Three Ways to Make Back to School Better

Back to school season always sneaks up on us teachers, but we CAN prepare for it by thinking ahead! In this blog post, I'm sharing three ways to make back to school better, including classroom setup, planning for substitute teachers, and creating student avatars. Click through to read the full post!

I don't want to say it. I mean, I really don't want to say it. Saying it somehow makes it true, and as much as I love my job, I have to confess that I don't want it to be. I want to keep staying up late and sleeping later. I want to keep not constantly having papers to grade. And most of all, I want to keep having longer than 10 minutes to eat lunch.

But I guess I have to face the reality that summer break is almost over, and a new school year is about to begin.

I truly am excited to meet my new students--I just wish I could do it at 11 A.M.

Every new school year brings new considerations and a chance to start fresh. I thought about it a lot this summer over leisurely lunches and in between Netflix binges. And I thought I'd share some of my ideas with you.

This week, I am considering classroom structure and community and simple tweaks I can make to simplify my life throughout the year. Next week, I will be considering skills that I think my students need and how I plan to build them into the curriculum.

Both weeks, I will discuss three ways to help us do this. So here's week one--

Three Ways to Make Back to School Better

Way 1: How I Will Set Up My Classroom

Back to school season always sneaks up on us teachers, but we CAN prepare for it by thinking ahead! In this blog post, I'm sharing three ways to make back to school better, including classroom setup, planning for substitute teachers, and creating student avatars. Click through to read the full post!If you've known me for a bit, then you know that I LOVE tables in the classroom. I took a job in a new school system last year, and I no longer have tables (sad day, but they are harder to come by than I ever knew). 

Here is why I love them:
1. Tables are ideal for collaboration. I put four to five students around a table and partnering up and discussion come without a second thought.
2. It's so much easier for me to maneuver around the room--desks just get in the way (they are so easy to trip over).
3. Desks send a psychological message to students that tables don't--school, desks, rows, isolation, "SHHHH".... 

This is how I compensate for not having them:
1. I clump desks into groups of four, all facing the front. Desks on the left front get the label on the left (Group 1, Seat 1). Desks on the right front get the label on the right front (Group 1, Seat 2).
2. Behind Seat 1, I put Group 1, Seat 4 (Label on the Right). Behind Seat 2, I put Group 1, Set 3 (Label on Left).

Back to school season always sneaks up on us teachers, but we CAN prepare for it by thinking ahead! In this blog post, I'm sharing three ways to make back to school better, including classroom setup, planning for substitute teachers, and creating student avatars. Click through to read the full post!
Grab the free labels HERE!
I do this so that I can implement Kagan Structures--amazing for the collaborative, interactive classroom. But instead of wasting time doing cute things like "Person with a summer birthday, go first," I can save time by saying, "Work with your shoulder partner. Even person go first." Or, "Work with your face partner, odd person go first." It's all about that number.



Grab my free labels HERE.

Way 2: Getting to Know Each Other with Avatars

Secondary teachers have probably noticed that our students are largely over traditional "getting to know you" games and activities. But they do still need to get to know each other. It builds community and validates them as individuals. It gets them used to the idea of collaborating with each other (in our information-based, post-industrial economy, collaboration is WAY more important a skill than competition).

I took a note from Google and other largely millennial-driven corporations, and decided to let my students get to know each other by creating avatars. Here's how I did it last year (and it worked well, so I plan on doing it again):

1. Share a Google Slides template with students, set so that everyone can edit. 
2. Send them to a free website like this one to build an Avatar.
3. Have them share their Avatars with the class.

How to Implement:

I start with a directions slide:
Back to school season always sneaks up on us teachers, but we CAN prepare for it by thinking ahead! In this blog post, I'm sharing three ways to make back to school better, including classroom setup, planning for substitute teachers, and creating student avatars. Click through to read the full post!

Then I show them my example:
Back to school season always sneaks up on us teachers, but we CAN prepare for it by thinking ahead! In this blog post, I'm sharing three ways to make back to school better, including classroom setup, planning for substitute teachers, and creating student avatars. Click through to read the full post!
Slight embellishment on the writing talent--we don't want students to feel shy about sharing their talents, so set modesty aside.

Then I give them about 15 or 20 minutes to create theirs. Finally, they share them with the class. Since they have all been editing the same presentation (I copy as many template slides as I have students into the presentation), I just project the one presentation. Here are two student examples:
Back to school season always sneaks up on us teachers, but we CAN prepare for it by thinking ahead! In this blog post, I'm sharing three ways to make back to school better, including classroom setup, planning for substitute teachers, and creating student avatars. Click through to read the full post!

Back to school season always sneaks up on us teachers, but we CAN prepare for it by thinking ahead! In this blog post, I'm sharing three ways to make back to school better, including classroom setup, planning for substitute teachers, and creating student avatars. Click through to read the full post!

It's a super fun and engaging way to get to know each other. If you are gamifying, wow, you have Avatars for your students' profiles.

This is a part of my gamifying system. Check it out HERE.

Way 3: Being Ready for Emergencies 

We all have to be out from time to time. Sometimes those times are completely unexpected. The best thing you can do is to set up an emergency sub folder at the beginning of the year. Make sure you keep an updated seating chart and your classroom rules in it (super important). Then put activities in it that will keep your class moving ahead--NOT wasting their time. The worst thing we can give subs is busy work. I know I don't want to return from an unexpected absence to spend my planning period calling parents and assigning detention.

My department's major focus this year is on writing. So here's what I did to make sub work count:
1. I created a three-columned chart. On it, I listed all of my units in one column and the textbook chapters that align with them in the next. If you don't have a textbook, you can link to online readings (a pain to do, but worth it in the long-run). I also found films on YouTube that go with each chapter and linked to them in the third column.
2. Then I have a week's worth of activities that will enable students to keep on track with the content and to work on their writing skills. (Picture this in an email to the school secretary: copy handouts 1, 2, and 3, and use the accompanying reading and video for unit 5--DONE!) It goes like this:

    - Students will read any chapter in any textbook or an online reading and complete activities that are more relevant and engaging than the questions at the end of the section. 
    - Then they will narrow a topic, generate a thesis statement, plan an essay, write a rough draft, engage in relevant peer editing, and finally compose a final essay draft.
    - Students will watch a film and complete a film guide over their topic and create a test.
    - Students will reflect upon their own performance with a self-guided work rubric. There is also an editable rubric for the essay final draft.
    - When you return, take questions from the tests they created and make quiz to use as formative assessment. This way you will get a better idea of what content to revisit.

This takes some time on the front end, but once you have it, it's done and unplanned absences are so much less stressful. These are the ones I made:
Back to school season always sneaks up on us teachers, but we CAN prepare for it by thinking ahead! In this blog post, I'm sharing three ways to make back to school better, including classroom setup, planning for substitute teachers, and creating student avatars. Click through to read the full post!

Back to school season always sneaks up on us teachers, but we CAN prepare for it by thinking ahead! In this blog post, I'm sharing three ways to make back to school better, including classroom setup, planning for substitute teachers, and creating student avatars. Click through to read the full post!
Check them out HERE!
How are you getting ready to go back? Leave a comment and let me know. And come back next week to check out vital skills I am finding ways to integrate into my curriculum for the upcoming school year.


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2 comments

  1. I especially love the avatar introductions! Is that in your TpT store?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is so much fun--my students really love it. It's a part of my classroom gamification system. It's here in my TPT store: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Transform-Classroom-Management-with-Gamification-3314623
      I hope you have a great year, and thanks for asking!

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