What do your students need? Back to School Management Tip



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I adore pinterest for classroom arrangements and decorations.  One year, I diligently searched and figured out how to make an enormous Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Tree.  Another year I decorated in Truffula trees and Dr. Suess themes.  My fellow teachers and parents raved about the room but I eventually began to ask the question of what the students actually thought of their classroom.  Their answers surprised me and changed the way I both set up my classroom and ran it for the rest of the year.

If I just asked, “Do you like this room?” They answered, ” Yes” until one brave soul said, “It is really pretty but we didn’t make it so it doesn’t feel like our classroom.”  That is a huge statement.  I realized that even though I had strived to have a student centered classroom, I had made a beautiful-to-the-adult-eye classroom and not necessarily what my students needed.

To change the classroom, I started asking lots of questions.  “Do you like it when the walls have lots of colors?  How do you like the lights in the classroom; should we use the light from the windows only or the overhead lights? What kind of areas should we have in our classroom?”  This opened up a whole new world of information to me.  My students didn’t all have the same opinions so we would survey them and then talk about the results.  How can we make these preferences work for everyone?

Getting to know me learning edition (2)

Examples of questions to survey your students on.

What ended up happening was that the class as a whole began to develop empathy and understanding for the different preferences or needs that were in the classroom.  We also began to mix up our day, using the light from the windows for writer’s workshop and listening to background music while we did math.  It also made the discussion of how to make our classroom community the best that it could be a regular part of our classroom culture.  Kids felt free to talk about things that bothered them and then the other students would work on solutions for them.

My room may not look as pinterest ready now, though sometimes the students hit on an idea that we can go all out for, but I’ve gained a caring, peaceful class culture that I would never change.  Parents often tell me that their students feel safe and cared for by both me and their peers.  I couldn’t ask for a better learning environment than that.

You can ask your students a question a day or you can take some class sessions and let them survey their peers.  This is a freebie that lets kids tell you about their learning preferences.  It also includes some follow up activities to let them tally the results of the class as a whole and then form class agreements based on that information.  Just click on the picture below.

Back to School

Little Vikings

Follow the blog hop to get more beginning of the year classroom management and organization ideas.  Keep following through all the blogs – there are lots of brillant ideas being shared!



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Build a dinosaur skeleton from toilet paper rolls

build a dino skeletonOur PYP 1 class has an amazing unit on extinction.  They inquire into dinosaurs, fossils, and why things that used to be on Earth aren’t anymore.   We typically take a trip to the local natural history museum in Copenhagen so that the kids can touch skulls, see actual dino bones, and interact with fossils in person.  This year, Europe has a refugee crisis.  Which suddenly means that going across the bridge from Sweden to Denmark became an insurmountable obstacle of needing every child’s passport!

museum 1We wanted to duplicate the museum experience, which is what made us create the paleontology museum role play.  We figured out how to make fossils with salt dough but how would we get the huge skeletons?  Build one

Step 1) collect a million toilet paper rolls. Seriously, you’ll need a lot

Step 2) take a large piece of chart paper (or several taped together) and draw a rough outline of the Dino’s skeleton from one side

build a dino

Step 3) place yarn or strong string on the backbone of your drawing.

Step 4) have the kids place toilet paper rolls on the lines you’ve made for rib cages, legs and arms   On the backbone and tail they can start stringing the the rolls onto the string. (i.e the string is inside the rolls and then they tape the rolls together). We discovered that if you use masking tape, you will use mountains of tape. Go for duct tape if you can.

dino skeleton making

Step 5) once you have created a backbone and one side of the rib cage, use more string to hang your dino up. (You will probably have cheering children at this point.)

Step 6) talk about symmetry – build a duplicate rib cage so you have two of each rib, arm, leg, etc.  The kids love this step.

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Step 7) with rolled up paper create the claws/fingers and toes and attach to your arms and legs

Step 8) name your dino.  Pictured here is “Blood Roar”.  Proudly display in your museum.

Zahra (banner)Little Vikings





Breakthrough Challange-Place Value edition!

Several weeks ago, my colleagues and I had the amazing opportunity to see James Nottingham speak on education and the importance of giving students the tools to succeed at school by promoting their growth. One of the amazing tools and ways to do such as he explained is through this idea of a ‘breakthrough’; essentially presenting something new to the students and allowing them to figure it out using their prior knowledge and problem solving skills.  I immediately thought of fun and exciting ways to implement this idea of breakthrough in my classroom!
The following week, I presented the weekly Breathrough Challenege in my class during Math Facts! Every week (mid week) the students would be given a question related to the math concept we are studying. Students would be able to use their prior knowledge to solve the question and conversely, have a breakthrough in their learning! This is a great tool to introduce new concepts as the questions that arise during the consolidation of the Challenege can lead the inquiry of the next concept.
The Breakthrough Challenge for this week surrounded the hundreds block in place value. Students were already familiar with the tens and ones blocks. The question presented to them was how many tens and ones blocks can you fit in this hundreds block? Using the chart down below, in a group they had to discuss what they thought and how they knew using the blocks provided to them as their evidence.

The consolidating of these Breakthrough Challenges are our favorite part of the experience as we all love to hear what everyone came up with and their rationale behind their answers! It’s always great to see my students so excited about their learning; especially when it is through their own discoveries!

Zahra (banner)


Freebie Student Reflections

This is a rant: Why is it when you google “student reflection sheets” the only hits you get are for behavior?  Is that truly the only thing we want kids to reflect on in school? End rant.

I believe strongly that kids need to have a say in their own learning, as well as, the classroom set-up of the place where they spend most of their day for nine months.  I want students to become active participants in forming a classroom that is fair, meets their needs and the needs of others, and feels like the kind of place that you want to be.Lower Primary Student Reflection

There are so many ways to do this.  I’m a big, big fan of Positive Discipline’s classroom meetings and the PYP’s learner centered environment, but I have to say that I’m concerned if the only times we stop to get children’s feedback is when we are disappointed in their behavior.  Perhaps our not listening to all of their other concerns might even increase the need for behavior reflections?

compass points reflection

I made these to try and create a place for students to take some time to stop and reflect about all parts of their school day and how they feel about them.  The results in anonymous form might come up in classroom meetings where we as a group try to problem solve how we can make school better for everyone.  Everyone’s voice matters and I want to create a classroom where every person’s voice is heard.How I feel about school

Little Vikings


Inquirer of the Week

IB PYP Inquirer of the Week CoverDuring a discussion in one of the many meetings in our August study days, Jenny mentioned that she had previously worked at a school where they each week gave a student an independent inquiry project to present to their class. My co-teacher and I were intrigued by the idea of an Inquirer of the Week and decided to incorporate this as a weekly feature in our PYP classroom.

Every Friday, two students are chosen as the Inquirers of the Week. They are asked to inquire into a topic of their own choosing as a home project and to present their inquiry the following Friday. Like the topic, the manner of presentation is also the students’ choice. We have seen PowerPoint presentations, posters, 2D and 3D art works and experiments this term. Their work is then displayed on the class website and outside the classroom for school mates and parents to see.

Inquirer of the Week

Student Inquirer of the Week projects: Cheetah poster, Airplane poster, Volcanoes poster and experiment and Rocket poster and model (complete with Laika the space dog).

In the past, my classroom has featured a Student Star each week. That student would present something each day – photos, a story, a letter from their parents, an object and the next student star. It was an opportunity to practice presenting to the class and they were excited for their turn – but that excitement was nothing compared to being named the Inquirer of the Week.

Students look forward to being the Inquirer of the Week, asking when it will be their turn and talking about what they will inquire into when their turn comes. One girl asked to book her turn as she had decided what her project would be about. By a coincidence, her name was announced later that day and she jumped and shouted with glee, collected her letter and danced her way to put it in her backpack.

Inquirer of the Week has encouraged the development of the PYP learner profile attributes and transdisciplinary skills in our classroom. Students are excited to learn about a topic of interest and sharing their findings with others. Interest and pride in their work gives EAL learners and shy students the confidence to speak in front of their classmates. The task encourages independence and can be completed at the students’ own levels (depending on the amount of ‘support’ given by the students’ families). The students are extremely proud of their inquiries and are all looking forward to their second turn at Inquirer of the Week.

Inquirer of the Week has been a great addition to our classroom and is enjoyed by students, teachers and the wider school community!

If you would like to try out Inquirer of the Week in your classroom, my information letter is available as a freebie on my TPT store.

IB PYP Inquirer of the Week Cover

Anya's PYP Adventures


Friendly Letters {FLASH FREEBIE}

Letter unit CoverWith text messaging, e-mails and instant messaging services, letters are no longer the main way in which we communicate in writing. That said, letter writing is still one way people keep in touch – and receiving a letter in the mail is always exciting and fun!

I’ve jazzed up my letter writing resources and added them to my TPT store. To celebrate the seasons, the entire pack is available as a free download until the end of the year!

Here’s how I used the resources in the pack in my classroom.

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To tune in, the students were divided in groups and asked to explore the examples of friendly letters. Once they read the letters, the task was to find common features in all the letters and mark them in different colours.

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When the groups were done, we gathered together and discussed their findings. The students identified the five parts of a friendly letter and I supplied the names of them. The students also discovered that headings and closings end with commas, as well as that there are indents in the bodies of the letters.

Next the students were given the 5 Parts of a Letter foldable and together we wrote down what each part is made up of and some examples. For the body, we brainstormed what we could write letters about.

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At the start of the next lesson, students used their foldables and a mini reference poster to identify the different parts in one of the example letters.

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They also used their foldables as a guide to write their own letters on the stationery included in the pack. To begin with, I asked them to write me a letter about school and used these to identify any additional instructional needs (forgetting indents, lacking commas or capitals, etc.). After that the students were free to write friendly letters as they chose during writers’ workshop.

For the pack, I created a set of writing task cards with different types of friendly letters. I plan to use these as part of writers’ workshop when school starts back again.

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Click on the image below to head on over to to download!

Letter unit Cover

Anya's PYP Adventures