Amazon Favorites Pt. 2

My last Amazon post was all about my favorite school supplies and things that I love having with me during the school year. This Amazon list is a little different. I was trying to think of a clever name for this group, but I’m just gonna call it what it is….

Here is my round up of “all the things you don’t actually need, but should buy because of how amazing they are”. Click on the links or pictures to take you straight to Amazon and enjoy!

Transparent Sticky Notes

As a post it obsessed person, I immediately bought these when I saw them. These are going to game-changers for conferring with students about their writing! I always hated covering up their writing with my post-its when I would chat with them.

Magnetic Shelf Rack

Is it just me or does anyone else end up with things all over their whiteboard ledge by the end of the day?! I usually have books, papers, markers, notebooks, and more falling off my ledge and it drives me crazy. When I saw this, I envisioned an organized whiteboard at the end of the day….there’s even a place to hang my face masks…💁🏻‍♀️

Wireless Doorbell

If I was still in the classroom, this would be the first thing I would buy. I love the idea of simply pushing a button to have sound play as my transition warning. This specific one comes in many colors (pink, obviously) and has 52 different ringtones at 4 different sound levels…you know, in case your indecisive…

Prize Wheel

PDs and trainings are about to get crazy! Seriously though….can you imagine how much fun this would bring to your classroom?! Incentives, book reviews, celebrations, classroom management….so many possibilities!

Sit Spots

We just got the directive that IL schools will resume in-person classes in the fall, with of course, social distancing. With having to keep kids 6 feet apart as best as we can, primary teachers might not be the only ones that could use these. Place these around your room or school as a visual reminder of where kids need to be.

Magnetic Curtain Rod

If you make any sort of anchor charts, buy this now. It sticks to your whiteboard and displays all your anchor charts. It does start to get heavy around 15 charts, but just swap them out. Seriously..this thing is GOLD!

Jenga set

Again, if I was back in the classroom, this would be at the top of my list! Students would love to play with these as they study vocab, math facts, anything! Plus, these are already colored, which makes them more fun.

Ceiling Light Covers

I absolutely HATE the fluorescent ceiling lights. I used to go home at night with such a pounding headache until I saw our super smart social worker had hung these in her office. In to my cart they went…two days later they arrived and my office now has a soft, cozy feel!


Weeding Through a School Library

The idea of looking at your school library and knowing you need to weed through it, is enough to make you want to stop before you even start! The process can seem so daunting and overwhelming, however it needs to be done. In the world we live in today, it’s more important than ever to do the work to make sure you school library remains diverse and representative of everyone. Trust me, if you think you’re students aren’t noticing the representation in your books….you’re wrong. They notice.

Where to begin

A few years ago, our incredible LRC assistant, Jen, and I started the huge process of going through our school library and getting rid of some of our books. We noticed that our students were feeling overwhelmed having to look through so many books on the shelves and they would repeatedly check out the same type of books. In our class set section, where teachers can check out multiple copies for book clubs and small groups, we noticed that we had way too many copies of certain books. In some cases, we counted 50 copies of the same book! They weren’t being used and were just taking up precious shelf space. So we came up with a plan.

The first thing to do was reach out to the teachers and ask them which class sets they wanted to keep large amounts of and how many they needed. All the other titles of books that weren’t mentioned, we decided to keep 15 of each.This allowed us to get rid of multiple books and gain much needed shelf space back. Back on the regular shelves for the students, if we had multiple copies, we decided on only keeping two.

How to decide which books to weed

Now I know there are research-based and official protocols to use when deciding which books to weed and as much as I would like to say that we had an official checklist that we went through with every book that we got rid of, we didn’t. If you were hoping to learn more about using one of the those official protocols, then check out this article from the Library Journal. If you happen to be more like me and Jen and just want to get this done easily, then you’re in the right place!

Here are a couple questions we asked ourselves as we walked around the LRC looking at books:

  • Does the cover look old?
  • Are the pages or binding ripped?
  • Has it been checked out recently?

That’s it. Depending on the answer to those questions, we decided whether to keep the book or not. All the books that we decided to take out were placed on a cart so Jen could then take them out of our cataloging system.

What to do with all the withdrawn books

Many of the books we withdrew from our system, we boxed up and donated to Scarce. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s an amazing organization that accepts donations of books and other school supplies and allows teachers to “shop” there for anything they may need. I believe they only charge $5 per box and you can fill it up with anything in the store.

We also had many other great books that we only got rid of because we had so many copies. We took all those books and set up a little shopping area in the school hallway for students to shop. I provided plastic bags and placed a sign that told the students they could pick as many books as they wanted to bring home and keep forever. When news spread that there were free books in the hallway, we couldn’t keep them stocked! This allowed kids that don’t have access to many books at home, to finally claim some as their own.

Now what?

Ok, so you’ve weeded through and have gotten rid of many of your old books, now what do you do? Restock those shelves with new, relevant books!! Check award lists (Caudill, Bluestem, Coretta Scott King, etc). Books have made those award lists for a reason; they usually are incredible. Check to make sure you have a wide variety of representation of different cultures and races, LGBTQ books, current social issue books. Yes, weeding through and refreshing your library takes time, but it’s also something that needs to continue to be done to create strong, and excited, readers!

Book It Forward!

If you happen to be one of the people that work with me each day, then you know how a little over the top I can be when it comes to sharing books and getting kids excited to read. I love a great, obnoxious way to bring some excitement to a book that’s been looked over or forgotten about. In the grade levels that I work with, that tends to be picture books.

Students in 3rd through 5th grade are typically in the stage where they are becoming strong, confident readers and are devouring novels. Picture books have been put on the back burner as they now appear “babyish”.

One of my favorite things to do is get into our classrooms and share some of my favorite read alouds with our students. They all come join me on the carpet and it becomes so quiet, you can hear a pin drop. It’s the best part of being in a classroom.

I’ve been thinking about different ways to bring some new excitement to read alouds for the next school year, and I want to introduce….Book It Forward! I saw this idea at a conference a couple of years ago and had it tucked away in my “I’ll get to this eventually” folder. I guess a pandemic is the perfect time for me to get some things accomplished….

Click on the image to download your own FREE copy!

The idea is simple…..pick one of your favorite picture books and stick two of these printable bookmarks inside: one for them and one for them to pass on. Sneak into someone’s classroom and leave the book somewhere where they will easily find it. That teacher will read it out aloud and return the book to you. Then, they’ll use the second bookmark and “book it forward” to another teacher.

Easy peasy! My hope is to bring this new idea to my school next school year….although I’m not sure if covid will allow us to be swapping books….

Either way….I’m ready to continue to share the excitement of picture books throughout my school. River Valley staff….get excited!!

The Golden Rule

My son is starting kindergarten in August; this will be my first experience with public school from the parent side, and I am so excited for him to start!! Now, he’s been at the same daycare since he was around five months old so this is going to be a huge transition for many reasons.

Of course, he has some nervousness, and alllllllll the questions about what kindergarten is going to be like. We’re fortunate enough to live right by the school so we started to walking over there each day to check it out and guess which window his is going to be. We also noticed that there is a Little Free Library in the front of the school so we’ve been taking some books home to read (carefully lysoled before being read….of course) and then we bring it back for a new one.

Well, the last time we went, he randomly chose a book that I didn’t even see. I didn’t think anything of it, but when we got home and read it together, it. took. my. breath. away. After we finished the book, my kids bounded off to finish pulling every toy they own off the shelf and I sat for a little while longer imagining the impact this book could have if more people shared it with their kids, students, friends, neighbors, family.

The Golden Rule by Illene Cooper

Stop reading this, click here to buy the book, and then come back here. I promise you won’t be disappointed…

The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper

The past couple of weeks have brought a lot of emotions and feelings for everyone. The #blacklivesmatter movement has opened the door for some conversations in our house that we needed to have. This book takes the golden rule and makes it understandable for even the youngest readers.

A beautiful foreward written by John Green

“If you listen to other people and treat them how you would wish to be treated, your life will also become better.” It’s really as simple as that. Even my 3 and 5 year old understand what that means.

I took just a few pictures of the inside so you can see just how beautifully written this book is and think about the impact that this book could make, especially with our current events.

Powerful, right?!

This is the ending page in the book. What a simple, yet powerful thought to leave the readers with.

This is one book that we won’t be returning to the Little Free Library (don’t worry, I added about 10 more to make up for it). I plan on keeping this book displayed where both kids can regularly see it and we can read it over and over again. I encourage you all to hop over to Amazon and purchase this book for yourself. Whether you have your own kids, work with kids, or just someone who appreciates the beauty of a great picture book, stop what you’re doing right now and buy this book.

4th of July Picture Books

4th of July is the most perfect holiday. Even though this year might look a little different (#thankscovid), I still plan on making it the most perfect celebration I can for my two kids. For us, a celebration is never complete without some books that we can all enjoy together. With 4th of July coming up rather quickly, I hopped on Amazon and “primed” some patriotic books that we use to help explain the importance of this day.

There are so many amazing board books, picture books, middle grade novels, and young adult novels out there with 4th of July as the central idea. If you’re like me and needing some books for the holiday, I’ve rounded up 8 of my favorite picture books that I’ll read with my kids.

In addition to reading these to your own children, you could also do a couple other things with them to help stay connected with your students over the summer. Try recording yourself reading one aloud and sending it out to your students. Or you could try recording a message about patriotism on Flipgrid and let your students respond to each other.

Click on the link in the description of each book to go straight to Amazon to purchase the book. Happy reading and Happy (early) 4th of July!! 🇺🇸 🎊

L is for Liberty For more than a century, the Statue of Liberty has stood proudly in New York Harbor, welcoming people from near and far. Perfect for reading together with a young child, L Is for Liberty uses simple language and bold illustrations to celebrate the statue, her history, and the freedom she stands for.

Apple Pie Fourth of July Shocked that her parents are cooking Chinese food to sell in the family store on an all-American holiday, a feisty Chinese American girl tries to tell her mother and father how things really are. But as the parade passes by and fireworks light the sky, she learns a surprising lesson.

O, Say Can You See? There are stars-and-stripes T-shirts. There are Statue of Liberty pencil sharpeners and Uncle Sam Halloween costumes. Patriotic symbols are everywhere…but where do they come from? What do they mean?
Now in paperback, this celebration of twenty of America’s important places, interesting objects, and inspiring words is for the youngest Americans.

America Is… It is fifty states from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific Ocean and beyond. It is a flag of stars and stripes. It is farmers, miners, factory workers, bakers, and bankers. It is Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon, swamps and desert.
It is the stories of all of us, told together.

The Bald Eagle This strong and beautiful bird is a symbol for an entire country. It is the bald eagle, and Americans made it their national emblem more than 200 years ago. Join Bill the bird keeper to see how this bird lives and how it became a symbol of the United States.

Berenstein Bears: God Bless Our Country The Bear family and their Bear Country neighbors celebrate the Fourth of July with a big parade. But not before the cubs get a lesson about the blessings of freedom for their country.

This Land is Your Land Since its debut in the 1940s, Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” has become one of the best-loved and most timely folk songs in America, inspiring activism and patriotism for all. This classic ballad is now brought to life in a richly illustrated edition for the whole family to share. Kathy Jakobsen’s detailed paintings, which invite readers on a journey across the country, create an unforgettable portrait of our diverse land and the people who live it.

Blue Sky, White Stars Wonderfully spare, deceptively simple verses pair with richly evocative paintings to celebrate the iconic imagery of our nation, beginning with the American flag. Each spread, sumptuously illustrated by award-winning artist Kadir Nelson, depicts a stirring tableau, from the view of the Statue of Library at Ellis Island to civil rights marchers shoulder to shoulder, to a spacecraft at Cape Canaveral blasting off.  This book is an ode to America then and now, from sea to shining sea.

The Power of Twitter

How many of you are on Twitter? 🙋🏻‍♀️ How many of you begrudgingly created your account because your district “recommended” it? 🙋🏻‍♀️ How many of you now find yourself checking it an embarrassing amount during the day?……🙋🏻‍♀️

I’ve had my Twitter account now for about 6ish years and I remember exactly where I was when I created it. My district actually had an outside tech consultant come in for some different things and one of them was to show us the power that Twitter could have for us. I happened to be sitting in the last row, in our lounge, for this Twitter training. I remember it so vividly because I thought “why on earth would anyone need a Twitter account and how am I actually going to use this?” I was a naysayer for sure…but I’m also a rule follower. So I created an account, came up with my username (which I then learned was called a “handle”), and sent out my first tweet.

My account sat untouched for a couple years. To be honest, I forgot I even had it. But…the conversations about how we should use Twitter to tell our district’s story never stopped. I listened to them, but never actually tweeted.

I don’t know what it was exactly that got me so excited that I just had to share it out, but it happened and I tweeted. As a reading specialist I probably only tweeted like twice, and I never just scrolled through my feed. I definitely never understood the power that Twitter had and what it could offer.

The big shift happened for me when I became an instructional coach in my building. I was now getting the opportunity to be a part of every classroom and work alongside of all of the amazing teachers in my building. After witnessing the incredible things that these teachers do every single day, I finally understood why our superintendent had been so insistent about us sharing our story for others to see. The teachers in our district show up in a big way for every single student. They go above and beyond in everything they do: their teaching, the relationships, the fun, and more. The rest of the world needed to see what I see when I walk into their rooms. I remember what it’s like being in the trenches of the day-to-day routines of the classroom; you tend to feel like you’re not making a difference. Tweeting out the amazingness of what’s happening not only let’s the rest of the world see, but also serves as a reminder to the teachers just what a big impact they make every day.

Not only am I now doing my part in sharing our district’s story (follow #sd113a….you won’t be disappointed), but Twitter has helped me grow immensely as an educator. Over the past few years, I’ve grown my PLN (professional learning network) and collaborated with educators all over the world. I’ve found coaches in so many other areas of the country and constantly reach out to them for ideas and inspiration. Sometimes, I email them for feedback on some of my crazy ideas….and they promptly bring me back down to earth. Even though we’ve never actually met face-to-face, I feel like I’ve known some of them forever!

Another tip…when you start tweeting, don’t be afraid to tag people! Last year, I was tweeting out book reviews and anytime I could, I would tag the author. I didn’t think anything would ever come from it, I just wanted them to see it. One day, Lauren Tarshis sent me a DM thanking me for reviewing her latest I Survived book on Twitter. I fangirled about that one for a while! Anytime I tweeted out about using Words Their Way in our school, I would always tag Pearson in it. Well, after a while, they either got sick of seeing my tweets or they liked what I was doing, and they reached out to me and asked me to be a regular contributor on their blog. It’s been a wild ride!

Twitter chats have also been such a powerful tool for me as I continue to learn. I’m not going to lie, when I first started, these chats would intimidate me like crazy. I was a “lurker”. I followed the hashtag (because I finally figured out how to do that) and just read the questions and answers in my head. I slowly started to feel braver and would answer one question in the whole hour long chat. I continued to join in when I could and when they sounded interesting to me. Finally, I decided to just jump in with both feet and haven’t looked back since. After a year of participating in the #educoach chat (Wednesdays at 8 CST), I was asked to join their moderating team. I know that doesn’t sound like a big accomplishment, but for someone that was a complete “Twitter non-believer” in the beginning, this is huge.

So…if you haven’t created an account yet, or you’re still in the “lurker” stage, I encourage you to jump in!! Start tweeting, join a chat, DM someone, or just upload a picture to your account! You have no idea what opportunities could happen from connections you make through Twitter. For educators, Twitter has absolutely become professional development anytime you need…get on there and then find me @mrs_janusz, I’d love to chat with you!

5 Things I Learned During Remote Learning

Just a few short months ago no one had ever heard of the term “remote learning”. Now…educators across the world would give anything to forget it…and get back into the classrooms with their students.

Here in Illinois, we’re still waiting on direction for what the opening of school will look like in August. Will we be remote learning again? Back in school six feet apart with masks? Or will it be a hybrid version of both? It’s hard to imagine and plan for it when there’s still so many unknowns.

Whatever school ends up looking like, I will never forget this time of remote learning. There were things that I learned that I continue to hold on to throughout the rest of my career in education.

  1. People step up. Not only did individual teachers step up in a big way, it seems like the whole educational world did, too. Programs and companies that originally charged a lot for use, suddenly we’re giving teachers free access to everything they had. I’m sure they took a financial hit, but they were able to look at the bigger picture for the greater good of our students.
  2. Relationships first, always. I’m convinced the remote learning experience went well in my district because of the relationships that had already been put into place. Just like other schools around the world, we believe that the relationships we build with our students is the thing that helps them become successful in school.
  3. Prioritize what students need to know. It’s not a shock to us that the Common Core Standards has raised the rigor and expectations for our students and teachers. Prior to COVID, teachers were killing themselves to make sure every tiny aspect of the standards were covered. This experience showed us that our kids will be fine if they don’t master every single new skill. Take a deep look at the standards and decide what they have to know and teach those well.
  4. Take care of yourself. I know you’re all reading this and thinking, “Duh, Liz. Of course I’m taking care of myself.” I don’t know about the rest of you, but for me, working and “momming” all day, every day, d-r-a-i-n-e-d me. I’ve always heard people preaching how important self-care is, but I never really listened. During the past few months, I learned just how important it really is. Whatever fall ends up looking like, I’ll be sure to carve out some time for me to relax and unwind.
  5. Put the computers away. I’m sure some of you just gasped out loud. I know how fortunate we are in my district; I don’t take that lightly. We have been 1 to 1 with technology for a couple years now and our students are pros with navigating all the different programs we use. Of course, that helped when we transitioned to remote learning. However, this whole experience reaffirmed for me just how crucial getting actual books and pencils in students’ hands are. When we go back to school, I will continue to work on matching books with readers, in hopes of igniting their passion for reading.

Teaching with Picture Books

1st Edition: Little Excavator

Being quarantined for the past three months with my 5 year old and 3 year old has given me a lot of time to read the books we have at home. We read a lot of books each day and everytime we read one, I find myself thinking, “how could I use this book back in the classroom?” (Hopefully, I’ll be able to find out in the fall).

I strongly believe that picture books have a place in every single classroom….no matter the age of the students. In some cases, picture books are more complex than some novels. Everyone loves having a story read out loud to them, and there are so many picture books that out there that could be linked to any of the Common Core Standards. So…I’ve decided to start a new series on here….Teaching with Picture Books. I’m going to highlight different books and show some of the teaching points that you could use them with. Of course, I’m sure you could find additional things to teach with them, and I hope you do!

The first book is a big favorite in our house: The Little Excavator by Anna Dewdney. (You can click on any picture to purchase the book for yourself!)

One of the first things I would do is point out the author. She is the creator of the ever popular Llama, Llama series. For our older students, this would be a great opportunity for them to read one of the Llama books and then look for her specific author’s craft in both books. What does she do that has become her signature “author moves”?

I think you could easily use this book for two different purposes, depending on the age of your students. First, if you’re learning about the structure of a story and studying plot diagrams, this story offers a very simple plot that follows the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. The events in the story remain simple enough where students could easily identify them, or track independently, on a plot diagram.

Alternatively, if you have older students, this book would do well teaching character development or mood. (Right?! In a simple picture book?!) The main character “Little E” experiences many different emotions as the story develops. Readers could use the picture clues and facial expressions to track how his mood changes and why they think it does.

Another favorite of mine is teaching figurative language; and is there anything more fun than teaching onomatopoeia?? (I had to double check that spelling about 8 times) Kids love saying that word and then trying to come up with their own onomatopoeia. This book is filled with different expressions and a conversation could happen about why we think the author included it and what value does it add to the story.

Another great teaching opportunity, that’s very “Common Core”, is comparing this story to another story. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think about The Little Engine that Could. The plot is similar and the main characters are very similar. Reading both stories and then engaging in a discussion while comparing and contrasting the two would cover many aspects of the standards. You could choose to use a traditional venn diagram or a t-chart to model how to organize their thinking when comparing two different things.

Lastly, picture books are amazing for working on making inferences. The illustrations are usually so rich and full of clues that readers can use to make an inference. In this specific case the text is saying “there’s one last job”. Readers need to look closely at the pictures and think about what they already know to figure out what that job would be.

I’m sure you would be able to find many other teaching opportunities in this specific book. My hope was that this was a start and it can show you the many different things you can teach with using a picture book. Stay tuned as I continue to raid my kids’ bookshelves and share my teaching ideas!

5 Tips for Creating Anchor Charts

A couple years ago my district adopted the Lucy Calkins Writing Units of Study. We didn’t have a cohesive writing program and we were just pulling resources from TPT or somewhere else. So finally having a consistent program from K-8 was huge!

For anyone that’s familiar with Calkins, you understand then when I say that even though it’s an amazing program and the kids will become strong writers, the prep work is A LOT! There is a ton of reading to do for each lesson, making sure you have the model text, having your own writer’s notebook, and getting all the anchor charts prepped. Ahhh….the anchor charts….there’s so many!

I like to think that there’s two main types of anchor charts:

  • Anchor charts that you fully create before the lesson begins and you reference it throughout your teaching
  • Anchor charts that partially create before your lesson and you fill in the rest with student input.

Both kinds of anchor charts can have a huge impact on your teaching and the students’ retention of the lesson being taught. Typically after you teach, the anchor chart becomes a fixture on the wall that you continue to reference throughout the rest of the unit.

I have always loved making anchor charts. Getting to design a chart that was created specifically for my students to help them understand something was so fun! Over my years as a teacher, reading specialist, and now as a coach, I’ve made a lot of different anchor charts. If I could make a living off of creating anchor charts, I would! I mean, you could ask any teacher I work with; I won’t say no when someone asks me to make an anchor chart for them to use!! It especially doesn’t hurt when they follow up with…”I’ll bring Starbucks!”

I like to think I’ve mastered the art of making all sorts of different anchor charts and have 5 tips to share with you all to help make the process a little easier.

  1. Decide what is the main objective of your lesson is going to be and what do you want your students to walk away with. Is the purpose just to create an introduction for an upcoming unit? Maybe the purpose is to teach them step-by-step direction on how to do something. Whatever is, that’s what the focus of your chart becomes!
  2. Turn to Google or Pinterest for inspiration. Chances are if you are needing to make an anchor chart, then someone else already has too. Use those images to inspire you in creating your own!
  3. Ok, this is my biggest secret…use the projector to help you trace the hard parts. Once I have the chart in my mind, I design the headings on my computer and then project the image on the board. Then, I put the paper on the board and trace the headings with a pencil so they turn out how I want!
  4. Invest in a good set of markers. I use regular Crayola markers, both thick and thin. I was fortunate enough to win a grant from our PTO so I got the HUGE variety pack of markers from Amazon! I also have the multicultural markers from Crayola, too. It’s important to me that when I draw people on my charts, to include all different skin colors.
  5. Use post-its. I use post-its for everything. When I make anchor charts that I’m going to finish during the lesson, then I bring post-its. I like to pre-plan how I think the students will respond (or how I want them to respond) to my prompts and have the answers ready to go on post-its. That way I can just stick the post-it up on the chart without wasting time writing their responses word for word during the lesson.

There you go! Five tips that I use almost every time to help create the perfect anchor charts! Have fun!!

Amazon Favorites

I became an educator for the same reason that all of you did…..the school supplies.

Just kidding…I mean, of course I went into education because I absolutely love working with children, but the school supplies helped, too.

Deep down, I think everyone that becomes a teacher has the same obsession with all things school supply related: flair pens, sharpies, folders, the list goes on and on. Now, I probably have enough BIC mechanical pencils to last me well past my retirement age, but you better believe that when Target starts putting out all the school supplies in July, I’ll be there, throwing a couple more packs in my cart. I just can’t help it. And even though I’m not a classroom teacher anymore, I still find myself buying 30 folders and notebooks. Why?? It makes me happy…simple as that. In the world we live in today, when you find something that makes you happy, as trivial as it may be, you do it.

Like I mentioned before, I’m super impatient. I can’t just wait for the back to school sales in July. That’s where Amazon comes in. All year round, I can order anything I want and have it on my doorstep in 2 days. What a world we live in…

Here are some of my absolute, very favorite supplies that I cannot live without during the school year! Click on the pictures to visit Amazon and treat yourself to something new!

Mildliners Double Ended Highlighters/Markers
BIC 0.5 Mechanical Pencils
Astrobright colored paper
BIC Wite-Out Rollers
Desktop Organizer
Blank cards and envelopes
Post-It variety pack

What’s your very favorite school supply? Leave it in the comments…chances are I’ll probably end up buying it!