Offering Choice Through Zoom

With most of our country forced to either teach, or learn through Zoom, the opportunities to give students choice seem less and less. Back in the classrooms, our classrooms were student-led and our teaching was responsive to individual needs. Teachers are amazing, and are still providing those opportunities as much as they can, but our situation provides some limits.

In my district, teachers are teaching a whole group math lesson and a whole group ELA lesson. Then, each student is put into a small reading group and a small math group. When students aren’t meeting during one of these times, they’re expected to be doing some sort of independent work.

I’m part of an extremely large Facebook Bitmoji group and was inspired by a couple of posts that I came across and adapted it for me. For the idea below to work, you need to be able to navigate and use Zoom breakout rooms. Fortunately, they are super easy to organize and pop between while checking in with students.

One way to give students some choice in how they like to work is to utilize a choice board like mine below. After a whole group lesson, share this image with your class and have the type in the chat box which color room they would like to join during independent work time. Based on their responses, you can quickly form breakout rooms to accomodate their choices (if they choose yellow, it requires individual rooms so they are by themselves).

Click on the image to get your own editable copy.

Providing students with choice, even with something as simple as how they want to work, can have a tremendous impact. Students begin to feel in control of their learning and begin to build autonomy. Having students choose if they would like extra time with the teacher, time collaborating with peers, or time working alone, it forces students to become reflective learners. They need to think about their own understanding of a concept and then decide what they need in order to be successful…a tough skill for kids.

Start small…try just two breakout rooms. As you and your students start to get more comfortable, you can always add more. Have fun!


Favorite Fall Picture Books

Fall is my absolute favorite season, and in my crazy mind, September 1 is when fall begins! I start ordering the Pumpkin Creme Cold Brew from Starbucks, I order my new fall candles from Bath and Body Works, and I slowly start pulling out a few fall decorations.

In order to help celebrate my favorite season, I rounded up a few of my favorite fall picture books for you all. These are some classics, and a couple funny ones that your students will love. Enjoy and happy pumpkin everything!!!

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn Join a young girl as she takes a walk through forest and town, greeting all the signs of the coming season. In a series of conversations with every flower and creature and gust of wind, she says good-bye to summer and welcomes autumn.

Fletcher and the Falling Leaves As the leaves fall from his favorite tree, Fletcher worries that something is terribly wrong. But then winter comes, and with it a wonderful surprise.

Pumpkin Jack The first pumpkin Tim ever carved was fierce and funny, and he named it Jack. When Halloween was over and the pumpkin was beginning to rot, Tim set it out in the garden and throughout the weeks he watched it change.

Fall Leaves Part poem, part silent stage, this luminous picture book puts autumn on display and captures the spirit of change that stays with us long after fall leaves. Unlock the secrets of this busy and beautiful time of year as the natural world makes way for winter.

The Biggest Pumpkin Ever Desmond the field mouse wants to carve the biggest jack-o’-lantern in the neighborhood with his pumpkin. Clayton the house mouse wants to win the Biggest Pumpkin contest with his. But when they discover that their choice pumpkins are actually the same one, Desmond and Clayton decide to work together to grow the biggest pumpkin ever!

The Ugly Pumpkin The Ugly Pumpkin has waited all through October for someone to take him home, but no one wants him. He doesn’t look like other pumpkins. So the lonely Ugly Pumpkin leaves the patch in search of a place where he’ll fit in. By the time Thanksgiving arrives, he discovers the truth about who he is–but it’s not what he expected!

Awesome Autumn Autumn is awesome! Leaves change color. Animals fly south or get ready to hibernate. People harvest crops and dress up as scary creatures for Halloween. And then there are pickup football games to play, Thanksgiving foods to eat, leaf piles to jump in―all the amazing things that happen as the air turns crisp and cool.

Amazon Lately

Get ready for a hot mess of randomness. It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything so I thought I’d offer a peek into my latest Amazon purchases! Some our school related, some are not. I love seeing what other people are buying, so I thought why not share my hot mess?

Ready?! Here we go!

High Brew Iced Coffee

This is my absolute favorite coffee! I have it set up as a subscribe and save so I never have to worry about it. It just shows up at my door when I need it! Remote teaching, grad school, two kids….give me all the coffee!

Paint by Sticker Book

I bought this for my daughter to keep her busy last spring. I wasn’t expecting her to love them as much as she has. Now, I throw it in my bag when she has to tag along to big brother’s Taekwondo lessons and it keeps her busy!

Anchor Chart Paper

I stocked up on my new favorite size for the school year!

Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequality Thrives in Good Schools

This was the book I chose for my book club in one of my grad school classes. I’m looking forward to starting it; I’ve been hearing really good things about it!

Transparent Sticky Notes

Bought a bunch of new packs of these to share with our new teachers. I’ve been using these like crazy and still love them!

Silicone Liners

I was tired of washing 58372849 plastic bowls throughout the day; my kids would take a new one for every snack they ate. I finally bought these after seeing so many other moms using them as snack holders. I also use them when packing my son’s lunch everyday.

Blank Cards

I love writing cards to people I work with and my son draws his friends pictures to mail (cutest thing ever)! This are by far the highest quality of cards I’ve ever purchased. They are so thick and come with a huge variety of images! Will definitely be ordering again!

Gold earrings

I’ve been trying to step up my accessory game, so I bought these for only $6! However, I then tired to put my mask on while wearing these…and the result was hysterical. I’ll save these to wear around my house without a mask getting stuck on them…

Melissa and Doug Responsibility Chart

Bought one of these for each of kids in hopes of trying to get them used to doing chores and being responsible for more things around the house. So far, we just like throwing the pieces and seeing if they stick to the board….

White Rolling Cart

Bought this to organize all of my grad school stuff and my son’s school supplies. Simple enough…

Plastic straws

Nothing fancy here. I know we’re supposed to be cutting back on straws and now that Starbucks doesn’t give them out anymore, I keep a stash in my desk at work. There’s better people out there that are reducing their straw use…I need a straw…

Preschool Workbook

My daughter wanted her own learning book and this one has been perfect for her. She loves it!

Elephant and Piggie

My son has recently discovered these books and is obsessed! I’ve been buying these when I see them cheap on Amazon; I can’t get enough of listening to him laugh as we read them.

Sandwich cutters

Trying to make the daily PB&J more fun for my son’s lunches. So far he’s been loving the puzzle one.

Black and Decker Handheld Vacuum

We desperately needed a new vacuum. I vacuum the floor, table, and kids after every meal. So far this one has held up well and is easy enough for the kids to use by themselves.

Launching Book Clubs….Remotely

My love for student-led book clubs has grown tremendously over the past few years. We’ve worked so hard on getting our students to become independent readers and thinkers, and seeing it all come together in a book club, is one of the best feelings.

My district made the decision to go full remote, and since the announcement was made, I’ve had multiple teachers asking about book clubs. They’ve become such an integral part in our reader’s workshop block, and the idea of not being able to do them, was heartbreaking.

I’ve been thinking a lot about book clubs and about how we can launch them digitally in order to continue fostering a strong love of reading and independence among our students. The truth is….book clubs can still flourish and become a key part of our students’ education.

Getting students to choose books

We typically have the luxury of letting our students roam our libraries and touching every book while reading the back to see if it would be a book that would interest them. They would swap books with each other and share their favorite part. Unfortunately, we just won’t be able to do that this year. BUT, there are still many ways to have students pick their own books for a book club.

These 3rd graders listened to book talks and then got to rank which books they wanted to read. Clubs were then formed based off of their ranks. This concept still works in a digital world!
  • Start small. Create a slidedeck with a small selection of books that students can choose from. On each slide, put a cover of the book with either a book trailer or a book talk from someone who has read it. Students can look through and find which one interests them and form your groups.
  • Use Epic! as your book platform. There are hundreds of novels online, all at different levels and interests. Whatever books you choose to show students, ensure it’s on Epic! to keep things as equal as possible.
  • If you have a way to get actual books in students’ hands (materials pickup day, or delivering them to houses) pick a few and book talk them live in a zoom call and then have students rank which book they want to read. Form your groups based on interest and how many copies you have available.
Getting students engaged in the book
  • Help encourage thoughtful conversations and dialogue by using Zoom breakout rooms. Start a call with your whole class and then utilize the breakout rooms for each book club. Setting up the breakout room for them allows you to “bop in” to each group and listen to the conversations in order to provide feedback and direction if needed.
  • Encourage each group to create a Google Site that centers around the book they are reading. Google Sites allows for multiple collaborators on the same site. The group can create different pages and videos surrounding their novel and keep them housed on the site. At the end of the novel, they can publish their site for others to explore.
  • Keep a Padlet open throughout the book club for members to post and chat with each other even when they’re not meeting.
  • Utilize video platforms such as Flipgrid. Students can post videos of themselves discussing different events from the novel and the rest of their group can comment and reply with their own videos.
These 4th graders engaged in deep, rich conversations about their Jerry Spinelli novel.

There’s probably a million other ways to make book clubs work in our new remote world. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. This whole school year looks different already so why not?? Even if you have a vision in mind, but not sure how to execute it, bring your students into the conversation. Chances are, they’ll figure out a way to make it work!!

Supporting Remote Learning at Home

My son’s school has chosen to be fully remote for the first quarter; I had a feeling it was going to happen. Now that I’ve had some time to process that his kindergarten year is going to look much different than what I envisioned in my mind, I’ve come around and am fully on board to make it the best possible experience it can be for him.

My school is full in-person every day, so we scrambled, and happened to find the most amazing mom down the street that will take him everyday (along with her own 3 kids) and help him with his remote learning. Even though I won’t be there with him each day for his remote learning, I’ve been prepping for what I CAN do when he is home for the night. It’s important to me that I’m still involved in his remote learning and I want him to see that I value the work he is doing every day.

A couple weeks ago, Pottery Barn Kids had a HUGE sale on backpacks, and I sat with him and let him look through all the different designs so he could pick out which one he wanted. He picked glow-in-the-dark Avengers…obviously…and I went all out and got him the matching water bottle and lunchbox.

Even though he’s not actually going to “school” each day, I still plan on packing his lunch and having him carry his backpack and water bottle when he goes to “Miss Amanda’s” house. I’m hoping it will help with the mindset of being in school and not just going to a friend’s house to play all day.

Next, I knew he would need a reliable device to use everyday, that included a webcam and easily accessible internet. To Amazon I went, and purchased this Samsung Chromebook. It’s small, but mighty: easy for my 5 year old to manipulate and carry without a problem. I also, of course, got a case for him to put it in before throwing it into his backpack.

I’m still not quite sure of what his daily schedule will look like, or what sort of materials he will need to have at home, but I even still took him school supply shopping….I was NOT going to skip that back-to-school ritual. We went to Target and he proudly carried his list and “read” it to me as he threw his supplies into the cart.

I also have purchased a few extra things to keep at home to reinforce and support what he is learning at school. Again, I’m not quite sure what to expect and I’m sure his kindergarten teacher is going to be amazing, but it can’t hurt for me to have a few extra tools at home!

I hope everyone has an AMAZING start to your school year….no matter how it may look for you!

Dear First Year Teachers,

Dear First Year Teachers, 

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This was supposed to be the most exciting time in your professional lives: graduating college, securing your first teaching job, and seeing your very own classroom for the first time. I’m sure you’ve been creating this image in your mind of what your first teaching experience was going to be. What you’re about to experience is going to be nothing like teaching should be. 

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. You weren’t supposed to be worrying about picking out your own personal protective wear. Instead, you should be walking up and down the back to school section at Target filling up your red cart with sharpies, expos, flair pens, pencils, and post-its for your students to be sharing.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. You weren’t supposed to be walking around your room with a yardstick, ensuring all your desks are 6 feet apart. Instead, you should be able to experience the joy of watching your students excitedly collaborate in desk groups. 

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. You weren’t supposed to have your Meet the Teacher night through a computer screen. Instead, you should be eagerly standing outside your classroom, waiting to hug, shake hands, and greet your new students with a warm smile….without worrying about getting sick. 

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. You weren’t supposed to manage half of your class online and the other half in-person. Instead, you should be in your classroom with your entire class together: forming relationships, learning about each other, and learning from each other. 

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. You weren’t supposed to be creating a classroom library system where students have to wait 72 hours to ensure that the next book they want to read was completely safe and disinfected. Instead, you should be witnessing students excitedly swapping and sharing books with each other as they expand their reading horizons. 

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. You weren’t supposed to be moving every single piece of furniture out of your classroom to ensure you could accommodate the max amount of students while maintaining social distancing. Instead, you should be finding the perfect place for your kidney bean table for guided reading groups. You should be excited to bring in different flex seating options for all your students to share. 

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I’m sorry that your first year in education is happening during Covid 19. But…you still are going to get to see amazing things; you’re going to witness, and be a part of, what teachers do best: stepping up for kids, no matter the circumstance. Hang in there, find your teacher tribe, and remember….we’re all first year teachers this year.

Middle Grade Read Alouds

Middle grade novels are my absolute favorite books to read!! They typically cover a wide range of topics, and also aren’t extremely long; I’ve found that with everything else I need to balance in life, these tend to be the perfect length for me.

With the beginning of the school year about two weeks away, I’ve been thinking a lot about which of my favorites would be great as a read aloud. I’ve rounded up 16 of my ABSOLUTE favorites; some are better for the younger ages (A Boy Called Bat), and some would be more appropriate for the older ages (The Bridge Home). However, the majority of these would be absolutely perfect for 3rd-6th grade, and some could probably even work for 7th and 8th grade.

Amazon links for each book can be found at the bottom of this post

My district is definitely in the minority in terms of how we’re going to back to school; we offered parents either full time in person, or full time remote. Most of the other districts in the area have chosen just a full time remote option. So….I’ve been brainstorming different ways that we can still engage our students in authentic read alouds…even while being remote.

Encouraging Remote Read Alouds

  • One way to encourage a strong reading culture would be a “One Book, One School” initiative. You could decide on a strong book and purchase a copy for each classroom teacher. Each teacher would read the same chapter or section every week, allowing every student to be hearing the book at the same time. The teacher could either provide the reading live on Zoom or Google Meet, or could share a pre-recorded video through YouTube. If you are unable to purchase a book for each teacher, pick the principal or assistant principal (a familiar face for ALL students) to create all the recordings to share out. Each week after the story, I envision a scheduled, open Google Meet time where students of different classes and grades could come together to discuss the book and ask questions with each other. These would be facilitated by teacher volunteers. 
  • If the “One Book, One School” wouldn’t be successful in your building (maybe the grade ranges are too large), you could do a common book for each grade level instead. Maybe the 1st graders are reading one picture book, but the 5th graders are reading a different book. You would still be able to have the Google Meet and open discussions, it would just be with students in the same grade rather than the whole school. 
  • For the older grades, a novel as a read aloud would work, too. Each teacher could volunteer to read one chapter for a common novel, so the responsibility doesn’t fall on one person’s shoulder. Students could then listen to a chapter or two each day, and write a reaction or response to it to share with the class next time. 
Amazon Links for Middle Grade Novels

Amazon Round-Up #3

Teacher Favorites

I recently checked my blog stats and analytics for the month of July. I love to see which posts have been the most popular, and which ones fell a little flat. It gives an insight into the types of posts I should write more of. Well, when I checked, it was clear what you all love…Amazon finds! I even have had some emails about my Amazon posts. You’re my kinda people….

I’ve been in full back to school prep over here…even though it’s looking completely different from anything I’m used to, there’s still things that need to get done! I’m linking some of my favorite back to school tools from Amazon for you all to browse through. Enjoy!!

Wireless Mouse

I don’t know about you all, but I need a mouse while using my MacBook. I’m sure I look like a crazy person when I walk into meetings with my computer, and then pull my mouse out of my bag. I don’t know, I just find it so much easier! Plus….this one is really pretty!

MacBook Air Case

I’m probably a little rougher than I should be with my computer. I often just toss it into my bag with all my other stuff, so I knew I needed a case. I love this one; it protects the edges, it’s inexpensive, and there’s tons of colors to choose from.

Phone/Tablet Stand

I constantly have my phone with me throughout the day. I recently bought this stand to keep it on my desk at school. I love that the charger goes through the bottom and I can have it plugged in all day while seeing the screen. It also tilts up and down to adjust to what you need!

Desktop Monitor

We’re starting the year with in-person teaching, but I also have the thought that we’re going to end up remote teaching at some point. If that happens, I already have this in my cart ready to go. I need to get a second screen if we’re strictly remote. I got so tired of having so many split screens on my laptop and it started to get too hard to see. I’m hoping a second screen will make it easier…especially in things like Google Meets…

Wireless Earbuds

I totally jumped on the wireless earbuds trend and I’m never going back! These are a super inexpensive version, but have amazing quality. I’m looking forward to using these at school this year!

Cup Cuddler

Is there anything worse that your iced Starbucks sweating all over your desk?? A coworker introduced this to me and I’m obsessed. It comes in two different sizes and keeps your desk dry and your drink cold!

Erasable Highlighters

They’re erasable….enough said.

Erasable Markers

I can’t get enough of this brand….

Vornado Mini Fan

There’s no air conditioning in my office and it gets sooo hot! I bought this little mini fan to sit on my desk. Even though it’s mini, it’s actually pretty powerful!

Screen Cleaning Wipes

I HATE having fingerprints and smudges on my computer screen and phone. Nothing drives me more crazy than when I pull all my stuff out of my bag and see my kids’ fingerprints all over my screens after a night of playing on my computer. Seriously though, how many times do I have to tell them it’s not a touchscreen!? I bought this box to keep in my desk and neurotically clean my screens when they get dirty. 💁🏻‍♀️

Into the Unknown…

We have a Disney+ subscription, along with what feels like a million other streaming platforms, and since being quarantined we have watched A LOT of Frozen 2. I mean, I loved the first one, and I love the second one so I’m totally ok with it.

When Frozen came out in 2013, “Let It Go” became the mantra for everyone. It seemed to apply to any situation. Anyway, Elsa’s big song in the second movie is called “Into the Unknown”. She’s about to embark on this big, new journey without any idea of things that may happen….do you see where I’m going with this??

I know that there is absolutely no good solution for the crisis we find ourselves in. There’s always going to be a group of people that one solution won’t work for. It’s impossible to make everyone happy and comfortable when things like childcare, health scares, contamination, and other things are constantly being talked about.

Last Friday, my district released our back to school plans. Honestly, I was really surprised when I read the plan, but I’ve come around and am now actually pretty proud with the solution that was decided. It’s not an easy decision and I respect the impossible place our administrators are in. We’re offering parents the choice of 5 days of in-person or 5 days of remote learning, no hybrid option. So…as nervous as I am about it, I’ll be back in school everyday.

Now….I just found out this morning that our home district will be only strictly remote learning. They will reevaluate each month and gradually move into a hybrid version, but to start my son’s kindergarten journey, we will be remote.


Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to get back to work, however that may be. I’m also excited for my son to start kindergarten, but this is completely uncharted territory. In the middle of all the back to school prep I’m working on, I now have to drop everything and put my effort into finding a full time nanny, or someone else, that can be with my son everyday while I’m at work.

I don’t have the answers, but I’m channeling my inner Elsa. In order to get through what’s going to be a tough school year, I’m embracing “the unknown”. I have absolutely no clue how this is going to go, how I’m going to manage all of this, what challenges are going to pop up, but I need to embrace it because it’s happening whether I want it to or not. My kids are taking their cues from me, so I’m smiling while I pick out cute masks for them, laughing while choosing individual name labels for my son’s supplies so other kids don’t use them, and encouraging them when they question things.

Whatever plans your school has chosen, just know how hard it was for them to even create a plan and roll it out knowing they were going to make people unhappy.

Cover Annotations

So often I think we as teachers are quick to skip past the cover art of a new book. We’re usually so excited to get into the story with our students that we just dive right in. Unfortunately, by doing that we’re missing an amazing opportunity to allow students to interact with the text before we even begin reading!

The cover art for picture books and novels are usually filled with such intricate details that by taking the time to study it, our students can gain some background knowledge or an understanding of what might be happening in the book.

One of my favorite strategies to use when I was a reading specialist was cover annotations. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Students would take some time looking at the cover to a book we were about to begin and annotate their noticings and wonderings.

For struggling readers, analyzing the cover allows them time to get their thoughts ready for their new book. They are able to write down any questions that may arise while doing this. Oftentimes, they would see a small detail on the cover and they would create a beautiful question from it. This also also reinforces the strategies of making predictions and drawing inferences. Students are usually so excited to try to guess what they think the book will be about, and this activity provides collaboration and discussion to share their ideas with peers. After completing a cover annotation, students then feel more prepared and excited to tackle a new book, even if they were feel nervous before!

Even for non-struggling students, cover annotations provide many opportunities. In addition to everything I already talked about, they could also focus on other things they might find on a cover: title, reviews of the book, and any other words that may appear. One of my favorite things to ask students is to read the title and think about why they think the author may have chosen it for the book. They usually are confused for the first minute or so, but after that their imagination of what the story could be comes into play. Before you know it, these students are making precise and intricate predictions just based off of the title!

How else can I use cover annotations?
  • During an informational writing piece or research project, give students pictures of the topic they are learning. They can use the same strategies to look for details and information in the pictures to help gain a new understanding on the topic.
  • In science and social studies, when introducing a new topic, share some different pictures that relate to the new topic. Place students in groups and allow them to museum walk around to all the pictures. As they look through the pictures, have them jot down thoughts, noticings, wonderings, all with the purpose of trying to uncover what the new topic will be that they’re learning about.
  • If your someone that utilizes book clubs in your classroom, this would be a great way to allow students to interact with a new novel to help them select which book to read for their book club. I usually show students about 10 different books and then let them explore the covers and ask questions before making their decision.