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September 29, 2017

Classroom Management Hacks for Teachers

Written By: Brandi Jordan
X Classroom Management Hacks for Teachers

Classroom Management Hacks for Teachers

Be in control of the classroom this school year with the help of these teacher-tested Classroom Management Hacks. From organization to helping parents participate, these are the ways you’ll be able to run an effective classroom all year long. They’re teacher recommended and classroom-tried, so they’re the perfect starting point for effective management. Give them a try!

Effective Classroom Management Hacks

1. Class Photos

Idea By Stephanie, Grade K-5 Teacher, Little Rock, AR

In December, before I leave for vacation, I take pictures of each area of my classroom.  Chunking the room into smaller pieces always helps me focus, so I begin at the door and circle the entire room until I’ve captured every area. Then, while on my break, I place the photos on papers and draw two columns beneath each image. I label the columns “What I Like/What I Don’t Like” (or “What We’re Using/What We’re Not Using”). The “What I Like” column is always a positive reminder that I’m doing the best for my students and helps me to generate new ideas. The “What I Don’t Like” column provides me with a guiding to-do list for when I walk into the classroom the day before the kids come back. I have found that this process helps me maintain a classroom that happily serves and supports our teaching and learning efforts.

2. Create Zones

Manage your classroom with this clever idea by Sharon, a 4th, 5th and 6th Grade Teacher, from  Denver, CO.

I let ideas from TV shows that feature organizational tips for the home inspire my classroom efforts, too. Since watching those shows, I think of my room as a collection of “zones.”

For example, my Writing Zone contains:

  • • Wall charts that guide writing
  • • Manual writing supplies
  • • Electronic writing supplies including computers and printers for creating, printing and publishing
  • • Word games

My Math Zone contains:

  • • Wall charts that guide math skills and concepts
  • • Math manipulatives
  • • Math games
  • • Math supplies

You can also have a reading zone, a science zone, a movement zone, an art zone, etc.

By mentally dividing your classroom into zones, your room and its resources will be neat and organized; most importantly, the kids will know where to look to find what they need when they need it, and will know where things belong when it’s time to clean up.

3. Use Photos

Help students remember with this idea by Rebecca, a 2nd Grade Teacher, from Odessa, TX.

Young students often have a hard time remembering where they are to store their belongings and which desk is theirs. So, each time a child visits our classroom for the first time, I snap his or her photo. I then use copies of these photos as “nametags” for desks and cubby spaces.

4. Build a Smile

Make classroom management something to smile about with this idea by Sister Joan Marie, a 2nd Grade Teacher, in Manchester, CT.

As a classroom management technique, I draw a smiley face on the board in colored chalk.  Each time my class is on task I put an A+ and a * around the edge of the face’s circle shape. I use different colors for the A+ and the *. When we manage to make marks all around the smiley face, the class gets a reward. This helps my students manage their behavior and stay on task during the lessons.

5. Clever Storage

Idea by KT, a Teacher, in Mossville, IL.

To keep my learning centers organized, I bought a garment rack on wheels (less than $20) along with several trouser hangers (the kind with the clips).  I use the rack to hang self-sealing plastic bags full of index cards, manila envelopes of worksheets and entire pocket charts of information. I flag the hangers with squares of different-colored tape to keep them in order. I use a different color for every month of school year. Each time I change out a center, I return the completed station items to their respective folders or bags and back onto the rack until next year. The wheels allow me to easily move and store the rack itself. Convenient and easy!

6. Everyone Participates

This clever idea by Pat, a 6th –8th Grade Teacher, from Rio Rancho, NM gives every student a fair chance.

I used to have a lot of trouble with students shouting out answers to questions. The verbal kids tended to offer answers and more reserved ones just sat passively. Then, I hit on the idea of giving every student a white board and marker. Now, when we have skill drills or play games, my students each write their answers on their boards. Then, when I signal, they all hold up the boards at the same time so I can see their responses. I use this method for math drill, for spelling and vocabulary practice, and to review almost any part of our curriculum. The children work in a calmer manner, at a glance I can see who understands the material and call on students to explain their reasoning, and best of all, everyone participates!

7. Teach Self-Monitoring

Teaching children to be accountable for their actions is important.  This idea by Kassandra, a 2nd Grade Teacher in St. Petersburg, FL helps you do just that.

To help my students understand that the amount of effort they put into their schoolwork is directly related to their learning success, we work together each year to develop an effort rubric.  At the close of each day (and sometimes in the middle of a lesson), I ask my students to use the rubric to award themselves an effort grade.

The rubric reads as follows:

5- I tried hard all day

4- I tried hard most of the day

3- I tried for parts of the day

2- I didn’t try that much

1- I didn’t want to be here today.

Because my students helped develop the rubric and because we used it consistently, I’ve found that my students’ effort has improved immensely.

At the end of each day we discuss the grade they each awarded to themselves. Then the students take their rubrics home for parents to sign. In this way, the rubric becomes a great source of parent communication as well.

8. Use Technology

Diahann, a 3rd Grade Teacher in Carlsbad, California, puts technology to use every day!  This clever transition time idea is sure to keep kids motivated and on-task.

I have found that my iPod is a great classroom management tool for helping move the children through the various activities of the day. All I do is load tons of game show tunes onto my iPod, place the iPod into a speaker system, and use the tunes to signal different transitions in the classroom. I have a song for clean up, a song for rotating children through centers, a song that alerts children that one activity is ending and another is beginning, and a song for dismissal, just to name a few. This technique works like magic; I just let the music do my talking for me!

9. Education Airlines

Set a fun and positive mood with your class this year by using this great idea by Mary Lou, a 2nd Grade Teacher in Maple Valley, WA!

“Children who are happy and having fun at school are more willing and able to concentrate on learning tasks at hand.  That’s why I’m always on the lookout for creative, playful ways to make our day more meaningful and enjoyable.  I’ve found that playing “airplane” is a surefire way to set a positive mood for the day. My class never tires of it and they ask for it each day. To play airplane, I put on my airline pilot’s hat (an inexpensive purchase from a local costume store) and then I deliver my official-sounding spiel:

“Good morning class! This is your captain, Ms. V, and I’d like to welcome you aboard Flight 2A of Education Airlines. This is our final boarding call before our takeoff for destination learning. I’d like to ask all of you to please sit down and fasten your safety belts. We’re expecting a bit of turbulence, so I need each of you to remain in your seats, unless you are given permission to walk about the cabin. At approximately 10:00 AM this morning, you will be enjoying a light snack, prior to our recreational landing for recess and lunch. Then, we will be lifting off again for additional learning later today. Thank you for flying Education Airlines.”

10. Make Review a Breeze

Make a mundane task fun with this clever idea by Donna, a Title I Math K-4 Teacher in Hallettsville, TX!

To automate our 6-week content reviews and make them easier and more interesting for the students, I place review packets into 6 different boxes, with each packet and box representing an area of the curriculum that needs reviewing.  As students complete their daily work, they select a box and complete a review activity pack for that topic.

Beneath the lid of each box, I place a class list. When a student completes a packet for that box, they sign the lid and return the packet to me. By the end of a 6-week period, everyone has reviewed all the topics previously taught. The kids love getting to choose which activity pages they will complete first, next, and last, and they enjoy earning one sticker for each review packet completed.

11. Restroom Rock

This clever idea by Bonny, a 1st Grade Teacher in Salina, UT, helps control restroom visits in class.  Check it out!

“To help with restroom management, I have a restroom rock. I located a large rock (about palm size) and spray painted it with vibrant colors. I then placed this rock on the corner of my desk and explained to my class that anytime one of them needs to use the restroom, he or she is welcome to take the rock and place it on his or her desk while visiting the restroom.

Upon returning, the student must place the rock on my desk for the next student to use. This system prevents students from interrupting me for permission to leave the room. In addition, students wanting to use the restroom know they have to wait until the student in the restroom returns and replaces the rock on my desk before they can use it.

As an added benefit, the rock on a child’s desk immediately alerts us as to where that student is. This is most helpful when a child is needed for special instruction or in case of a fire drill (Tip: You could create a number of rocks for different destinations, depending on where students in your school are allowed to travel. For example, you might want to create a library rock, a computer room rock, a resource room rock, etc.).”

12. Create Leaders

Taking on a leadership role is an important part of learning how to interact in a group setting.  Laura, a 2nd and 3rd Grade Teacher from Thornhill, Ontario, keeps this lesson front and center year round.  The students in Laura’s class not only learn from being leaders, but are excited for their chance to lead.

“Each week, I divide my class into different groups called “teams,” and I appoint one student in each group as Team Captain. Team Captains are responsible for distributing and collecting work, as well as for motivating team members to keep workspaces neat and clean. Each child gets a turn at being a Team Captain. At the week’s end, each Team Captain gets to reach in the Treasure Box and pull out a small prize as a reward for a job well done.”

13. Helper of the Day

Having trouble keeping track of the Helper of the Day?  After reading this idea by Phyllis, a 2nd Grade Teacher from Beachwood, Ohio, knowing who the helper is will be a breeze!

“At the beginning of the school year, I give each student a large white paper plate plus fun art supplies to use to decorate the plate as a self- portrait.  I then punch a hole in the top of each portrait plate & hang them together on one large binder ring. Each day, I flip a paper plate portrait over to reveal a new plate, and that child becomes the Helper for the Day. Each time a student serves as Helper for the Day, I mark the date and on the back of that child’s plate. When a new student joins our class, he or she adds a self-portrait plate to the collection and waits for a turn to become Helper for the Day. Each student looks forward to those days when they get ‘Flipped over!'”

14. Menus Make Communication Easy

Keeping parents in the loop about what their child is doing in school is important.    Linda, a Kindergarten Teacher in Eldridge, Iowa, makes parent-teacher communication a piece of cake with this clever idea.

To help manage how children move through center time, I created my own “menu” pad. I divided the menu into six squares; each square is labeled with the center’s name and a graphic representing that center plus the specific activities for that week. Each day, my students bring their menus to me and we review which centers they have completed and which ones they still need to visit. This step takes just a few minutes and sets the goals for the day; it insures each child spends ample time at each center and rotates through all the centers in the course of the week.

There is also room on each menu for me to jot little notes about each student’s progress. At week’s end, the children take their menus home in a folder along with their completed work. That way, parents can get a sense of the independent work their child has completed in class that week.

15. Pencil Swap Station

Idea by Heather, 3rd Grade Teacher, Stonington, IL

Instead of allowing my students to sharpen broken pencils, I created a Pencil Swap Station. To do this, I carefully cut away the tops from two recycled plastic bleach containers; I washed and dried the containers, removed the labels, and added new labels that read: “Sharpened” and “Broken.” When a student breaks a pencil, he or she visits our Station and swaps the broken pencil for a sharp one. (Tip: I included “Sharpening Pencils” as one task on our classroom job chart—and it’s turned out to be a fun task at that!)

16. Use Visuals

Idea by Laura, a 1st and 2nd Grade Teacher, in Windsor Locks, CT.

To organize my reading groups and centers, I use colored file folders and Really Good Stuff® primary colored boxes.  I tape an easily recognizable symbol or icon representing each center to the front of its box. The same icon appears on my students’ center chart. That way, when children notice that center icon on the chart they can easily find the corresponding box containing the items they need.

17. Organize the Library

Idea by Julie, a 4th Grade Teacher, in Akron, OH.

I group books into sets according to author, series, or titles.  This past year, I purchased Really Good Stuff® corrugated dividers. I made computer labels of all my book groupings and adhered them to both sides of the dividers. The dividers worked wonderfully. The students were able to see their choices and it makes putting books back on the shelf so much easier.

18. Manage with an App

Idea by Jared, a 5th Grade Teacher, in Harker Heights, TX.

I set up my classroom library by grouping my books into genre-specific crates.  I then scan each bar code into a free app that stores them like a library. That way, I can always keep track of who has borrowed which book title.

19. Have Students Explain Their Decisions

Idea by Linda, Grade 5-6 Instructional Coach, Fort Morgan, CO

Rubrics are especially effective when you provide examples that show the various levels of achievement and when students are allowed to evaluate their own work accordingly. I always have students explain their rubric decisions. These steps always make students think about their work and strive for the best.

20. Index Cards Have Many Uses

Idea by Melanie, 1st Grade Teacher, Sandusky, MI

This low-tech idea is a lifesaver—especially if you’re new to teaching. Record valuable parent/student contact information on individual 4” x 6” index cards and keep them stored in alphabetical order in a recipe box. Use the flip side of each card to keep track of phone calls home and/or for jotting anecdotal notes about each student. (Tip: You might want to invest in the oversized index cards that fold in half as they provide lots of room to write!)

21. Repeat & Clarify

Idea by Christine, 1st Grade Teacher, Arlington, VA

After giving my 1st graders an assignment, I’m often in the position of not being able to repeat or clarify directions because I’m with a reading group, etc. To address this issue, I give each of my students a half sheet of paper with the assignment written on the top followed by a series of short, easy-to-read questions that cue the students as to what is required to complete the assignment (e.g., Did I put my name on the paper? Did I circle all the words beginning with /c/? Did I color all the pictures of words with a long a sound? etc.) It’s a fun and easy rubric design that helps younger students focus on what’s expected of them. I tell my students that after they’ve completed the assignment, they should place check marks on the rubric items to make sure they have included everything.

22. Use a Rubric

Idea by Cassaundra, Art Teacher, Rutherfordton, NC

When assessing children’s drawing efforts, it’s a good idea to create a simple rubric consisting of four separate drawings of the same subject featuring four separate levels of detail. Show the four drawings to the students and have them assign them each a rank order from one (for least amount of detail) to four (for most amount of detail). Label each drawing with its rating and display on one large piece of paper or posterboard. Tell students to refer to this four-part rubric when creating their own drawings. Tip: This method can be used to help students rate science drawings as well as drawings for writing. Students feel proud knowing they helped to design the tool used to grade their own work.

23. Attendance Hack

Idea by Stacy, Kindergarten Teacher, Monterey, CA

I put my students’ names on spring clothespins and attach them to the top of a box covered with fun, festive paper. When my children enter the classroom, they each have several morning duties to take care of, the first if which is to find the clothespin with his or her  name on it and put it into the box. This allows me to take attendance at a glance. After I input the attendance on my computer, I hand the box to a child who gladly replaces the clothespin names for tomorrow’s attendance.

24. Preview Expectations

Idea by Jennifer, Teacher, Matthews, NC

Whenever I assign a project, I always let my students and their parents preview the rubric I plan to use to evaluate the project results. That way, everyone understands which aspects of the project are of prime importance. In addition to my assessment, I also sometimes let students provide their own assessment and then we meet and discuss our results. This helps the students appreciate their accomplishments and adjust performance for next time.

25. Let Students Lead Assessment

Idea by Tina, 4th Grade Teacher, Newnan, GA

When I’m starting a project or a writing assessment that requires a rubric, I invite my students to assist in the development of the rubric itself. With my guidance, they pinpoint important elements and criteria they wish to include. I also ask for their input on how to weigh each section. I then create and print the rubric according to their specifications. I find my students seem to refer to these collaborative rubrics more carefully than those I’ve developed by myself. I’ve also learned that, when using these student-led rubrics to evaluate their work, my students are usually tougher on themselves than I would be!

26. Get Parents Involved

Idea by Linda, Preschool Teacher, Pembroke, MA

Here’s an idea that promotes letter identification skills while helping parents and children learn other students’ names. To begin, I cut out large construction paper letters that represent the first letter of each child’s name. I have each child identify his or her letter by name and then offer art supplies for decoration. I then write the rest of each child’s name on a sentence strip and attach it to his or her letter. I take photos of each child and display each set of photos together with that child’s name.  The resulting display is eye-catching and educational.

27. Team Up with Co-Workers

Idea by Andrea, Kindergarten Teacher, Kalamazoo, MI

Thanks to some help from my two fellow Kindergarten teacher friends, we are better able to meet the needs of all the children we teach.  Last year, the three of us agreed to divide our classes by ability and then separate the ability groups among our three classrooms. We then rotated the groups so we made sure each of us met with each group. I also offered struggling students extra support at center time. In this way we not only offered all our students the benefit of three different teacher personalities and approaches, we offered each other the same support as well.

28. Ask Around

Expand your library with this idea by Jean, a 2nd Grade Teacher, from Spring, TX.

As a new teacher, I had little time to create a big library for my class with a variety of books.  I decided to email everyone I knew (especially those who had older children) asking for donations of children’s books they were no longer using. Within two months, I had a complete library filled with books of all types. In the front of each book, I placed a bookplate honoring its donor. I then sent each donor a thank you note from the class, complete with a photo of us holding our new books.

29. Create a Routine

Start the day off right with this idea by Shannon, a Kindergarten & 1st Grade Teacher, from Santa Rosa, CA.

I always set up an activity for my students to do once they enter the room and situate the activity on the far side of the classroom. Each day, students enter the room and immediately cross over to the pocket chart where they find and turn their names over and then begin their rug work. In this way, students free up the entryway and traffic can flow easily in and out of the room. In no time at all, my room is humming. My students love the routine and I can easily note who is present or absent.

30. Encourage Parent Helpers

Get everything you need for your class with this idea by Connie, a 3rd-4th Grade Teacher, from Wilmington, NC.

For Meet-the-Teacher Night, I put up a Helping Hand bulletin board that highlights items or services I need for the classroom.  I cut out small paper hands and glue them to index cards and write the items requested on the hands. Some of the items I ask for include recordable CDs, ink cartridges, page protectors, erasers, etc. I also post jobs for parents to help out with, such as Book Order Coordinators, Room Parents, etc. I post the cards on the board and invite parents to remove a card of choice (one per family so everyone can participate) and send the cards back signed (so I can send thank you notes) along with the item or promise of service.

31. Make Families Feel Welcome

Make families feel welcome with this idea by Erica, a 2nd Grade Teacher, for the Armed Forces.

Since I teach military children who tend to relocate often, it is especially important that I get to know each parent personally. As part of my Welcome Back letter, I introduce myself and offer a little info about my own background and family. I also send personalized thank you notes to parents for gifts or for volunteering in my class. These small efforts on my part, along with weekly newsletters, helps us all feel connected and appreciated.

32. Model Behavior and Expectations

Be the best with this idea by Helen, a 7th Grade English/Language Arts Teacher, from Keller, TX.

I think the best strategy teachers can use is modeling. Case in point: I had a young student who experienced a massive writer’s block. Any time he was asked to write, he’d just shut down. The state writing test was approaching and I was beginning to get worried for him. I finally sat down with him to learn more about his thoughts on writing. He confided to me that he hadn’t passed the state writing test in the past. I knew he liked sports. I explained to him that no matter what the state test prompted him to write about, he could write about sports. I then modeled for him several topics and showed him how to make his writing fit the sports topic. Not only did he pass the state test, he was commended for his efforts!

33. Manage Reading Groups Effectively

Make routines a snap with this idea by Ruth, a 5th Grade Teacher, in Monrovia, MD.

I use Really Good Stuff’s Student Name T-Shirt Magnets to help manage my reading rotations. First, I label magnets to indicate groups within our literature program: “Guided Group,”  “Follow-up,” “Literature Circle,” and ”Independent Reading.” I then use additional magnets to record students’ names and place these magnets within their designated groups. At a glance, students know to which group they belong. Also, after testing and assessing progress, I can easily regroup the student magnets to update the group assignment.

34. Create a Guest Book

Make memories of your teaching career last with this idea by Brenda, a 6th Grade Teacher, from Smiths Grove, KY.

Want a great memento of your teaching years? Keep a guest book! Have guest speakers, parents, students, and other classroom visitors sign the book. You never know who among your students will become famous! My neighbor taught a very young Robin Williams and has the autograph to prove it. Even if none of your students rise to celebrity status, a guest book is a great way to remember students and events in your classroom.

35. Creative Interactive Poster Stations

Engage students with this fun idea by Patti from Marengo, IL.

Each year I make an Interactive Poster Station. To prepare, I purchase two identical posters, then laminate both. (Tip: I look for posters featuring the alphabet, numbers, vowels, word families, art reproductions, etc.). I cut one poster into individual puzzle pieces and attach Velcro® dots (hook side) to the back of each piece. I then attach additional dots (loop side) in corresponding places on the intact poster. I hang the intact poster on the wall and place individual puzzle pieces in a plastic bag stored nearby. Students take turns adhering the poster pieces to the intact poster so as to recreate the original intact image.

36. Have Pet Papers

Get creative and make students responsible with this idea by Judie, a 1st-2nd Grade Teacher, in Dunmore, PA.

Everyone has heard of Pet Rocks—but have you ever heard of Pet Papers?  To help my students learn to become responsible in general (and for classroom materials in particular), I give each student one piece of plain white copy paper. Each student prints the name of his or her paper in the center of that paper. We then discuss (and I demonstrate) how to properly care for the papers.

I ask my students to take their papers home, decorate them, and care for them at home for a week. I also send home a letter to parents asking them to help their children take care of their papers (by not letting them become dirty, wrinkled, or torn, etc.). I post a return due date on the board and on my website. When the children bring the papers back to class, we discuss their paper adventures and I judge the papers in three different categories: Color, Care, and Overall Color and Care. I declare First, Second, and Third Place Winners in each category and award Honorable Mentions in all the categories, so, in the end, every student is a winner. This has been a fun and easy way for my students to experience responsibility.

37. Help Students Lose the Stress

Check out this idea by Katie, a 2nd Grade Teacher, in Harrisburg, PA.

This past month, my students seemed to be experiencing more stress than usual and I realized something had to be done about it. In addition to preparing for the upcoming state tests, my students were stressing over a number of personal issues (related to friendships, rumors, etc.) that seemed to be affecting them in negative ways. In order to restore a bit of calm and harmony, I began teaching them some simple yoga poses.

Each afternoon, we turn off the lights, take a few moments to focus our breathing and try a few new stretches and postures. My kids love it and report that our practice really does help them clear their minds and focus. They do seem less stressed and better able to put any issue—academic or social—aside for a while. It’s great!

38. Make Partnering Easy

Eliminate hurt feelings with this idea by Michele, a 1st Grade Teacher, in Frisco, Texas.

We frequently do partner activities in my classroom.  To assign partners—and to avoid the hurt feelings and disappointment that can arise when children are allowed to choose freely—I use wooden 2-piece puzzles culled from a primary matching puzzle game.

I place one puzzle piece face down in front of each student. Then, on the count of three, each student flips over his or her piece to reveal the picture printed there. Each student then finds the classmate holding the other half of his or her puzzle piece picture. If I have an odd number of students, I include a block that is unmatched and the student who gets the “special” block may join the team of his or her choice.  (Recycling Tip: Cut apart empty cereal boxes to create puzzle pieces for students to match up.)

39. Transition Time Game

Oh, those dreaded transition times!  With this idea by Susan, a Grades K-2 Teacher, in McDermott, OH, your students will never be short-changed.

Whenever I need a filler activity for those times when we must wait, I use an activity I call Name That Coin. I keep handy an opaque bag with real coins inside. To play the game, a student simply reaches in my bag, pulls out a coin, and identifies it. To make the game more challenging, I sometimes have the children take turns choosing one or more coins, then add them up to arrive at the total amount of money chosen. Sometimes, for an after-activity treat, I give the students a chocolate coin to enjoy.

40. Brag About Your Kids

Try this idea by Diana, a 4th Grade Teacher, in Sulpher Springs, TX to build rapport with families.

Here’s an idea that’s a bit of a twist on the old favorite of calling home to offer families good news about their child.  I make regular calls home in order to invite parents to tell me something special about their children. I also encourage the parents to brag about their child to friends and family and to give the child a special treat for being so wonderful. Then, I have each child report to the class about their parents bragging, the treat they enjoyed as a result of their efforts, and my phone call home.

41. Put Students In Your Shoes

This clever idea is by Karen, a 3rd Grade Teacher, in Columbus, OH.

As conference time rolls around, I have my students pretend to be me as they craft letters to their parents.  I tell students that when I communicate with parents, I begin with something the child is doing well, then I share areas that need improvement, as well as some goals I would like the child to reach. This assignment always produces awesome results. Not only do I gain insight into what my students believe my point of view to be, but I find that most students are quite realistic about their strengths and difficulties. In addition, by letting the parents read these letters, I easily provide us all with a perfect springboard to our actual parent-teacher conference discussions.

42. Get Parents Involved From Day One

Snap some photos with this fun idea by Joyce, a Kindergarten Teacher in Lima, OH.

During the first week of school, I use my digital camera to snap photos of children engaged in various classroom activities.  I download various combinations of photos onto individual papers. I then use the papers to dash off notes to parents telling them of how their child is off to a great start. Parents tell me that they really appreciate the gesture; this one simple action helps us feel connected from the get-go. As an added bonus, I use the photos to help the children write books about their experiences with class activities and classmates.

43. End the Day on a Positive Note

Make you students feel special with this great idea by Linda, a Kindergarten Teacher in Agorua Hills, CA.

I like ending each school day knowing I have connected personally with each of my young students. So, as they line up for dismissal, I let each student choose one of my 4H’s: a Handshake, a “High Five,” a Have a Nice Day, or a Hug. My students love this practice. Even visiting parents line up for a 4H. And if a student ever chooses to skip receiving one of the 4H’s, that’s fine, too.

44. Use Music for Transition Times

Transition time is easy with this idea by Celeste, a Kindergarten Teacher from Bradenton, FL.

I have learned that the sooner you put routines into place the better the whole year unfolds. Until I hit on this idea, my efforts to get kids to move from one activity to another, or from one place to another, were time-wasting exercises in frustration. But, since I hit on the idea of using different musical instruments to signal the ending of one activity and the beginning of another, the stress has drained out of the effort.

For example, when it is time for writer’s workshop, I play a few notes on a flute; the children then know it’s time to get their writing folders out and join me on the carpet. I use a rain stick to signal time for reading, and a chime to signal time for math. I have other musical sounds to signal other routine happenings, such as lunch, clean-up, and dismissal. By routinely employing these musical nudges, I have found children soon develop good transition habits that last all year long.

45. Teach Them the Basics

Learning to read and write from left to right is fun with this crafty idea by Antonia, a Pre-K Teacher in Kennewick, WA.

To help children remember that they should begin to read and write at the upper left-hand corner of a page, I help them create smiley nameplates.  I cut colorful poster board into separate cards measuring approximately 4” x 12”. On each card I write one students name in craft glue.

I then supply the children with art materials (beans, pasta shapes, buttons) for them to press into their names. I show them how to work in one line so that the edge of each object touches the edge of another until all the glue is covered. I then place a small smiley face sticker in the upper left-hand corner of each card. After letting the cards dry, I display them in a row atop our alphabet letter display.

46. Show Them What to Expect

Get parents involved by using this idea by Andrea, a Kindergarten Teacher in Cypress, CA.

At the end of each school year, most of my colleagues discard the word lists and reading benchmark test results they culled from that year’s class. But I don’t remove mine; instead, I find these charts generate discussion at the following year’s Back-to-School Night, so I keep them on display (making certain no student name appears on any of the charts).

As parents read these charts and realize our goal is to have their child read 100 words and on a First Grade level by the time the year is complete, I find the charts prompt parental interest and involvement. After reading them, parents eagerly offer to volunteer in my class, they ask what they can do at home to help their child become successful, and/or request to visit so they can observe me at work. That is always fine with me, as they can see for themselves how I lay the groundwork for their child’s academic success.

47. Let Parents Know You’re Listening

Let parents know you’re listening with this idea by Ashley, a Kindergarten Teacher in Jacksonville, FL.

From time to time, even the best teacher can receive an unwarranted critical letter from parents.  When that happens, it can be tempting to offer a defensive response or, at the very least, form a negative opinion of the sender. What works better, though, is to reserve judgment while offering a response that is genuinely receptive and respectful. A reply note with a message conveying a sincere sentiment, such as, “Thank you for contacting me. I will consider your concerns carefully,” is sometimes all parents need to relax, as they feel listened to and validated. A simple note like that can do wonders to set a positive tone for all ensuing interactions.

48. Make Parents Feel Special

Making parents feel welcome is easy with this idea by Joanna, a 2nd Grade Teacher in Indianapolis, IN.

In my classroom, I always reserve a special chair dedicated to parents. Only parents may sit in our special Parents’ Chair. When parents visit, children are thrilled to invite their parents to sit in our special chair. I have discovered our Parents’ Chair encourages parents to feel good in two ways: they appreciate not having to squeeze themselves into tiny student chairs and they feel valued and supported to have such a place of honor in their child’s class.

Our Parents’ Chair goes a long way toward letting parents and children know we hold parents in the highest regard. (Fun Tip: A second-hand upholstered chair can serve as a Parents’ Chair. Or you can use and ordinary wooden chair that you invite each class to paint and personalize for their parents. Taking and posting photos of parents seated in the chair can be used to create an effective background wall display for the chair—as long as at least one parent of each child is represented.)

49. Participation Sticks

Get your students involved with this idea by Jennifer, a 4th Grade Teacher in Egg Harbor, NJ!

To encourage all of my students to participate in class, I developed a method of using “Participation Sticks.”  At the beginning of each day, I give each student three foam tongue depressors we call Participation Sticks. Each time a student contributes to a lesson, I collect one stick from that student. My goal is to collect all the sticks by the end of class.

Students who use all their sticks earn a positive grade for participation for that day (which in my district amounts to 10% of their final grade). The students love the stick method; quiet children know that after three sticks are collected they have participated fully for that day, extroverted children know they can continue participating beyond stick allotment, and I like using foam sticks as a quiet and easy method for encouraging and measuring class participation.

50. Stay Connected

Stay connected with this easy idea from Kim, a  3rd Grade Teacher in Chesapeake, VA.

Every year at our Open House, I present each parent with a refrigerator magnet.  The magnet features my home e-mail address, the school’s phone number, plus the hours when I can be reached. (I purchase magnetic sheets at the office supply store.) I am also careful to check my e-mail frequently so I can respond immediately to parents’ questions or concerns. By making myself easily accessible in these ways, parents relax in the knowledge that I am available for communication purposes, and I get to enjoy uninterrupted time with my family in the evenings.

51. Have Strong PR

Do you have good PR?  This idea from Allison, a Primary Teacher in DeKalb, Illinois, will help you get it!

The best way to boost your Parental Relations (PR for short!) is simply to get parents into your classroom anyway you can and as much as possible. When you allow parents free access (with appropriate notification, of course) to you and your classroom, they better understand and appreciate your efforts on behalf of their child, they’re more cooperative with your ideas, and they’re more eager to contribute their time and talents to your classroom efforts. Plus, an open environment means parents will more readily share good ideas and insights with you!

52. Connect with Families

Need some great ways to connect with parents?  Check out this idea from Cathy, a 5th Grade Teacher in Canton, Michigan.

I have three main ways I consistently connect with parents before and during the school year:

  1. I set up an informative Web site with all the information parents will need for the upcoming year. In the summer, I send postcards to students inviting them and their families to check out my site so they can become familiar with my approach and the learning that they can expect in the coming year. This gives parents a chance to contact me with questions or concerns even before school begins.
  2. Each Monday I send home a Class Newsletter. I also post the newsletter on my Web site. It gives parents an update of all the class happenings and dates they need to remember.
  3. I regularly send home “brag” notes about each child letting the parents know how well their child is doing. Even if a concern arises, I continue to frame the information in a positive way so the focus remains on student success.

53. Conquer Fidgeting

Raquel, a 4th Grade Teacher in Eldridge, Iowa, keeps her students learning and moving all at once.  Read on to find out how she conquers the fidgets.

Here’s a game for when students need a break from sitting still and you still have content to cover. I start by telling my students to stand behind their chairs and jog in place. Then, when I call out one student’s name, everyone must stop and that one student I called on must answer a question related to the content we are working on. For example, I might throw out a math problem or a reading comprehension question. Anything goes.

The student has only seven seconds to answer the question. If he or she answers correctly, that student gets to sit down. If he or she answers incorrectly, everyone must run in place, do jumping jacks, hand circles, or any other physical activity I name. The student that missed the question must remain standing for the next round. This activity is an energizer that encourages students to learn and focus.

54. Honor Parents

Megan, a 1st Grade Teacher from Brick, New Jersey, knows the importance of recognizing the support of those who help out at home.  Her clever idea gives children a chance to thank those who mean the most to them.

“Each year, our school plans an end-of-the-year Awards Ceremony honoring students’ achievements.  Students receive certificates citing their specific successes. The day following this ceremony, we talk in class about how family members and loved ones help support our personal successes. We use a chart to list many ideas of how parents helped us succeed in first grade (e.g., told me they loved me; helped with homework; prepared a healthy breakfast; bought school supplies, etc.)

I then print out a supply of blank certificates from the Internet and have my students personalize them to honor those people who helped them get to where they are today (in first grade). We dub these certificates the “Great Parents Award.” Students each choose three items from the chart list to copy onto their certificates. The children complete their certificates with their messages and sign and date each certificate. We then use art supplies to add color and glam. I supply a gold seal sticker for each one. Parents are always quite touched to be acknowledged in this way, and it lets children remember that love and support makes all the difference.”

55. Tame Trash

Idea by Jamie, 1st Grade Teacher, Madisonville, KY

When it’s time to clean, we like to play a game I call “Magic Trash.” To play, I select one piece of trash or an object that’s out of place. I jot this item on a piece of paper. I then set a timer and watch to see who picks up the magic trash. When the timer goes off, I reveal the note telling what the magic trash was and announced who picked it up. That student wins a small reward, such as a pencil or sticker. He or she also gets to choose the next piece of Mystery Trash.


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