For Teachers

How To Cover a Composition Book

The covers on the literacy notebooks (reader's and writer's) this year will be simple. After all, it's not what's on the outside that counts! It's what is on the inside that really packs a punch.

I have collected a supply of scrapbook paper for the kids to use on the cover. I buy the pads of 8x11 paper at stores like JoAnn's, Hobby Lobby, or Michael's. I watch for times when they are on sale and then I pounce! I try to keep a wide variety of paper around that will appeal to boys and girls.

To cover the notebooks, you need paper, scissors, a glue stick, and either clear contact paper or wide tape to "laminate" the covers. You could use wet glue but it does take longer to dry and glue stick works just as well. Really you just need something to hold the paper in place until you can tape it down, so I use glue stick myself.

Start by slathering the front cover with glue stick. Center a sheet of paper over the cover and press down so that the glue holds it in place.

(I know the picture is dark, but hopefully you can tell there is some of the paper hanging off of the top and bottom edges of the notebook.)

Then open the notebook and trim a diagonal line on each corner of the cover. I tell the kids to cut a line so that the piece they cut off will make a triangle. It helps for some to draw the line with pencil before they cut. The piece doesn't have to be exactly perfect.

After you cut you should have three flaps - a top flap, a bottom flap, and a side flap. Use your glue stick to cover the back of the flaps. Fold the flaps down so they stick to the cover of the notebook.

And there you go! You can repeat the process for the back cover also if you wish. You can also cover the spine of the book but it is a little more tedious. I choose to keep things simple and skip the spine.

If you want to cover the inside of the notebook cover, just put a sheet of paper inside and trace around the cover. Cut to fit and then glue. 

Here is a link to the text boxes I used on the reader's notebook and writer's notebook covers. I couldn't find the file with the same text box for the writer's notebook so I had to make a new one. 

(I have to admit that I really don't know what I'm doing with Google Docs! If you can't access the text box pages and you want them, leave me a note in the comment box or email me and I can send them to you!)
Have fun!

Book Buddies

In the reading and writing classroom motivation is key. Writing and reading need to be done for authentic purposes. Students should read and write for real reasons. Kids really pour themselves into writing and reading when it is done for a real audience and not just the teacher. They want feedback and praise for their work from someone who is really vested in their work and not necessarily someone who is going to assign a grade to it.

This year we are hoping to partner up with another elementary school in our district for "book buddies." Each month our third grade classes will work on related literacy tasks and then meet virtually through videoconferencing equipment to discuss our work.

Some ideas we've come up with for book buddies include:
  • Read the same book (Scholastic Book Orders would be a great place to order multiple copies if there are none available in your school library) and then discuss characters, plot, theme, or other literary elements
  • Classes can each read a book from a given genre (folk tale or fairy tale, for example) and then discuss common characteristics to that genre
  • During our poetry and reader's theater unit students can perform for their buddy class through a videoconferencing connection
  • Sharing writing with the partner class online by reading aloud or physically mailing to them
  • Create a book recommendation blog where students from both classes can post recommendations and then comment after reading the books
  • Create a magazine or newspaper about our school and publish using Microsoft word (or alternatively, make a short video using to share with our buddy school
By using technology, students can share their work with the world beyond our four classroom walls. This should energize kids and get them excited about some of the reading and writing tasks we have planned.

Classroom Money

I use a money system to encourage good choices in my classroom. When I taught first grade, the kids were paid throughout the day for various things. At the end of each couple of weeks we set up a store - the "Merit Market" - and the kids could use their money to buy various treats, such as Happy Meal toys or other small goodies. The kids loved it!

As a third grade teacher, I still pay the kids. I use it to reward appropriate behavior but I also use the money as a way to teach real life lessons. Students have jobs in our classroom. Those kids who do their job each week get paid. Those kids who don't do their job don't get paid. Those kids who really do above and beyond the call of duty, such as those who do more than is required or do their job without a lot of extra prompting, sometimes get a bonus paycheck. I do not take money away from kids, but I do occasionally charge a "rental fee" for those students who continually lose supplies and need replacements.

However third graders aren't too impressed with the thought of buying happy meal toys! So instead of little prizes for the kids to buy, I let them purchase privileges in the classroom. I am trying to save money and not have to keep up with a prize box. Here's a list of what I've offered for sale.

  • Choose a pencil from our special pencil box
  • Choose a sticker from the sticker box
  • Take your shoes off for the day
  • Sit next to a friend for the day
  • Do half of an assignment
  • No homework coupon
  • Sit next to a friend in the cafeteria (This is a big one because we have assigned seats in the cafe.)
  • 15 minutes of free time on the classroom computers
  • 15 minutes of free time on the Smart Board
  • 15 minutes of free time on iPod touch
  • Good note home
  • Good phone call home
  • Teacher's helper for the day
  • Teacher's helper for a lesson
  • Choose your job for the week (I usually assign classroom jobs through a rotation system.)
  • Eat lunch with the teacher
  • First choice of item from the recess bucket

Pricing depends on the item. I try to keep prices in multiples of 5 or 10. Simpler things like the pencil or sticker begin at $5. More coveted items such as lunch with the teacher get up in the hundreds of dollars. I also try to have a lot of lower priced items because many of the children haven't yet learned the art of saving their money and delaying gratification!

When the kids make a purchase, they have to count up their money and then count their money out to the cashier (the helper who takes the money). The cashier makes change if necessary. I keep the money that I have on hand in a bank bag.

One of the things we do on the first day of school is make a wallet to hold their money because I tell the kids they are going to earn so much for making great choices! You can use a sheet of construction paper or card stock for this, but I like to use half a file folder because I know it will last most of the year. I take one side of a file folder and fold it into thirds. Fold the bottom section up and over the middle section and staple the sides to make a pocket. The top section then folds down to make a cover. For fun you can put a velcro dot on the flap to hold it in place. I let the kids decorate the wallet and have them write their name in large letters so their wallet can be returned if it gets lost.

This is a great motivator for the kids and is easy to do. All you need is some classroom cash, wallets for students, and some rewards to offer for sale.

Classroom Helpers

For the past several years I have tried to have a job for each member of our class. It builds community spirit and the kids looked forward to certain jobs. Some of the jobs were more popular than others without a doubt! And by the same token, some of the jobs were less popular - whatever student was chosen to be the "backpack helper" always groaned because it wasn't a glamorous job. But I told the kids that was real life. Your job isn't always glamorous or fun but you still need to work hard and do your best.

I also paid the kids with classroom money as part of my reward system. If the kids didn't do their job, they didn't get paid. It only took a couple of weeks without getting paid for the kids to catch on! I tried to compare the situation to real life. If I don't do my job, then I don't get paid. It's a matter of being responsible.

Here is the list of jobs I've had in the classroom during the last 11 years:
  • Line Leader - The person who stands at the front of the line. This is perhaps the most popular job of all!
  • Door Holder - This person lines up right after the line leader so they can hold the door for everyone that walks by.
  • Energy Saver - This helper turns off all the lights in the room. They line up right in front of the caboose so they may turn the lights out after everyone exits. I've seen the job called electrician also.
  • Caboose - This person stands at the end. I've also heard this job called the back line leader.
  • Recycler - This helper dumps our classroom recycling bin into a large recycling bin in the third grade hallway at the end of the week or when it gets full.
  • Librarian - This person takes library books back to the school library and also keeps our classroom library neat and organized.
  • Teacher's Helper - This person does random odd jobs for the teacher in the classroom like passing out papers, retrieving items, or other things as needed.
  • Office Pal - This helper runs errands to the office or clinic.
  • Technology Specialist - This person turns off the computers and other technology resources (lumens, projector) when needed.
  • Cafeteria Sweeper - At our school, each classroom has a set of helpers for the cafeteria. This helper sweeps up trash under the table when our lunch period is over.
  • Cafeteria Wiper - This cafeteria helper wipes the table off with a damp rag so the table is clean for the next class.
  • Cafeteria Tray Captain - All the students who eat a tray lunch stack up their empty trays so this helper can return the stack to the window to be washed. This cuts down on having 15 kids swarm the window with their trays at one time.
  • Backpack Helper - Our backpacks are stored in a cabinet. This person makes sure the backpacks are organized and the cabinet doors are closed.
  • Recess Coach - All of our recess goodies (jump ropes, balls, and sidewalk chalk) are in a big bucket. The recess coach carries the big bucket out to the playground and back inside. The recess coach also distributes and collects the items when recess is over.
  • Substitute Helper - This one is a great one. The substitute takes the place of any helper who is absent. So if the line leader is absent, for example, the substitute steps in to do the job. It works well because there is no doubt who will do a particular job if a student is absent - the substitute will do the job.
  • Pencil Pal - This person rounds up all the pencils that need to be sharpened in the classroom. They will sharpen pencils if they have time or leave them for me (or my son!) to take care of after school.
  • Super Scientist - This helper assists with any science labs we do. They help pass out materials or demonstrate the lab in front of the class.
  • Table Captains - I have five tables and a captain for each one. These helpers pick up materials for their table or lead groups in group work.
  • Banker / Cashier - I pay the kids with money for making good choices or doing their jobs. Each Friday the kids use their money to shop for rewards. The banker is in charge of taking the kids' money and making change as needed.
  • Phone Operator - When the phone in our classroom rings, the phone operator is trained to pick up the phone and answer politely. They will either ask for the caller to wait a moment until I can get to the phone or relay the information if the call is about something simple.
  • Referee - Our kids love to play games outside but often get in disputes about the rules. The referee has an orange vest and a whistle. They are in charge of interpreting the rules and their word is final on the playground.
  • Pet Helper - In the past I've had classroom pets. (Guinea pigs were the best!) When I've had pets in the classroom, the pet helper changed the food and water when necessary. They also held the guinea pigs while I changed the bedding in their cages.
  • Chair Stacker - At the end of the day this helper goes around and stacks our chairs into groups of 5.
This year I plan to keep it simple. It is hard to remember which student has what job with 23 helpers in the room. I am going to give half the kids a job and have the other half be on vacation for the week. The jobs I will have this year are line leader, door holder, energy saver, caboose, sweeper, wiper, tray captain, recess coach, teacher's helper, librarian and substitute. Those cover the basics. 

I am also thinking about having the kids apply to be in the pool of helpers this year. Those kids who are helpers get paid each week they do their job. Those students who choose not to be a helper won't get paid. I'm curious to see what will happen and what the kids will choose. It's a life lesson - if you want to get paid, you have to do your job!

Inferring Ideas

We are having the exterior of our house painted, so we have spent quite a bit of time during the last week or so at home improvement stores picking out paint chips. (Who knew there were so many different shades of white and cream?) While at Lowe's while waiting for Mr. Engineer to ponder the difference between Cliveden Mist and Architectural Cream I came across these.

These are picture cards for a special brand of paint. As soon as I spied them I snagged one of each (I think there are about 8 in all) and my mind started turning. I can see a bunch of different uses for these.

  • Inferring practice - Look at the picture. Who are the people in the picture? Where do you think the people are? What do you think they are doing? What evidence makes you think so?
  • Parts of speech practice - What adjectives can you come up with to describe the colored item in the picture? How many active verbs can you come up with to describe what is happening in the picture?
  • Sentence or story starters in a writing station
  • Science - identify living or nonliving things in the picture; identify characteristics of the ecosystems and environments in the picture
  • Social Studies - identify physical characteristics and natural resources in the pictures 


  1. I love your ideas! I think I will try your non-purchased rewards for my 5th and 6th graders.

  2. Did you find a class to video conference with for book buddies? I'd love to do that with you!
    Tricia Wersal

  3. I love your ideas! I'm wondering about the activity for inferring ideas. In looking for pictures to use, do you think it would be better to use basic pictures that don't have a lot going on which may allow students to focus on one particular aspect? Or would it be better to find vivid pictures that have a lot going on so students will have many aspects to work with?

  4. I love your ideas! I'm wondering about the inferring ideas activity. In choosing pictures, do you think it would be better to pick basic pictures that don't have a lot going on which may allow students the opportunity to focus on certain aspects? Or should I pick vivid pictures that have a lot going on so students will have many things to look at and work with?