loved that these were solo activities that they could play while they chatted with friends as everyone trickled in. There are also several challenges for each set, so it was easy to differentiate for everyone in our classroom.


These two puzzles were also a hit, and could be played solo or with a friend. In fact, I enjoyed the Think Fun Izzi game so much that I bought it for my family to play as well! 

I hope this has given you some ideas on how to use soft start mornings in your classroom! If there's something you'd like to know more about, feel free to email me or comment on the post below. Make sure to save this to Pinterest if you'd like to come back to it in the future!

Groundhog Day: Books and Activities for the Classroom

Will there be six more weeks of winter, or is spring on its way? Watching Punxatawny Phil make his prediction has always been one of my favorite Groundhog Day classroom traditions. If we're in school on February 2nd, you can bet my classroom will have a few engaging lessons and student-centered activities to commemorate the day.

I also have several Groundhog Day books that I like to feature in my classroom library from the latter part of January through early February. I thought I'd take some time to highlight a few of my favorite Groundhog Day books and give you a peek at my Groundhog Day unit on Teachers Pay Teachers!


You can see by the state of my Groundhog Day books that these titles have been well-loved. I've used most of these titles with second, third, and fourth graders. The links I'm sharing below are affiliate links, which means that I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

These are my Groundhog Day staples. I read them every year, and my kids love them. Gail Gibbons is one of my favorite authors, and I love the way she writes for younger audiences. I have an author basket for her books in my classroom library, so Groundhog Day lives there all year long.

Substitute Groundhog is a fun fiction read-aloud that details what happens when Groundhog gets sick! My kids love making predictions about which forest friend will be able to do the job.

Groundhog Gets a Say and Groundhog Weather School are both informative narratives that worked really well in my 4th-grade and 5th-grade classrooms. Big kids love picture books too, and these complemented the close reading piece we worked on in class very nicely. 

I use Gail Gibbons' book in my mini-lessons that week and give the students access to all three informational texts as they worked on the close reading passage activities. Several of my students enjoyed completing their Top 5 activity with a new fact from one of the informational books. 

"Top 5" is one of my favorite synthesizing activities. It's a simple way for me to gather information from my students, and there are very few "wrong" answers. As long as students can give me 5 significant details about a given topic, they've done exactly what I've asked! I love seeing which facts are most important (#1) for them. 

Gretchen Groundhog, It's Your Day! is a title that is newer to me. I LOVE reading this story with classes when I have a student who is painfully shy. Their eyes always widen and they give me the look that says, "SHE'S JUST LIKE ME!" All the heart eyes. Gretchen's uncle is too old to go out for Groundhog Day, so it's her turn to make the announcement. She's terribly shy and doesn't think she'll be able to do it. 

Any of the titles mentioned in this post, or any groundhog titles you may have, will work well with the reading printables I have in my Groundhog Day unit. You can actually use several of the pages any time of year! 

I hope you've gotten some great ideas and titles to take back to your classroom for Groundhog Day. If you have any titles I might have missed, let me know in the comments below. I'm always on the hunt for a good book. Make sure you pin this post so you can find it anytime you need it! 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Five Books for Middle Grade Classrooms

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is often part of any teacher's January classroom studies. We look forward to a long weekend and plan to show a movie or read aloud a book the Friday before that explains why we have the day off. Is that enough? Are we really honoring a civil rights icon by giving him 30 to 45 minutes a year? I don't think we are. 

The Challenge

Dr. King's legacy is too big to fit into a 45-minute time slot. If we want our students to really understand the weight of his work, we need to devote more time to teach them about it. For me, that means teaching across content areas. It looks like close reading about Dr. King's life during Reader's Workshop. It sounds like students discussing civil rights and peaceful protests during Social Studies. Maybe students are writing word problems using a timeline of his life's events. Maybe you find a reader's theater about the Montgomery Bus Boycott and perform for your grade level. These lessons are all-encompassing because we want to stress the importance of his legacy. 

Is it time-consuming for the teacher? Absolutely. But the IMPACT of lessons like these outweighs any frustration we might feel because we spend a little longer teaching our students about his life. 


The Books

By the time students arrive in my classroom, they've read Martin's Big Words and seen Our Friend Martin about 1,000,000 times. They are usually aware that Dr. King delivered an important speech. They know he worked to make sure people had equal rights. My job as their 5th-grade teacher was to build on what they knew and apply it to the world they live in. I was not always good at this. I still have a lot to learn. BUT - When we know better, we do better. 

I started by bringing in new books and new lessons. We had conversations about social justice issues, including whether or not our schools are truly segregated. I let them draw their own conclusions, but the most important piece for me was letting them read, teach, and explore. 

Today I'm sharing the titles we loved the most. I hope you'll find something here to use in your own classroom! (Full disclosure: There are affiliate links below to the titles I love. This means I get a small commission at no extra cost to you.)

1. I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Kadir Nelson

I love anything Kadir Nelson illustrates. When I saw that he had illustrated Dr. King's speech, it was a no-brainer to add this to my classroom library. 

2. Love Will See You Through by Anna Farris Watkins

This title comes from Martin's niece, Anna. She draws from her own experiences with her "Uncle ML" to teach students his six guiding principles of integrity and nonviolence.

I've found that I really love the books by Dr. King's family members the most. My class really loved this title. I think it made him more relatable, as it detailed his actions and emotions throughout the day of the March on Washington.

I created a Social Studies Pop-Up to go along with it. It helped me teach across content areas for the week leading up to MLK Day. I came back to it later in the year when we looked specifically at Dr. King and his contributions to the Civil Rights Movement

4. Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.? by Bonnie Bader

Do your kids love this series as much as mine? Last year we called them the "big head books" 😂 and now that's all I can call them. What I love about the "big head books" is how accessible they are for a variety of readers. There is just enough visual support to keep students motivated, without making them feel like they are reading a book meant for a younger audience.

5. Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Dream and You by Carole Boston Weatherford

The author draws lots of parallels between Dr. King's life and the world our students know. It is beautifully written and the perfect read aloud to celebrate his legacy. I'm adding it to my "to-do" list for future Social Studies Pop-Ups for sure!

If I've missed a title you think I should know about, make sure to leave it in the comments. Pin this post as well so you'll have it for many Januarys to come!

Synonyms and Antonyms: Teaching Texts, Freebies, and MORE!

Teaching Vocabulary: Making Synonyms and Antonyms Come Alive

I'm so excited to share my favorite tricks for teaching synonyms and antonyms with you. I promise when you finish reading, you'll be loaded with books, resources, AND a synonym and antonym freebie... OR TWO!

There are a few affiliate links in this post. That just means if you order something through one of these links, I get a commission (at no additional cost to you) that I use to keep this lovely little blog up and running! :)


A frequent "hiccup" in my planning game is that I often run into resources that are a bit too primary for the concepts my big kids need to learn. In fifth grade, they probably would have laughed me out of the room if I'd pulled out a "synonym roll" craft. 😂

But show them a meme and it's ON! Fourth and fifth graders can find themselves in this awkward learning phase where they don't want to be babied, but they still need some F-U-N to bring it to life. (Don't we all??)

Get your students engaged while teaching synonyms and antonyms with this post FULL of great resources!


Task cards for antonyms and synonyms will make assessment a breeze! Three types of questions and interactive notebook pages are included!

Task cards don't have to collect dust in one of your stations or centers! Spread them out in the hallway and make it a "hallway hunt" or use them as a SCOOT to keep students moving around the room. My students didn't know they were taking an assessment when they were constantly going from card to card. 

Teacher Tip: If you're going to do a hallway hunt, make sure you start students in different spots so that they aren't all clustered around the same 2-3 cards. 


Teaching kids to use a thesaurus can be about as much fun as getting a cavity filled. 😒 But it doesn't have to be!!

My big kids 😍LOVED😍 my Synonym Search game and the thesaurus activity in my Synonyms and Antonyms Resource Pack. In both games, students can think of synonyms on their own OR you can ask them to use a thesaurus.

This thesaurus game is perfect for intermediate grades! Students can use their background knowledge and a thesaurus to earn the most points possible!

Teacher Tip: If you have iPads or Chromebooks, try the link to this online thesaurus, Merriam-Webster's kid friendly version.

My last group used these student thesauruses. I kept two in our Daily 5 area for partner games and another two or three in our classroom library for Writer's Workshop.


How about a few book recommendations to enhance your synonym and antonym instruction? I've collected them all on my Amazon Influencer page!

My favorite teaching texts for these vocabulary concepts are all on this list.

The "If You Were..." books worked a *little* better for my third and fourth grade classes. However, everyone loved the Brian Cleary texts. I love the rhythm and rhyme that reinforces each concept and presents vocabulary in an engaging way! 😀

I noticed that my ESL students were able to better grasp these concepts when I kept one of our read-alouds at my small group table. They were less intimidating than a thesaurus, but still a good source of information and support.

However, we need more than just a fun book to really solidify their understanding of synonyms and antonyms.


My students LOVE this SynoAntonym game by Pacon!

The folks at Pacon recently sent me their Synoantonym game by MindSparks and I am here to tell you it is forever living in my vocabulary morning station. I love that it encourages students to make synonym and antonym matches within the game. This was great for my students who had more confidence with one vocabulary skill than the other.

My students LOVE this SynoAntonym game by Pacon!

There are also two levels of cards students can play with, so I can have multiple games going at once! The competition between my kiddos to collect the most synonym and antonym matches was insane! I'm planning on adding this to our morning station options, as well as rotating it through our literacy centers.

One of the things I'm excited to share with you in a few weeks is how I used an AMAZING Donor's Choose project to create morning stations for my students. One of those stations involved vocabulary games.

Let me tell you something. If you missed your cup of coffee, do NOT try to play Blurt! with a group of wide-awake fifth graders. You will LOSE. BADLY. 😂😂😂 This was also one of our favorite indoor recess games, especially since so many people could play at once.

Both of these games have strengthened my students' vocabulary and solidified their understanding of synonyms and antonyms. They would be great additions to any classroom!


Right here! I have TWO awesome freebies for you today!

First up, I have a little tune I like to teach my students. Yes, even the big ones like to sing! I really believe that a song can often solidify student understanding and help them commit concepts to memory. Click HERE or on the image below to grab your copy from my TpT store.

This freebie is great for reviewing or introducing synonyms and antonyms with intermediate grade students!

I also have an EXCLUSIVE freebie for my email subscribers! If you're already a subscriber, I'm sending this out today (11/10/2018) at noon. If you haven't signed up yet, just enter your email below and I'll send you a copy right away!

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