Avoid Teacher Burnout

As any educator can tell you, the beginning of the year is the most time-consuming, crazy-busy time there is. It’s like moving in to a new house, starting a new job, finishing up your Master’s thesis, and hosting a big party all in the same week.

I’m not sure there’s any way around it. Everyone is busy the first six weeks or so, and everyone puts in extra hours – even educators who’ve been at it for years. But for some, the busyness becomes more manageable as the year goes on, and for some it doesn’t. And you don’t need me to tell you that the first-of-the-year level of activity just isn’t sustainable, especially if you want to have what’s commonly known in the non-teaching community as “a life.”

So how do you convert the crazy-busy time into a sustainable schedule? I believe it all comes down to habits – actions we take automatically in response to a situation.

Play Video ThumbnailThe cool thing about habits is they don’t require a lot of thought once they are learned. They just become what we automatically do. That’s why I believe the most important thing to do in the first six weeks of school is teach the students (and ourselves) habits that will automatically save us time. If we do this, we will eventually have a sustainable schedule instead of a burned-out-train-wreck schedule.

Think about it. If the students have the habit of running around for 15 minutes before class starts, you will be wasting time getting them to settle down – time you could be using to take care of all those little administrative tasks you need to do, like checking in homework.

If the students instead have the habit of putting away their things, preparing for the day’s activities, and getting started immediately on the first learning task, you won’t have to use your prep time for the administrative tasks. And the students will feel more in-control and successful, too.

So use these first weeks of school to create good habits and enjoy the benefits for the rest of the year.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Reflect So You Can Relax

Before you lock your classroom door, turn in the keys, and turn off your teacher brain, I recommend you reflect on anything that didn’t go well this year.

Whoohooo! It’s finally the end of the school year! Time for some R’s – Rest, Relaxation, and Rejuvenation!

If you had a tough year this year (as many of us did) you may be especially eager to leave it all behind and get on with your Summer Break. But before you lock your classroom door, turn in the keys, and turn off your teacher brain, I’d like you to take a moment for one other R – Reflect.

Specifically, I recommend you reflect on anything that didn’t go well this year (anything Rotten, to continue our R-word theme.)

Why Reflect on the Negatives?

Now why would I ask you to wallow in your misery instead of playing and having fun? Why be so negative? Why not reflect on the positive things that happened instead?

Because you want next year to be better, that’s why! And if you’re anything like me, you tend to get a little fuzzy about the specific details of what went wrong. You just remember that you didn’t like it, and rejoice (another R word) that you don’t have to face it for a few weeks. Then all that summer relaxation tends to erase it from your memory, and you forget to make a plan to fix it.

But things aren’t going to get better next year by accident. The definition of insanity is taking the same action and expecting different results.

Don’t Try to Fix It Now

I know you don’t have the energy right now to figure out how to fix everything, and I’m not asking you to do that. I’m just asking you to make a list of things you’d like to improve for next year. Then, once you’ve rested a little and you’re ready to think about next year, you’ll know what you need to work on.

So what drove you crazy this year? The transition after lunch? Tardies? Kids throwing things? Backtalk? Eyerolling? Side conversations? The pencil sharpener? Write it all down and lock it away in a drawer somewhere until you’re ready to start thinking about next year.

Reflect Now, Fix Later

Chaos CauserOnce you’re ready, dig your list out of your drawer and create a routine for each one of those “drove you crazy” items. I recommend using a process such those I teach in Taming the Chaos [video class] or the Take-Charge Teacher [DIY workbook.] Or use the Teach-To process from the Time to Teach Classroom Management Strategies That Work seminar, or any other process that works for you.

Making your “what went wrong” list now can help you let it go so you truly can Rest, Relax, and Rejuvenate. Have a great break, and I’ll see you next year!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

 

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End of Year Hint

This Sanity Boost was originally published May 31, 2015.

It was the last day of school, and we were having a class party to celebrate. A parent was leading some party games that took forever. I knew it was getting late, but I didn’t know just HOW late until I looked up at the clock. We had only 30 minutes to clean up after the party and completely clean out all the students’ desks and cubbies.

A wild scramble ensued, with me barking out orders and the kids running around like little sugar-fueled tornadoes. The last minute of school arrived, and then the last second. When the bell rang, my students rushed headlong out the door with all sorts of paper and debris trailing behind them. I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye, and the room was trashed.

Hours later when my teacher friends were busy toasting the end of the year at a party, I was desperately working to finish my end-of-the-year checklist.

It was horrible.

I am not a complete idiot, so why had I left everything to the last minute? Because a month before school ended, my principal directed us to make sure instruction continued right up to the last day of school. No shutting down early, she said.  I interpreted this to mean the room had to be completely set up with all materials out until the last day of school. I have since learned this is not true. The room can be prepared for the end-of-the-year shutdown AND learning can still occur. It’s a balance. You can avoid the disaster I experienced by keeping some things in mind:

  1. Your less socially able students need structure even more when a transition is nearing. You may be the most stable adult in your students’ lives. Try to keep routines in place as long as you can to avoid those students freaking out, acting out, and testing the boundaries.
  2. If possible, plan some sort of end-of-the-year project. One of my favorites is a keepsake book looking back over the major events of the school year. The students draw and write about each event in the book, and take it home on the last day. Older students can create a portfolio of their best work and write a letter of introduction to the next year’s teacher. Presentations, speeches, or demonstrations can also work well. Early project finishers can be recruited to organize books, pack boxes, and so on.
  3. Collect textbooks and materials long before the last day of school, and send things home gradually. You don’t want to scramble at the last minute like I did, nor do you want the students lugging bags of stuff home on the last day.
  4. Be strategic. Even though you collect many items ahead of time, your students still need activities to keep them engaged academically. One idea is to allow each student to choose a book from the class library to read during the last few days and then take home to keep.
  5. Make sure to leave time for some sort of a good-bye ritual on the last day of school. Students and teachers all need closure. Parties are good, and so are book or tee-shirt signings. Just make sure to set firm boundaries and allow plenty of time for cleanup.

Do you have any other tried and true methods to end the year? If so, I would love to hear from you! Email me your ideas, or post them on the Positive Teaching Strategies Facebook page.

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Spring Fever – 7 Ways to Deal With It

The top definition of Spring Fever in Urban Dictionary is:

spring fever

  1. wanting the present moment to become summer
  2. slacking off in school because the year is almost over
  3. wanting to be outside every day rather than inside

Teachers encounter Spring Fever on two levels – we have it and our students have it. It seems everyone is tired, distracted, and just DONE. So how do we squeeze in those 500 remaining Lucy Calkins lessons before the end of the year without sparking a rebellion?

Ineffective Spring Fever Approach #1

Some teachers pretend Spring Fever doesn’t exist. They crack down extra hard and load students up with high-stakes assignments, projects, and tests. This definitely keeps everyone busy, but it also tends to keep everyone stressed-out. And there can be other unintended consequences, which I wrote about in a previous Sanity Boost.

Ineffective Spring Fever Approach #2

Other teachers just give up on getting anything academic done and facilitate the Spring Fever slacking. These teachers plan a lot of fluff activities like extra recesses, parties, and dress-up days. Their thinking? You can’t get the students to do anything, so you might as well have some fun. There are several reasons this approach is ineffective (besides the fact that you’re slacking on the academics.)

1- Students who struggle the most with behavior also usually need the most structure. If the structure is suddenly taken away, their behavior can get out of control, and there goes your low-stress, fun activity.

2- Unless you plan to let the students do literally ANYTHING, you will still need to plan the activities and set up your behavior guidelines. This can be even more work than continuing with the routines you already have set up.

3- Believe it or not, some of your students actually like to learn and will resent wasting time when they could be learning. (I know this is a rare one, but don’t we want to honor this attitude?) Parents and administrators may also want students to continue learning.

Finding the Balance

It is possible to accommodate Spring Fever and still complete important tasks. Here are few suggestions and things to try.

1- Let your students know exactly what still needs to be accomplished academically. Put a list on the board, or give them a calendar, list, or agenda. This can be motivating to both teachers and students. It also lets the students know you aren’t just giving them meaningless busywork.

2- Do a low-key countdown, such as writing the number of days left on the board. This helps prepare students for the transition for summer, and you can also say, “We only have ___ days left to get everything done before our end-of-the year party. Let’s stay focused now so we can play later.” You can encourage them to make their last __ days memorable and fun.

3- Refrain from taking down your walls until the second-to-last day. Taking down your decorations, posters, and anchor charts too early communicates that learning is over.

4- Integrate content and skills with activities that help students reflect on their year or look forward to next year. For example, students can write a letter of introduction to their next year’s teacher or a thank-you letter to a previous teacher.

5- Consider adopting a class currency, token economy, or incentive plan that students can use to purchase prizes (such as unused supplies or books) on the last day of school. This can be a good opportunity to learn about keeping track of money, as well as a way to keep students focused.End of the Year Jobs for Students

6- If individual students finish projects early or lose focus to the point of being unable to work, you can give them a sorting or organizing job to do. Often this short break helps them get their focus back, and it helps you get ready for year-end, too. Check our Awesome Teacher Nation Resource Library under “Educator Resources” for a list of possible jobs.

7- Take your class outside from time to time when the activity will allow it. You can do it “just because” or use it as an incentive or reward.

Now it’s your turn. How do you find the balance when dealing with Spring Fever in your classroom? Feel free to comment below, post in our private Facebook group, or send me an email. I always like to hear from you!

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Cell Phones in Class – Yes or No?

There are lots of great uses for cell phones in school, if we can just get students to use them without distracting themselves.

As part of the Classroom Management Strategies That Work seminar, I ask teachers to brainstorm a list of student behaviors that drive them crazy. Cell phones are always on the list. Always. In fact, I think cell phones may now rival pencil sharpeners for their ability to annoy teachers.

Cell Phones Off and AwayLast week I subbed in a middle school. As I walked through the halls, I saw lots of notices about cell phones – everything from “Keep your electronics off and out of sight” to “No phone zone” to this hilarious Top 10 list.

At this school, there is no rule against cell phones, but plenty of teachers are banning them anyway.

As the students arrived in my class, several of them asked if they could listen to music on their phones during work time. “Our teacher always lets us,” they said, which is middle school code for anything forbidden by the regular teacher that the students sneak around and do anyway.

I realized I needed to come up with a cell phone policy, ASAP. So I said, “I’ll explain my electronics policy after class starts,” which of course was my way of buying time to figure out what I was going to say. Ban cell phones and risk power struggles all period? Allow them and face constant negotiations and monitoring to ensure acceptable use?

My Highly Thought-Out Cell Phone Plan

The thing is, there are lots of great uses for cell phones in school, if we can just get students to use them without distracting themselves. Aha! Sounds like a Teach-To to me! And just like that, my Highly Thought-Out Cell Phone Plan was born:

  1. Taught the students the command “Electronics Away!” I told them specifically what I wanted – laptop lids completely closed, earphones out of ears, and phones completely out of sight in a backpack, pocket, or binder. If they followed this command, they would be allowed to use their electronics during appropriate times, such as independent work.
  2. Explained I would revoke individuals’ cell phone privileges if what they were doing was a distraction to me, other students, or themselves. Followed through when needed by saying, “Looks like your phone is distracting your neighbor. I need you to put it away, please.” (No warnings.)
  3. Before independent work time, explained very specifically what was okay, such as music with earphones, and what was not, such as texting. Requested they ask me if in doubt.

It’s true cell phones can be abused by our students. But so can rulers, pencils, glue, markers, paper, scissors, books, and every other educational tool. It’s our job to teach students how to use all tools effectively, including cell phones.

Now it’s your turn. Do you agree that cell phones are appropriate for the classroom? What is your cell phone policy? Feel free to email me, comment in our private Awesome Teacher Nation Facebook Group, or post in the comments below.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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That Kid You Just Can’t Reach

This kid was ruining my day. And I put more energy into trying to get him to do something – anything – than I gave to the whole rest of the class.

“I just wanted to let you know I’m not going to do anything you say today,” the 5th grader informed me. “I’m going to have a bad day, and so are you. This is what I always do with subs.”

I was a bit taken aback by his statement. While I imagine a fairly high percentage of students consider a similar plan of action when they see a substitute teacher at the front of the room, most of them don’t actually say so. Especially to my face. And most of them choose to go along with me once I convince them it will be more fun than trying to sabotage me.

I pride myself on my ability to win over and motivate difficult students, so it was especially humiliating that I couldn’t get anywhere with this one. Incentives didn’t work. Logic didn’t work. Being friendly didn’t work. Neither did behavioral momentum, peer pressure, or planned ignoring. When I finally resorted to threats, they didn’t work either.

The rest of the class was great, but this kid was ruining my day. And I put more energy into trying to get him to do something – anything – than I gave to the whole rest of the class.

Our Ability to Choose

I am grateful for this student, because he reminded me that one thing we humans all have in common is the ability to choose our actions. We can be encouraged, manipulated, bribed, tricked, or convinced to act, but in the end we all get to decide how we’re going to respond.

In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

And he also said this:

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

As educators, we face tremendous challenges every day. There are many things we can’t control. But we can choose where we put our energy and focus, and we can choose to use the situation, however painful, to help us grow.

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

What's Going Right?PS – You can change your focus and energy by looking for what’s going right in your situation. Yes, things may be going wrong, but I guarantee you at least one thing is going right! If you are an Awesome Teacher Nation member, feel free to download this coloring sheet from the Educator Resources section of our Resource Library. Not a member yet? You can join here. It’s free!

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How to Feel Better About Behavior Referrals

I sigh as I look at the behavior referral form. I try to minimize the number of students I refer to the office but I have no choice. The student grabbed another student by the throat which is an “automatic mandatory reporting” offence at this school.

My prep period drains away as I answer all the questions and fill in all the boxes. And then I get to the question I dread the most:

Behavior ReferralHave you contacted the student’s family? __Yes  ___No  You are required to contact the student’s family before submitting a discipline referral.

I think this is kind of unfair since I didn’t want to fill out the referral anyway. Plus I know this conversation will not go well. The parents of this student hate the school and all its horrible staff. They hate me most of all.

I am not in a good mood.

Hate Discipline Referrals?And then I remember the advice about five positive interactions for every negative and I think, “I wonder if I can apply this to myself? How could I have five positive interactions before facing this negative parent?”

So I make a list of five great students in my class. Actually, once I think about it, I have many more than five. Beside each name I write one or two positive things each of these students did recently. Then I pick up the phone and call their families, not to make THEM feel better, but to make ME feel better.

When I get those parents on the phone I tell them thank you for allowing me to work with their amazing kid. I give an example of something the student did recently that I really appreciate. And by the time I get down to the discipline referral call I’m in a much better mood.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m in the heat of teaching it’s sometimes easier to see what’s going wrong than to recognize all the hundreds of things that are going right in that moment. But noticing, acknowledging, and expressing gratitude for the positive stuff can give us the strength to deal with the negative stuff.

There’s an added bonus, too. When students see and hear us recognize positive behavior they often try harder, especially if we are specific about what we recognize. (“I see you helping your friend – thank you,” instead of “Nice job!”)

Now what about you? Have you ever tried “five positive for every negative” on yourself? Or have you ever made compliment calls to families? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

PS – Would you like more practical classroom management strategies that work? Check out the Monday Morning Sanity Boost archives. If you like what you see, you may want to gain access to even more strategies that I only share with Awesome Teacher Nation members. You can join here. It’s free!

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Ready-to-Go Lesson Plans – 7 Ways They Can Backfire

As classroom teachers we sometimes get bored with the same old lessons. But trying new ready-to-go lesson plans can backfire. Here’s why.

Lesson Plans BackfireA million years ago when I first started teaching, I spent way too much time and money at the Teacher Supply Store hunting for teaching ideas and ready-to-go lesson plans.

Today it’s Teachers Pay Teachers, Pinterest, Education World, and other on-line databases instead of the Teacher Supply Store, but the idea is the name – fresh new activities to do with your class.

We tend to think we need to keep coming up with brand-new ways of presenting information to our students so they won’t get bored. And that’s true, as long as we don’t overdo it.

But changing things up all the time in our classes may not always be the best strategy because it can waste valuable instructional time and undermine our classroom management.

Here are seven ways ready-to-go lesson plans can backfire:

Backfire #1 – You Won’t Be as “With-It”

A key to great classroom management is “withitness” – the ability read the room and take the right action to prevent problems before they occur. When we are concentrating on following an unfamiliar lesson plan or leading an activity for the first time, some of our attention will be used up and we won’t be as “with-it.”

Backfire #2 – Boredom

This lesson plan backfire is counter-intuitive. After all, aren’t we trying to keep it interesting by doing things differently? But when we are using a new teaching method, we will need to give more instructions, directions, and explanations to our students, which many students find boring. Bored students sometimes misbehave just to keep things interesting.

Backfire #3 – Lost Confidence

Many students enjoy feeling capable. It gives them confidence to know the “right” way to approach a learning task. When we change it up too much, some students can feel uncertain or lost. And unfortunately, sometimes this feeling causes them to act up in an attempt to feel better.

Backfire #4 – Avoidance Misbehavior

Some of our students use misbehavior to get out of an activity if they perceive it as “too hard.” And learning a new procedure at the same time they are trying to learn new content can be too much.

Backfire #5 – Rocky Transitions

Misbehavior MagnetSmooth transitions are crucial for good classroom management. Transitions that are confusing or that take too long are student misbehavior magnets. This is why effective teachers spend weeks developing systems around transitions, and teaching them to their students. When you introduce a new type of lesson plan, even a ready-to-go lesson plan, there will be new transitions to learn, and they will not be as smooth.

Backfire #6 – Teacher Stress

Even if you are excited about a new type of activity, leading it for the first time can be stressful. Stress can make it difficult to respond well to your students.

Backfire #7 – Choppy Momentum

One of the best ways to avoid behavior issues in the classroom is to keep things moving. Even if the ready-to-go lesson comes with great directions, you may need to pause and refer to them from time to time. This can stop momentum and cause student misbehavior.

What To Do Instead

When you find a cool new activity or idea on Pinterest, see if you can fit it into the learning routines your students already know. Or if you decide to try a brand-new learning method, use that method for more than one lesson. Not only will you make it less likely for the lesson to backfire, you will be able to shift more of the responsibility for learning onto your students, go deeper academically, and save yourself tons of time.

How about you? Do you agree that changing routines can lead to behavior problems? I’m always interested to hear what you think.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

PS – Would you like more practical classroom management strategies that work? Check out the Monday Morning Sanity Boost archives. If you like what you see, you may want to gain access to even more strategies that I only share with Awesome Teacher Nation members. You can join here. It’s free!

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Poor Results From Your Classroom Management Plan?

Results. We all want them, and if you’re like me, you want them NOW!

Are You Sabotaging Your Classroom Management Plan?“I put Alicia on a behavior plan, but she still acts out constantly. Why haven’t I seen any results?”

“I work hard to build rapport with my students, but they still challenge me from the moment they walk through the door.”

“Teaching behavior expectations doesn’t work. We go over procedures again and again with no results. The students STILL do whatever they want.”

It’s frustrating when you try interventions that are research based and/or work for other teachers, but don’t seem to generate the same results for you.

Too often, we either blame the students, the intervention, or ourselves. No results? I must be a bad teacher.

One year I borrowed a classroom currency program from another teacher. She swore it was like magic for her. I borrowed her masters and printed up the class money and checkbook registers. I thoroughly studied the program. I set it up exactly like she did, only to find that my students’ behavior was still out of control. Not only that, but I had to deal with a few additional problems, like counterfeiting, extortion, and theft. Not exactly the results I was looking for.

Reasons For Poor Results

There are many reasons a system can work for one teacher or class and not work for another. For example, you may be trying to implement without understanding the underlying principles. (This was the problem with my classroom currency. I was trying to use it to manipulate or “bribe” my students, while the other teacher was using it as a celebration of their achievements. Looks the same on the surface, but the kids can feel the difference.) Or maybe the students aren’t developmentally ready for that particular intervention. Or possibly it’s not culturally appropriate. The list goes on and on.

But one thing I find again and again is that educators don’t give the system time to work. We put Alicia on a behavior plan, and if we aren’t seeing results in a couple of days, we’re off to something different. We think greeting students at the door or creating a “lunch with your teacher” program will instantly generate rapport. We think we’ve reminded them about the pencil sharpener enough times that by now they should get it.

And then we either blame the students, the intervention, or ourselves. No results? I must be a bad teacher.

Here’s the truth. Changing habits is hard, and it takes time. Whenever you implement a something new, you are not only trying to change your students’ habits, you are also trying to change your own. Sometimes you even need to increase your effort to maintain your program after the initial novelty wears off, both for you and your students. And that takes effort. A lot of effort. When you focus only on results, it’s easy to become discouraged and give up too soon.

Focus on Effort, Not Results

So at least initially, try focusing on effort instead of results, for both you and your students. Is Alicia turning in her behavior card, even if she hasn’t instantly transformed into an angel? Celebrate! She’s developing the habit that will eventually help her learn more effective behaviors. Give yourself credit for changing your habits and greeting your students at the door. Rapport doesn’t develop instantly, and it sure won’t happen if you have the attitude that you are only doing it for the results you’ll get. Are you still teaching those behavior expectations? Good for you! The habit of continuing to teach until it’s learned will pay off with academics, too.

Celebrate and focus on your actions and efforts, and the results will flow naturally.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

PS – Would you like more practical classroom management strategies that work? Check out the Monday Morning Sanity Boost archives. If you like what you see, you may want to gain access to even more strategies that I only share with Awesome Teacher Nation members. You can join here. It’s free!

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How to Have a Better Class Next Year

I know it seems a little early to be thinking about next year already, especially if you are wondering if you are even going to make it through THIS year. But Spring is actually the perfect time to revisit classroom routines and procedures.

Make Next Year BetterFor instance, let’s say you don’t like the way your students act after lunch. Or maybe you’re overwhelmed by homework and are spending way too much time grading papers and chasing down missing assignments.

You have a few ideas you’d like to try, but is it too late in the year to make changes? Absolutely not! In fact, the novelty of a new routine can sometimes be a catalyst for improving student behavior.

A natural time to revisit classroom routines and procedures is right after  Spring Break. Add your new procedure into the mix, and see how it goes. You can even let your students know you’re testing out something for next year and ask for their suggestions.

Once you and your students have debugged your new routine, you can roll it out next year, confident that it works. And who knows? Your new system might even help make things a little better this year, too.

Whatever you do, don’t wait till next year to make needed changes. You don’t have to continue doing something that’s not working, just because you’ve always done it that way.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

WATCH: 2-Step Plan to Regain Control on YouTube

Watch Better Start on YouTube

PS – If you need help figuring out your new routine, I recommend two exercises from my book, The Take-Charge Teacher:

  • The What’s Bothering You exercise, where you make a list of things that are driving you crazy in your classroom, and
  • The Ideal Class exercise where you imagine everything going perfectly, and write it down, step by step.

TemplatesYou can get free templates for these two activities here, along with all the other resource materials from the book.

You may also want to ask your colleagues for suggestions, or search for ideas on educational websites or Pinterest. Or you could always ask your colleagues in our Awesome Teacher Nation private Facebook group. Ask to join here.

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