Posted in Learning, Routines

Working in pairs

On Tuesday, I was sitting in my office, listening to my colleague teach her lesson in the Science Lab. Part of her teaching was to keep the students moving around and interacting with multiple peers. She did a fabulous job quickly selecting pairs of students to work together for short periods of time, before changing partners to work with others.

It got me thinking of a strategy I used a few years ago, both in Year 4 and Year 2, called Clock Partners. I heard about it at a PD that I attended, and used it in a variety of ways across all subject areas.

Simply search for ‘Clock Partners’ or ‘Clock Buddies’ in Google and scroll through the images – there’s some on Teachers Pay Teachers and other paid sites, or some for free. As a last resort you could always draw your own clock!!

The idea is for students to form partners 12 times and write their PARTNER’S name at the specified o’clock number. Ideally, having an even number of students in your class helps with this, however, when I’ve had an odd number I’ve joined in as a teacher.

The script to getting this organised would go something like this:

Teacher: Write your OWN name at the top/centre of the clock.

*wait 20 seconds for students to do this*

Teacher: Find a partner and stand with them so I can see that everybody has a partner. Write your PARTNER’S name in the 12 o’clock section.

*wait 20 seconds for students to do this*

Teacher: Find another partner of the opposite gender/same birthday month/same height (try and mix up the criteria so they’re not just picking their friends). 

*wait 20 seconds for students to do this*

Teacher: Does everybody have a partner that they have NOT had before?

*if yes, write your PARTNER’S name in the 12 o’clock section.
*if no, wait for students to re-mix before anybody writes their partner’s name. This will become increasingly important towards the last few numbers of the clock, to make sure people are mixing up enough to create new partnerships each time.


I laminate the students’ sheets and they keep them in their desk, or book box for easy access. When we need to do partner work, I simply say ‘Find your 6 o’clock partner’ and there’s no arguments (or there SHOULDN’T be!). If their clock partner is away, I have a designated spot in the classroom for ‘lost partners’ to stand – they either buddy up with another lost partner, become the teacher’s partner, or form a trio.

For those classes that are renowned for losing things, I create a spreadsheet so I have a master copy of everybody’s partners for those students who lack organisation.

Posted in displays, Learning, Routines, Technology

Setting up your classroom!

As we approach the end of another school year, my mind immediately jumps to the beginning of next year and what I’m going to do differently, or keep the same…new posters or furniture arrangements, what apps we need on which iPads…

I’m sure I’m not alone.

However for the last 2 years I haven’t had a classroom to set up and I won’t have do do it for 2018 either. But it got me thinking about all the different classrooms that I rotate through and the types of things I would be focusing on as a teacher – if I was staying in the same room, or moving to a different one!


  • Do you have a designated wall space for different subjects? Where do you display anchor charts for various subjects? Or key terminology?
    I am a big believer in visual literacy around the classroom, including word walls, a ‘maths dictionary’ wall and I’ve recently introduced a VCOP wall into one of the classrooms I teach in. In the past, I’ve also had a ‘Wall (or Window) of Fame’ for any students who are featured in our newsletter or local newspaper – I simply cut out the article and blu-tack it to the area – a great way to showcase students and make them feel important. Birthday charts are also a way to help students feel valued, as well as a way to remember and plan for any birthday cupcakes that may be brought it!
    I also like to include very clear instructions and guidelines. These posters from First Grade Glitter and Giggles were used quite often in my class, to avoid me repeating myself.
    A few other things to consider: are you going to display a visual timetable for each day, or have a classroom helper display?


  • Do you have photos or names of all students at the entrance to your class?
    I always had some sort of theme to my class, so in the past I’ve created door labels with their names and our class logo, or ones with their photo. I’ve used similar labels for their lockers or bag hooks and if using set seating, I’ve attached labels to desks.
    If your class has a name, for example the Year 2 Rainbow Fish, I always display that on the door too!


  • Where will your students keep their stationary and books?
    My students have often had their own pencilcases with everything inside. The problem I often found is that even though parents were asked, they didn’t get everything labelled and things went missing and suddenly I had 8 kids in my class without a pair of scissors.

    Sometimes I had pencilcases just for coloured pencils, textas and crayons and I kept the greyleads, erasers, scissors and gluesticks in a communal area for all students to access. I found this worked really well, as students were required to work together to keep all the resources clean and tidy for the whole class to use. Depending on the grade level, I’ve also had tubs on tables with coloured pencils, textas and crayons too, so there were no pencilcases in my classroom at all.

    I created book covers for each of my different subjects (usually an A4 size) and on the first few days of school, we spent a few minutes here or there colouring them in, so that students could personalise them. If students wanted their books covered in patterned contact, I simply attached it to the front of their book using a piece of clear contact. Unfortunately the ones I used to make were made using Microsoft Publisher before I used a Macbook, so here are some other ideas I found.

Notes from home:

  • Where will you collect permission notes, or late slips?
    I used to just have a pile of notes that I’d collect and then potentially lose them. I made myself a little mail box, so instead of giving notes to me, students would just slip them inside and I’d collect them all at the end of day when I wasn’t doing 20 other things and could deliver them to the office without getting distracted!
    I found that it was also important to designate a box in the classroom for Library Book Returns, so that if students brought their books back before our allocated day, there was somewhere to keep them safe.


Hope you’ve found this helpful – comment with any extra ideas that you have for helping set up a classroom!
(I could go on and on, but nobody likes to read a whole essay!)

Posted in Learning, Routines, Technology, wellbeing

Gaining insight into your students’ wellbeing

Screenshot 2016-01-12 20.52.56

As many teachers around Australia are gearing up for another year in the classroom, I am sitting on the couch watching tennis, reading books and painting my toenails. This year is all about wellbeing for me. Yes, I am working 2 days a week in a variety of classrooms and will also put my hand up for relief teaching, but ultimately in 2016, I am putting myself first.

In my Year 2 classroom in 2015 I began to think carefully about not only my own wellbeing, but the wellbeing of those in my care. Some of my students had diagnosed learning difficulties including Asperger’s and Oppositional Defiance Disorder, others came from broken families, some had infant siblings and the list goes on.

With a few prompts from our Student Wellbeing Leader, I began to put this concern for my students into action, by creating a Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Attendance Roll (using Smart Notebook software) that the students were in control of.  Each morning, their names were clustered together under the ‘House’ icon, meaning they were at home. Once they walked in the door, they dragged their name to the appropriate column on the screen. Those students who were absent were still listed under the ‘House’, meaning they were at home.

Some pages were about feelings – “How are you feeling today?” and featured a variety of visual images to students to work with, to assign their name to one of those feelings. I found that these pages often gave me a chance to do a quick one-on-one chat with a child while they were unpacking their bag, or simply keep an eye on them for any signs of emotional distress throughout the day.

I also created pages for graphing what each student ate for breakfast – we found that cereal was always the most popular – and check-ins for the end of playtime, end of the day, or to see how many stars you would give the weekend you just had?

This Smart Notebook document is available from my TPT store, which you can find here.

I’d love to hear any other feedback about how you cater for Social and Emotional Learning in your classrooms – mindfulness is a huge buzz word at the moment, but it’s no good if we don’t put it into action!

Posted in Routines

5 P’s to being a graduate mentor

I was both delighted and honoured to be selected to be a mentor for my new Year 4 colleague this year. He is a graduate, but has more life experience than me, as this is his second career. For the purpose of the exercise, let’s call him Bradley.
I remember as a graduate feeling so unprepared. My four years worth of classes, assignments and placements were barely visible in my mind as I came towards actually putting it into practice. Even though the school year has only just started, I have been emailing Bradley with what I feel is useful and practical advice, plus a few resources that I have found helpful. Lying in bed last night, my brain was ticking over again as I mentally started scribing a list of more things to mention to him.

1.  Planners –

I’ve passed on a Yearly Overview to Bradley for him to gauge what type of content we will be covering. I felt it was important to give him a copy of my Term Planner as well, but I have stressed that he is more than welcome to try and implement new things that he has learnt at uni, or seen on placements, or is simply curious about! I haven’t graduated to doing my weekly planner on my iPad yet, so I just print out a blank template for each week, just to jot down quick notes about lessons. Bradley thought this might be useful as well, so I emailed him the digital copy.

2.  Parent Communication –

I must tell Bradley about methods of parent communication. At our school we have a fortnightly whole school newsletter, as well as a fortnightly classroom newsletter on the opposite fortnight. Bradley may feel more comfortable if we combined our classroom newsletters into just one Year 4 newsletter, or he may like to send out his own. At the beginning of the year, I send home a Parent Information Booklet (mentioned in this previous post) to share my routines and guidelines within the classroom. This always includes my email address at the top of the classroom newsletter as my preferred contact method, which I will be encouraging him to do as well, to avoid parents spontaneously dropping in and catching the teacher by surprise. Alternatively, our parents call make appointments with teachers via the Student Reception Office.

3.  Professional Development –

I mentioned casually the other day to Bradley that I got a certain idea from something I had seen on Twitter. He told me that he’s always been interested in Twitter, but doesn’t know much about it. Little does he know that I will be (not-so-forcefully) recommending that he join and try and use it. Hashtags like #ectchatOZ (Early Career Teacher Chat) and #pstchat (Pre-Service Teacher Chat) have both been invaluable to me regarding new experiences and ideas, although there are so many more chats and hashtags that have guided and supported me too. For a graduate teacher, I can think of no better instant PD. Definitely be talking to Bradley about this.

4.  Patience –

Bradley is already a few steps ahead of me in some ways, as he is both married and a father. But the patience you show towards family membership can be quite different to the patience you need to show towards your colleagues and students. We’ve already had a chat about different possible discipline strategies and one of the biggest pieces of advice I gave him was ‘Pick your battles’. I think this phrase is used often in education, but if never fully appreciated it until last year. Showing patience towards those battles that we choose not to pick helps the classroom to remain calm, and with those battles that we do choose to pick, patience is still the overarching key to the approach we take.

5.  Pride for positives –

Not every lesson goes well. I have had some absolute doozies. Despite this, it is important to be proud of your efforts and the time you give to the students. Being proud means celebrating each lesson that you have poured energy into. To track my successes, I began using a highlighter to circle the lessons in my planner which I felt went well. At first, it was just lessons that worked, but I built it up to lessons that I would do again, recommend, or include on our class blog. It’s great to flick through your planner and see lots of bright colours, reminding you that you should be proud of your teaching and learning. I’ll be telling Bradley to do the same. Focus on the positive lessons, not the ones that went a little awry. Be proud!

As my mentoring journey is only just beginning, I’m excited to see what it brings to me as a professional and what it brings to Bradley as a graduate.

Posted in iPads, Routines, Technology

What was, is and what might be…

So, how did 2013 turn out?

There are plenty of things to be thankful for. It hasn’t been the most uplifting year for me, and at times I really struggled. I decided to take part in the #nurture1314 project to reflect upon the positives. Check our my 13 big highlights and my 14 wishes for the New Year.

Being selected as an e-learning leader at my school – being able to strengthen my passion in IT.
Individual student blogs – a way to watch my blogging journey grow.
Genius Hour – I think the person who learnt the most from Genius Hour was me, not my students.

Having a new year level – Year 4. More independence,more motivation!
Ipads in the Prep-6 classes – and the enthusiasm of colleagues to utilise them!
Gaining experience from others on Twitter – a whole new world I wasn’t part of until May.
Happily using my iPad to read books, using the Kindle App – so many books to choose.
Learning how to record my data in a time-effective, meaningful manner. So much easier!
Independent assessment – students’ assessing their own and others work – timesaver!
Growing as a stronger and more resilient person as a result of many challenges during the year.
Holidays – 3 weeks in Europe was the perfect battery recharger, ready for Term 4.
The 100 Word Challenge – a fantastic writing challenge for students, and mine loved it!
Skype in the classroom – opening up those communication lines to become more connected.

So where will 2014 take me, or where will I take it?

1. I wish to create a more flexible learning environment – reduce desks, encourage students to find their own space and to find the classroom supportive. I’ve started this already by removing my teacher desk. I’m hoping to encourage students to own their learning, but to use me as a resource. The Twitter hashtag #space2learn is helping me with this.

2. I wish to provide more authentic learning opportunities – by using Genius Hour, SOLE, Coding and Project Based Learning. I knew about none of these terms at the start of 2013, so imagine how much I’ll know in 12 months time!

3. I wish to be more of a presence in the classroom – I wish to inspire students to lead – hopefully by helping to run the Primary SRC in 2014. I did this in 2013, but had a few challenges. I’ve come up with some great new ideas and projects that I hope to launch with the support of the students and my colleagues.

4. I wish to share my experiences about disabilities with my students. In 2011, my 23 year old autistic brother visited my classroom, and my students talked about it for weeks. The learning wasn’t maths or literacy, but a real life lesson.

5. I wish to maintain by classroom blog and increase the global connections that it currently has. It is truly one of the most authentic learning opportunities I have already provided and hope to continue. The feedback I can give students, and that other readers can give them via the blog is so powerful.

6. I wish to support parents with better communication through our classroom blog. Using the blog as a communication tool as well as a sharing tool will prompt parents to access it, but I need to find that line between keeping them informed and bombarding them with information. If all of the information is on the blog, will they bother to access it?

7. I wish to ride my bike to work at least one day a week. Small goal, I know, but the introduction of iPads at my school has reduced the amount of work I am taking home each night and subsequently,each morning. Easier to ride my bike with a smaller backpack! As Bike Education is part of Year 4, if I am being a positive role model, I think it will resonate with the students more.

8. I wish to commit to a sport or exercise on a regular basis, in addition to #7! I’m thinking of yoga, Pilates or badminton. I could always fall back into netball maybe, but would like to try something new!

9. I wish to read more. For business and for pleasure. Small goal, but I think one book per term and one book per holidays is achievable. I find that my workload sometimes interferes with my reading time, but 2014 might be different.

10. I wish to be a supportive mentor. I have been assigned a graduate teacher to mentor during 2014. I’m excited to be responsible for helping someone, as I was recently in the same position myself. Hopefully some of what I do will be of use to him!

11. I wish to clear my mind of what other people think. To hold my head high, knowing that I’m doing my best is something I owe myself.

12. I wish to learn about Whole Brain Teaching. My new class has a few students with ADHD, learning difficulties and Aspergers, and I feel that this method of teaching may help me streamline the directions I am giving and may help them better understand tasks.

13. I wish to say no. Often I am asked to organise events, make phone calls, be available for meetings X, Y and Z, which is beyond my teaching load and hours. I’m not opposed to helping others outside of work hours, but as I learned this year, stress and anxiety are serious medical conditions – reducing my workload is one way of combatting this!

14. I wish for regular visits to friends. One of the biggest challenges of living in Mildura is the isolation from friends and family. I’ve never been one to be homesick, however ‘friendsick’ is more common. Visits just mean being organised and financially secure for petrol and airfares. Here’s to changing that in 2014!

Posted in Routines

Another year over…

This weeks post was inspired by @stephyadan and her contributions to the Twitter chat #pstchat (PreServiceTeachers).

Part of the chat on Monday night involved an analysis of how teachers spend their hard-earned holidays. Personally, I would love to use the entire school break for rest and relaxation. Mentally, I cannot afford to, because I need to feel adequately prepared for the first few days of the term.
As the summer holidays are just around the corner, I have begun my preparation for my 2014 school year already. I actually have a folder on my computer labelled ‘Classroom setup’, which is my go-to guide for the beginning of any new year. It contains documents like:
  • labels for cupboards to document what is in each one
  • a variety of birthday charts
  • dividers to organise my binders
  • permission notes for my class blog
  • bulletin board signs
  • book cover templates
  • parent surveys/communication forms
  • classroom/door displays
  • a letter for my new class
  • classroom handbook for parents
All the ‘pretty’ things like the birthday charts, displays and posters are probably not what some teachers would deem as necessities for the first week. I only put a few up before the students start to emphasise a welcoming and safe environment, as my first week at school is dedicated to getting students to produce pieces of work to display in the classroom to give them a sense of ownership and importance.
Two of my most treasured resources for the beginning of a new school year are my letter to my new class and my classroom handbook for parents. The letter to my new class is a requirement from my school, to begin that teacher-student relationship before the new school year begins . (We do have a transition day where students meet their new teacher at the end of the year, but this letter is sent out during the holidays). It is a way of my students getting to know a little bit more about me, on a personal level. I have found that students LOVE finding out personal details about their teacher – seeing their car in the car park, knowing their siblings names, etc.  For those of you who think this could be something you might like to implement, see below.
Letter to students 2014 (PDF)
The classroom handbook for parents is a way for me to communicate the little routines and habits that I expect or prefer in my classroom. This is really personalised for every teacher and I found that even though my co-teacher and I taught the same content, little details about the running of our classrooms were different. Most parents will read it, some will not (can’t win them all!)
Parent Info Booklet (PDF)
Is this the best way to run my classroom? I don’t know – this is only my third year teaching, with many years still ahead of me. It’s important to focus on what makes me comfortable and what is successful for the students and parents in my care.
What structures do you put in place at the start of the year to ensure your class runs smoothly?