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Student Bag of Books

I like to have students have a bag of books they keep at their seats at all times. This cuts down on wasted time. Students have a selection of books they can grab at any downtime, which cuts down on constant library browsing. 

For independent book bags, I really like to use the 2.5 jumbo plastic bags. I like them because they are clear so you can see student book choices. They are also pretty sturdy and will hold about 5 books ranging in sizes.

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I teach students how to fill their bag of books in the first or second week of school.

  1.  First, I do a whole class lesson on how we care for our library books.
  2.  Second, I teach students how to search for books by level, genre, or interest. I have books sorted all of these ways in my library. I don’t want students to be limited to one means of search! I also model and have students practice putting books back in the proper place.
  3. After I assess each student’s reading level and confer with them, they are sent to the library, one at a time, to select about five books for their bag of books.

Students are allowed to switch out their bag of books at down times. NOT during independent reading. I reinforce that independent reading time is too precious to waste. The only exception to this is, if I am conferencing with students during independent reading and their reading level changes, I allow them to change their books then because they are usually eager to switch books.

Students usually switch books:

  • before class starts, after their morning work is complete
  • at the end of the day during dismissal
  • other times when they are finished with work early

Building Reading Stamina

In my previous post I discussed the importance of independent daily reading; however, it is important that if students are independently reading for a chunk of their reading block, they are actually reading! We all know what “pretend” reading looks like. You are teaching your small groups, and you hear the noise volume gradually increase to a level that becomes disruptive. You remind your students that they shouldn’t be talking. Students quickly dive into their books, flipping through pages at a rapid pace and constantly glancing up at you to see if you are still watching.

The bottom line is, this is bound to happen at times in all classrooms at certain times, but this should not be the norm. We want to teach students to use time wisely and treasure their IDR time. But, we can’t expect students to just dive into reading for 20+ minute blocks of time without training them how. Just like runners need to work up to running long distances, readers need to work up to reading for extended amounts of time.

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How I Help my Students Build Stamina

At the beginning of the year, usually on the first day of school, I teach my students the rituals and routines for independent reading in my classroom. I stress how this is the most valuable and important time of our day because it is time for us to enjoy the books we choose, which will help us grow as readers.

Selecting Seats

Right from the start, I allow students to choose comfy places for their independent reading. They can sit anywhere, as long as they are focused. If they are not focused, or if they distract others around them, they temporarily lose the privilege to choose their spot. They sit in their seat, or by my guided reading table, where I can help them.

Building Stamina

On day one, I tell students we are going to see how long they can read for. I set a goal of 5-10 minutes. I have not yet taught my students how to navigate and care for our classroom library or how to build their independent reading book bags. Therefore, I fill bins of books that vary in levels and genres and place them around the room. Students bring their bag of books to their chosen spot. I explain that I will be seated at my guided reading table because usually, I will be with a group during IDR. I tell them that I will be rotating around the room watching them read.

We review IDR expectations today, and every single day before IDR time. My expectations are the same as The Daily 5.

I set a timer and sit at my guided reading table, giving students a few minutes to settle and get started. After everyone has time to get started, I make my first rotation around the room. With younger grades, I would notice what books they are reading and if they are engaged in their book. With older kids who read longer chapter books, I created a chart with their names and wrote down the page number they were on during each rotation I made. This chart would help me notate students who were possibly not truly engaged in reading because they were flipping pages too quickly, or on the same page the entire block of time. 

Grab my editable class chart for free here

As I rotated through the room, I would notate on my class chart students that were no longer engaged in reading. I would notate the time on the timer that they lost focus.

⏲️ Every five minutes, I would rotate through the room again. 

📈 After day one, you can either decide to make a class graph showing how long the majority of the class read for, or have students begin independent reading stamina graphs. I prefer students keep track of their individual reading stamina in a graph in their data notebooks. This way, students can see how they grow as the year goes on and make personal goals. Some students will be able to read independently for a longer chunk of time than you can provide, and you will likely have students who are not able to sustain independent reading for longer than ten minutes.

Each day, I continue to extend the independent reading block by 2-3 minutes, depending on how long the majority of my students can sustain their reading for. I do not keep the same extensive records I did on day one. I chart each student’s reading time for my data notebook and for student’s data notebooks each month.

As students are reading independently for at least 10 minutes, I use this time to assess my students reading levels each day.

I continue to complete stamina building each day, until most of my class can read for their center rotation time, which was 20-25 minutes in my class, and until all of my individual reading assessments are complete. I don’t even think about starting guided reading groups or other “centers” until they have stamina, and assessments are complete.


In my inclusion classes, there were always a group of students who were unable to build their stamina as quickly as the rest of the class. I always stressed the importance of using our time wisely, and I certainly didn’t want these children sitting there pretending to read. I would have a frank conversation with them and let them know this is something we will keep practicing. If they or I notice they are unable to focus on IDR anymore, I would move them to something else. Often, these were my students who were drastically below grade level so I would allow them to listen to a book on tape. Of course, you will have students that prefer this, so I would encourage them to meet or beat their previous days’ time, then move them to a listening center.

The Importance of Independent Reading

Of course, all teachers want their students to improve in reading. We also strive to grow a love of reading in our students. One of the most crucial ways to improve student reading levels is to get students hooked on reading.

One of the best was to improve student reading skills is through independent reading. Of course, the more someone practices something, the better they get! Giving students ownership over their reading materials gets them to “buy-in”. When students have a choice, they will be much more apt to enjoy their reading. Be sure you have an abundance of books of all genres, levels, and on a variety of topics for your students.

Many teachers say they don’t have time to provide independent reading time in class. This is where they are going wrong! Independent reading time SHOULD be how your students spend most of their reading period. Some teachers say, students can read independently at home, so they spend class time doing other skills and centers. The fact of the matter is, most students don’t read independently at home. For those that do, it is not enough!

Some teachers worry their administrators and coaches won’t be happy if they walk into a class of students reading independently. To some, this looks like the “easy” way out because it requires little work on the teacher’s part. Some districts, schools, and administrators expect students to be working in skills-based centers. The fact of the matter is, having students read independently is EASIER on the teacher and his or her planning time, but it is also WHAT IS BEST FOR KIDS!

It is also important to note, that while students are reading independently, the teacher should also be engaged in guided reading, small groups, or one-on-one reading conferences, which are other crucial components of advancing readers.

If you have an administrator who is a naysayer, show them the research!
A study on first through fifth graders found,  “Among all the ways children spent their time, reading books was the best predictor of measures of reading achievement reading comprehension, vocabulary, and reading speed, including gains in reading comprehension between second and fifth grade.”
Independent Reading Study

But isn’t this common sense? If someone wants to become a better soccer player, they practice. If someone wants to become a better flute player, they practice. 

Stop spending your time planning and changing meaningless centers. Work on building your classes’ reading stamina. Implement independent reading in your class.

While independent reading should be most of the independent work time for your students, you can’t expect your students to jump into reading for extended amounts of time. Check out next week’s post for some tips to help build reading stamina.

Five Ways to Celebrate Birthdays in the Classroom

There are many creative ways to acknowledge and celebrate student birthdays. Here are five creative ways that do not take much teacher prep or class time! 

     1. Birthday Sundae Cups: From Teaching Maddness 

2. Birthday Balloons: Print out the attached balloons and tape them to a swirly straw, pixie stick, or fun pencil. Keep them in a bucket for kids. Easy to prepare at the beginning of the year! 
Birthday Balloon Bouquet

3. Birthday Chair: Decorate a metal or wooden chair with paint or stickers. On a student’s birthday, they get to sit in the special chair all day!

4. Birthday Book: Allow your students to bring in one of their favorite books to share. I let students decide if they wanted to read it, or if I would read it.

5. Birthday Homework Pass: Since kids tend to be busy celebrating on their birthdays, allow them to use a birthday homework pass to have the night off. 
Birthday Homework Pass
I'd love to hear how you celebrate birthdays in your classroom! Comment below with ideas and pictures!

Five Ways to Build Relationships with your Students

Building relationships with your students is the most important thing to increase student success, happiness, and make classroom management seamless. However, building relationships with your students does not mean you should be friends with them. Children need structure and high expectations, but to succeed, they need to know you care about them and have their best interests at heart. Here are five ways to build relationships with your students.

1. Get to know them personally. Ask about their life outside of school. Take time to talk with all your students. Ask them about their family. What did they do over the weekend? Do they have any hobbies? This is not “wasted” academic time. This is the most valuable time that will make everything else easier!

Knowing things about your students’ personal lives will help you gear instruction towards their interests. This shows them how much you listen to them and care! I showed Peyton the new nonfiction soccer book I bought for the classroom library but wanted her to read first because I knew her love for soccer. She felt so special!

2. Build trust. Show your students that what you say you mean and follow through. You will not make false promises.

3. Be firm. Stick to your expectations, but always tell students why. They need to know it is because you have their best interest in your heart. “Ariel, I expect you to redo this assignment. I know you can do better. I can’t accept anything less than your best because I want you to succeed.”

4. Be fair. Your actions should show you are fair and have the same expectations for everyone. Don’t play favorites. This is hard! Sometimes you may not realize you give the student who “always does the right thing” some slack, but the other kids will notice! They will lose trust in you if you are not fair.

5. Appreciate each child for their uniqueness. Celebrate differences in learning. Celebrate differences in culture. Celebrate differences in personalities.

With some of your kids, it will be easy to form relationships. They will be excited to open up to you and share their lives. It is more challenging to build relationships with other students. It may be a process you work on all year (and maybe even after they leave you for the next grade!). Even with the students who are less willing to open up, never stop trying. You will never really know the impact you may have. 

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The School Supply Solution

How do you handle school supplies? Do you have community supplies for everyone? Do you pass out supplies as needed? When I first started teaching, I tried all the above. I was frustrated at how irresponsible fifth graders were with their supplies. Some students expected me to give them new supplies because they lost things constantly. I became frustrated because I was spending hundreds of dollars on basic supplies for my students.

Then, in my second year of teaching, I worked with a teacher who had a system that taught responsibility and respect for school supplies. I immediately adopted her procedures and policies.
The main point is to teach responsibility. If students have ownership, they will take care of their things and their classroom.

I began each year laying out the supply requirements to parents and students. I put the responsibility on them. I let all the students know that if they lost or broke supplies, it was their responsibility to replace them.

Now, many students cannot afford supplies, and teachers are hesitant to ask. I taught at a school that was over 90% free and reduced lunch. MOST of my students brought most of what they needed after I outlined the expectations. Of course, some students did not bring supplies due to financial needs. I stocked the pencil boxes and desks of these students with no questions asked.

Hold Students Accountable

To hold students accountable for their supplies, I did regular supply checks. Students knew these supply checks could be at any time. It was quick, easy, and helped my students learn how important it is to be prepared and ready. I would simply announce it was time for a supply check so that students could take out their pencil boxes, and then I would announce a supply I was looking for. I would say: “Hold up your three sharpened pencils… one, two, three, up!” and by three, all students should have their three sharpened pencils. I would only check about two supplies per check. This also helped students stay organized because they knew how important it was to be able to access what they needed quickly.

If students did not have a particular supply, I would mark it on my clipboard with my class list. This would help me notice any patterns with students who were perpetually unprepared. I had individual conversations with students who were always unprepared. They were never in trouble or reprimanded, but it was important they understood why they needed to be prepared and ready to learn. This is a vital skill they use in the remainder of their schooling and beyond! I would give students any supplies they were missing, with the understanding they would take care of them.

I always encouraged classmates to “help” their friends who were in need of something. If they saw one of their friends was missing a sharp pencil, many kids who had extras would scamper to give their friend one. I always encouraged friends helping. This promoted our classroom community. They learned to help others when they needed it. It also put a bit of peer pressure on students who were perpetually unprepared to be more responsible.

Most students learned to take care of their supplies. They knew they were accountable! While many students resupplied their own boxes, I would always replenish basic supply needs throughout the year. The child would just let me know their glue was empty, their pencil was worn down, or the ink ran out on their marker. Some days I would surprise the entire class with a new set of fun pencils or erasers. They would get so excited about these little gifts. Supplies were never taken advantage of. Students knew to keep track of and care for their things.

At the beginning of the year, I did supply checks daily. Once students understood the importance of being responsible for their supplies, I did them less frequently; about once-per-week, or whenever I saw students needed reminders.

This system worked very well with my fourth and fifth graders. When I taught second grade, I used the same system but was a bit more flexible (especially at the beginning of the year). While many teachers are working in schools with students who are in poverty, teachers should not use this as an excuse. We need to instill responsibility in all of our students. While supplies seem like a little thing, it is in these little routines children learn life skills.

Comment below with your school supply routines. What works for you?

Grab the free school supplies list here! It is editable Adobe Reader! 


Back-to-School Around the World

It’s that time of year again! Parents are rejoicing, and teachers are prepping… School supplies, classroom décor, staff meetings, professional development… It’s back to school time! As you prepare your classroom for back-to-school, have you thought about the routines and traditions other children around the world have?

Through my resources, I strive to connect kids to the stories and traditions of other children who may have different traditions. This is why I created my differentiated reading unit on Back-to-School traditions around the world.

Did you know that kindergarten children in Germany receive paper cones filled with school supplies and treats? Children in Japan have a good luck back-to-school lunch of rice with seaweed sauce and quail eggs. In Russia, children bring flowers to their teacher.

Open the world to your students and teach them about cultures and traditions that are different from their own!

These differentiated passages are great for guided reading lessons, differentiated independent work, or homework. There are three levels, appropriate for grades 2-5. The passages are accompanied by text-based multiple-choice questions and two different writing prompts.

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