My Primary Paradise | Making Teaching A Breeze

Why My Writers were Struggling & What I did About It

I will never forget the Aha moment when I realized WHY writing was so hard for my students. It was my second year of teaching, mid-writing lesson, mid way through our year in first grade. I had modeled, read great mentor texts, modeled, modeled, and modeled some more, and it JUST didn’t seem to be helping the majority of my students. I was talking to a sweet boy who was near tears because “He couldn’t do it.” I looked down at his paper, looked up at my model, and it clicked.

This sweet, sweet kiddo who was trying *HIS* very best to write like my model. But, the problem was, he was one of my strugglers, and like many of the students in my class, he needed a stepping stone, a more realistic model, of what his writing could and should look like.

That night, I went home and create my first visual writing rubric that showed multiple levels of writing for a narrative story.

Up until that point, we had discussed the do’s and don’t, but I hadn’t broken it down into more achievable, bite sized pieces for my students. I had been showing them an example of “this is what your writing should look like” without taking into account where they already were AND the fact that some of my kiddos needed to see where they were, the in between stages, and where they could be.

I began the writing the next day by talking about how writing grows and changes as we practice. We talked about the fact that we all start out as beginners, and being a beginner isn’t a bad thing. It means we’re just starting out and have room to grow, and then we talked about growing into an expert. Next, I pulled out the writing examples from my writing rubric, in random order, and we read through them, and talked about what we noticed.

Then, as a class, we put them in order and decided which looked like beginner writing, all the way to the “expert”. And then, something clicked. Many of my students who had previously hated writing got excited because they realized that they could shoot for one of the middle examples (which was a big improvement) and then grow until they became an expert. This wasn’t about lowering expectations, it was about giving my students a pathway to success.

In addition to hanging up our visual rubrics, I wanted something that my students could look at and use closely, so I printed them out in miniature and pasted them in their writing notebooks. When I conferenced with my students, we talked about where their writing was and where there goal was and would mark that example. It was a great way for them to see their goal constantly in front of them, and it gave my students confidence.

After posting about my visual rubric on my Facebook page, I had so many teachers ask for me to list it in my TpT shop, and soon had requests for an informational version

and an opinion version.

(And you can grab the bundle of all three here.)

And it’s been amazing to see how much this resource has helped so many teachers and students! Here are just a few examples of the feedback teachers have given.

Would you like to try a visual writing rubric in your class? Click here to download it from my recent live video on Facebook! And make sure to like my Facebook and join me live each Tuesday at 8pm est when I go live to share helpful tips and ideas!

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Dab & Learn Number Sense Math Activities

I don’t know about you, but my favorite learning activities are those that normally the most simple. They’re typically my students’ favorite activities as well. Today I want to share some simple activities to that will help your students build their number sense in a fun and engaging (and simple) way.

If you’ve been reading my blog, following me on Facebook or Instagram for a while, you already know that I am obsessed with the Dollar Tree. Seriously. There are SO many hidden treasures waiting to be found! That’s where I got my idea for this fun bowling center and countless other activities, but the simplicity of my new Dab & Learn Activities takes the cake.

Students will use bingo dabbers (or daubers depending on where you’re from 😉 ) to practice skills such as counting & identifying numbers to 20, 50, and 100, adding, subtracting, skip counting, and comparing numbers. Almost every activity is print and go meaning no cutting, laminating, or prep! Just print out the activity, give your kiddos a bingo dabber and they’re ready to learn and practice.

The only exception are the flip, dab, and cover games that students can play alone or with a partner. For these games, there are a few pages of number or addition and subtraction problem cards to cut once, laminate, and then use over and over!

There are also 7 editable pages included so you can edit these pages to fit your needs. The pages that are available in an editable version are: Dab & Add, Dab & Subtract, Spin, Dab, & Add, Spin, Dab & Subtract, Read, Dab, & Solve, Dab & Compare, and the flip cards for the Flip, Dab & Cover pages. Use these pages to specifically target your students’ needs to practice particular numbers and facts.

To edit, simply open the editable file that is included in the zip folder you downloaded from TpT. Type the words and numbers in the shaded boxes, and then print!

This HUGE 160 page pack has so many uses and will be a great addition to your classroom!

These activities can be used for advanced pre-kindergarteners through kindergarten and first graders, and make a great intervention tool for second graders and beyond.

Your students will love these activities, and will be learning and practicing key skills at the same time!

You can grab two free sample pages to try in the preview here (or click the picture below).

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3 Simple Ways To Get Your Students Moving

If your classroom is anything like mine, recess is getting shorter and shorter each year and students are getting more and more wiggly. So now, more than ever, teachers need ways to add some much needed movement into their day. Here are 3 simple and effective tips to get your students moving that you can implement tomorrow!

Watch my Facebook live video about this topic post cover

Memory Motions

memory motions

Research shows that not only do students learn better when that learning is attached to a movement, but students who are given more opportunities to move are also able to focus. We all know that primary students are just not made to sit still for hours on end. My solution? Memory motions!

Here’s how it works. When I’m teaching my students new concepts, I use hand motions to help them understand key words, ideas, or phrases. A special phrase I use to let them know they need to say and do what I’m doing is “My turn, your turn!”

Here’s an example from a lesson on setting.

Mrs. Moore: Alright kiddos, today we’re going to learn about character traits! My turn your turn. Setting is…

Students: Setting is…

Mrs. Moore: (points to wrist) time!

Students: (point to wrist) time!

Mrs. Moore (points to ground) place!

Students: (point to ground) place!

Mrs. Moore: (moves arms in front of her like a rainbow) and environment!

Students: (moves arms in front of themselves like a rainbow) and environment!

From there, I would go on and explain each concept more in depth, but every single time we talk about setting, I would, and my students would, be expected to use their memory motions.

This concept can be used for almost anything, and it’s a little added tool that 1) helps students LEARN and 2) adds a little extra movement to their day.

Play & Prep

play & prep

The second way to add movement to the classroom is with, what I like to call, Play & Prep! The concept is pretty simple. When you’re questioning or reviewing with your students, say for an upcoming assessment or at the end of a lesson to check for understanding, after a student answers or demonstrates a question correctly, they get to pick a slip from the Play & Prep bucket and the whole class does what’s on the slip!

play and prep

Click the picture above to grab my Play & Prep slips for free.

This gives students an incentive to participate and allows for a little fun and movement for everyone!

Bowl & Learn Centers

bowl and learn

If you do centers in your classroom, they are the perfect opportunity to add some movement, and my bowl and learn centers were specifically created for those wiggly students who NEED the chance to move while they learn.

Here are just a few points about these centers:

  • print and go NO cutting AT ALL
  • just add bowling pins (available at the dollar store or just use toilet paper tubes or small cups)
  • visual directions included
  • easy to differentiate
  • versions for math, letters & letter sounds, and sight words

There you have it! 3 easy ways to add movement to your classroom. Your most squirmy students will thank you, but all of our students will be grateful. How do you get your students moving? Leave a comment below!

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Early Finishers

“I’m done!” I don’t know about you, but that is one phrase that I really, really don’t need to hear in my classroom. We all have those students who finish their work early, and then of course need something to occupy their time. Today I’m going to share some ideas that are simple to implement, will add value to your students learning, and your students will enjoy!

Watch my Facebook live video about this topic here.


#1 Rotating SPECIAL Book Bins

As teacher, we always want our students to read, read, read, so this is a common, go to early finisher activity, but I like to add a few tweaks to make it a little more appealing for students.

special book bins

I have enough bins for every group or table of students, so students don’t have to get up from their area to pick a book. I fill each book bin with SPECIAL books. These aren’t books that they’ll find in our classroom library. They are magazines, MY books that I use for teaching, seasonal books, and so on. I also rotate them to a different table every week, so I only have to change out the books every month or two (depending on how many groups I have). My students FLIP over these books because they know that they’re only available for a limited time, so they thoroughly enjoy reading them.

As an added bonus, if I have a class that can handle it, I’ll also allow them to grab a reading buddy and find a spot around the room to read after they are finished while others are working. They know that, if they’re playing and not reading, their reading buddy privileges can be revoked, so I’ve rarely had any issues. Something about picking a fuzzy friend, a comfy spot, and reading a SPECIAL book really makes reading when they’re finished early much more appealing.

#2 Must Do May Do Folder

This one is a life saver, and I can credit this idea to my cooperating teacher when I was student teaching. My must do, may do folders both keep my kiddos organized AND save my sanity when dealing with early finishers.

must do may do

The idea is very simple. Each student has a Must Do, May Do folder. On one side, I label “Must Do” and the other side “May Do”. On the Must Do side, students keep work that they must complete before doing anything else, as well as on going projects and morning work so they always know where to find it. On the May Do side, they keep activities that they can choose to complete when they finish early (as long as their may do side work is completed and up to date).

Must Do

must do

On their must do side, my students always have their morning work since they need it every day, any ongoing projects, such as their daily journals (the February one is free here until 1/27/17), and then any work that they haven’t completed from the current week. They know that, when they complete their work, any unfinished work must be completed before they make another early finisher choice.

May Do

may do

On the May Do side of their folders, I am able to give students individualized practice for things that they personally need to work on. I also like to give them fun practice pages and logic puzzles like color and add, word searches, etc. Some of mine and my students favorites are my handwriting joke and fact packs for those kiddos who need handwriting help, my eye spy short vowels pack for those who need to review vowels, my listing and writing early finishers pack, and my rhyming early finishers pack. It’s nice because students very quickly get used to the idea that not everyone is working on the same thing, and that’s okay. When they activities in their may do folder are on their level and fun, I rarely hear, “I’m done! Now what?”

#3 Free Journal

As you can probably tell, I’m all for easy and simple, and the free journal is such a fun and simple early finisher activity.

free write

The free write journal is exactly how it sounds. Students each have a journal and a free to write (just about) anything they want in the journal.

free write list

I attach a list to the front cover to give them ideas (grab it free here), but students are welcome to write about anything they choose. They’re even welcome to draw as long as they either label their picture or write about their drawing. It always amazed me how much some of my most reluncant writers enjoyed their free write journal when they felt completely unrestricted. I didn’t grade their writing in here, but I would go through and see what they were writing about once a month, and I would always find something in there to leave a positive comment on, which always brightened their day.

#4 Helper Bins

This is one that not every teacher will be comfortable with, and not every classroom, or even every student will be able to handle, but it can be such an empowering experience for your students while saving you some work!helper bins

Here’s how helper bins work. Any tasks that students in your classroom could handle such as passing papers back to student mailboxes, cutting out flippers or interactive notebooks, or sorting class books, are available for early finishers to complete. You make a bin for each task, and then students who finish early are able to go to the bin and complete the task. You might choose to have the student pick a task and then come to you for further instruction (which takes a whole lot less time than cutting or passing out all yourself).

Some points to consider:

  • This will take some teaching time to teach students how each task needs to be completed and if there are any rules.
  • Some students might not be able to handle this, so you might need to make this option only available for some students until others prove themselves responsible enough. (In my opinion, this is perfectly okay as long as it’s done with kindness and sensitivity).
  • You can use binder clips (see picture above) to label the tasks. When a student picks a task, they remove the binder clip. One all binder clips are removed, no one else can do helper bins at that time.
  • This doesn’t have to always be a choice. You can have this “open” only when you need extra help.
  • You can stick to just having a bin for students to pass out papers to mailboxes and skip the more complicated options.
  • Your students will surprise you. Kids are often much more capable and responsible than we give them credit, so I encourage you to give it a try!

#5 Partner Up Flash Card or Sight Word Practice

Finally, I like to let my students practice sight word or math flash cards in pairs when they finish early.

flash cards

Here’s how I made this work in my classroom. When a student finished early and wanted to practice flashcards, they would take out their flashcards, place them on the top of their desk, and then pick another early finisher activity to work on in the meantime. When another student finished, they could go over to a student with flashcards on their desk and ask to play. (The first student had to say yes- sort of like partners for Daily 5). They would then go pick a quiet spot and quiz each other. They had to whisper. Sometimes, when I had students who really, really struggled with volume control, I’d have them use a white board to write the answer, so there was no talking necessary.

flash cards 2

We mostly did math practice because the answer was on the back, but you could also do sight words, spelling words, and more!

Grab some simple addition flash cards for free.

So there you have it! Some simple and easy early finisher ideas. What do you allow your early finishers to do? I’d love to hear from you!

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3 Easy Sub Plan Tips to Make Your Life Easier!

Hi Friends! If you follow me on Facebook, you might have caught me sharing these tips live on TuesdayWhether you missed it, or not, I wanted to take some time today to share my 3 tips that will hopefully make your sub planning much. much easier so, on those days you or your children are feeling under the weather, you’re able to stay home and rest instead of dragging yourself into school while sick. As well as teaching first and second grade, I’ve subbed in every grade from Pre-K to 8th grade, and that experience taught me a few things about how to make it an easy experience for your students, your sub, and yourself!

Watch my Facebook live on this topic here.

3 easy sub tips

So, let’s dive right in!

#1. Create a sub binder with all important information in one place.


I kept my sub binder on the shelf behind my guided reading table (where I spent much of my time as I didn’t use a teacher desk) and my grade partners all knew where it was. That way, even on days I was expectantly out, it was easy to find.

Compiling a sub binder might sound like a lot of work, but it really doesn’t need to be. I only had about 7-8 pages in mine, and it took about an hour to put together.

Here’s what I included:

  1. Class list
  2. Morning procedures- broken down into what the kids should be doing and what the sub needed to do.
  3. Daily procedures- such as jobs, pencils, how to get the students quiet, and how students are expected to get the sub’s attention2
  4. Behavior management information– this makes life so much easier for the sub to have it spelled out.3
  5. Daily Schedule & Specials Schedule4
  6. Emergency Sub Plans (I’ll go into more detail below)
  7. Emergency procedure information- it never fails that there’s a fire drill when you have a sub, so make sure they know what to do.

That’s it! Putting all of that information in one place will save you a TON of time, and it will really help your sub out because they’ll know exactly how things work in your classroom.

#2. Have a consistent morning routine with procedures and morning work your students can do on their own.

When I was working as an in school sub, I often was thrown into a classroom as students were already arriving, which obviously could be a little chaotic. I often found myself quickly trying to read through sob plans and looking around the room for clue as to what these little kiddos (or sometimes big kiddos) were supposed to be doing. So, one thing in my own classroom that was incredibly helpful was my morning routine (which I also included in my sub binder).

My students knew that they were expected to come in quietly, hang up their things, move their clip to show me they were present, grab two pencils, and then sit down, take out their folder, and begin their morning work.

Click for morning work

I was told many times by my substitutes that those first few minutes were so helpful to them because the students were so independent and it gave them a chance to get acclimated. My students always loved that, no matter what, they knew to take out their morning work, do the box for that day, and then they could read a book or do another early finisher activity. Since my morning was was consistent, it always made mornings either– whether I was there or not.

#3. Create plans using activities and skills that you’ll be reviewing all year.


Let’s face it. When you have a substitute, they’re just not you. They’ll often take much longer or much shorter to complete tasks, and certain skills might not get the attention they need. This isn’t the fault of the substitute, it’s just the nature of our job and the personal touches we each add. So, my solution to this, and also a huge sanity saver, was to make very generic plans that someone could step in and complete at the drop of a hat.

Here are some examples:


For writing, I simply gave a list of writing prompts that the sub could pick from, had them review our classroom writing expectations, and then had students write in their writer’s workshop journal. When they finished, they got to share their story with a friend. Easy peasy for the sub and students can always, always use extra writing practice. I’d also include writing activities like these winter ones seasonally if the sub felt like going above and beyond as well.

(Click the picture to download the writing prompts)

Click to Download Freebie


My reading plans had my sub pick ANY fiction book from my classroom library. Students would use a printable to make a prediction before the story and then complete a story map after the story. Both printables from my story elements pack could be used over and over again as subs would pick different books.


For my math sub plans, I would take those extra practice sheets that we didn’t get to throughout the year and staple them into packets. I’d pick skills that could be reviewed over and over- addition, subtraction, skip counting, etc- and I would pick the sheets that were fun and simple- add and color by number, just add dice sheets, and so on. And since they were the “fun” practice sheets, my students always loved it. Because all of my activities were from my Activities by the Standards packs, they were standards based as well.

Science & Social Studies

Lastly, my school was lucky enough to receive a subscription to Scholastic News. We would get 4 different magazines- in class sets, each month, and we never were able to get to all of them. So, I kept the sets we didn’t get to and when I had a a substitute, my students would read them in pairs, complete the activities, and then complete a journal about what they learned- easy peasy!

All in all, I found using these 3 tips to make sub planning so much easier and I found the days I was at home sick or with my children who were sick to be much smoother. I hope that implementing these brings success to your classroom.

Have a favorite sub tip? Share it below! And join me next Tuesday on my Facebook page to learn about some early finisher tips!

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