We’re heading into the home stretch here in 2014, and it can be one of the hardest times in which to maintain order in the classroom. Fortunately, there are ways to make the last few days count and maintain your sanity:

1. Don’t build anticipation.

Assemblies, presentations, and other holiday events are unavoidable in December, but you can prevent your class from getting over-excited by staying focused on daily routines instead of special activities. I list my schedule changes in a prominent place for the type of children who need to have a plan, but I don’t mention the special events at all unless we need to prepare. If a student asks when the holiday party is, I point to the schedule, then change the subject.

Right before an event, I explain what’s happening in a calm voice: “We’re going down to the cafeteria now for the chorus performance. That will take up part of our math time. When we get back, we will complete our math warm-ups just like we usually do, and then continue with our graphing activity.”

2. Resist the urge to ease up on your behavioral expectations.

Believe me when I say that easing up will backfire completely. When the teacher is lackadaisical, it just adds to the environment of chaos that the students are slowly creating and makes it harder to get the class back on track. If the kids run to line up, shake your head and nonchalantly tell the whole class to sit back down and try again. “I know you’re excited about the chorus performance. But we need to line up in a quiet and orderly way, just like we always do. Let’s see which table is ready to try again. Watch Team Three as they walk at aappropriate pace over towards the door. Notice how they pushed their chairs in. Do you see how they are facing forward and not talking? Excellent. Team Four, your turn to try.”

Yes, it’s December. And yes, you still have to do this.

3. Review your procedures and expectations.

It’s probably been a few weeks or months since you’ve articulated and modeled some of your classroom procedures for the entire class. (Just because you tell the same four kids over and over that NO, they cannot get a drink in the middle of a lesson, does not mean the rest of the class was paying attention when you reiterated your expectations.)

A fun way to reinforce the rules is with my Class Rules Review Games: Fun paper-based & PowerPoint activities. There’s one PPT slide for each category of expectations (Papers, Homework, Moving Around Campus, Working Cooperatively, etc.), and each slide has questions about related classroom routines. The slides don’t include the answers so that the kids can supply them (bonus: you can modify your rules without redoing the PowerPoint).

This can be used as a teaching tool and to spark discussion, or can be played as a competition between teams (who knows our classroom routines the best?). I always liked to do a few slides each week during December and again when we returned in January, and it made a remarkable difference in how smoothly my classroom ran.

7 teacher tips for surviving the week before holiday or winter break

4. Integrate high-interest projects and group work into your regular routines.

I like to finish the majority of my content instruction early in the month so that students can spend most of the last week before break just practicing and applying skills. On the last few days of December, they typically published their narrative essays in writing, completed main idea partner activities in reading, created multiplication fact houses in math, and made land form changes pop-up books in science.

These activities are interesting enough to keep the kids focused on their work, and don’t require them to be sitting still and following along with me. We did, however, continue with regular routines for morning work, reading groups, math and writing warm-up assignments, and so on, to send the message that this is a regular school day with regular expectations.

The idea is that the kids don’t notice a change in the way the day is run; only you as the teacher are aware of the subtle differences in the way content is presented and activities assigned.

5. Don’t feel pressure to do all of the elaborate holiday stuff that other teachers do.

So what if the teacher across the hall covers her room in tinsel and lights and creates extensive holiday-themed centers which culminate in a life-size replica of the first North Pole expedition? Don’t compare yourself, and don’t wear yourself out trying to keep up. New teachers, especially, need to resist the urge to take on more than they can handle. Figure out some simple festive things you can do that won’t create a lot of stress, and stick with those. You can always add a little more next year.

This advice goes double for buying students presents. Your teammate may choose to spend $50 on trinkets, and that’s fine. But you’re not a bad teacher if you don’t.

6. Keep the last day before break low-key.

Three hours before you pack up your whole family and make an eight hour trip to grandma’s house is NOT the time to plan an elaborate fraction-review-gingerbread-house-decorating activity. You’ll be distracted by your own holiday plans, the kids who actually show up to school will be too excited to follow directions, and you’ll be running around like crazy to clean up so you can leave on time.

Instead, give meaningful work assignments that the kids will enjoy completing, and enjoy the last day together. This will also help you…

7. Get prepared for January before you leave.

Try to use the day before break to take down any seasonal decorations you have up, change the calendar, finalize your lesson plans and materials for the first day back, etc. There’s nothing worse than coming back to work after a week off to discover silver glitter and unwritten thank you cards all over your desk. A new year is coming. Give yourself a new start!

What are your tips for surviving the week before holiday or winter break? Please share your ideas in the comments!

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Are there students in your class who never seem to share their opinions or want to engage in group discussions? There could be a number of reasons why a student does not participate, and one of them is fear. Kids often find it difficult to share their opinions in class because they’re afraid of being wrong, uncertain of whether their opinions are worth sharing, or are worried about what their peers might say.

You can take the pressure off kids with Verso, a free app I recently discovered and knew immediately I wanted to share with you. With Verso, you can post “flips” or challenges which can be embedded with videos, text documents, and even articles from the internet, along with the instructions and questions you would like to ask. Every flip you create comes with a unique code which you will give to your students so that they can access it through the Verso app downloaded on their devices, or through the website.

Verso multiple classes

You can create multiple classes, preferably one for each subject, to organize your flips.

Each class can feature different flips or challenges for your students to discuss.

Each class can feature different flips or challenges for your students to discuss.

Here’s the cool part: once you have shared a flip with your students, they can begin commenting on the topic anonymously. Well, anonymously to their peers, since you can still see who said what. This allows students to still be held accountable (and be credited by you) for their actions on the forum.

Just like typical social media platforms, the students’ responses to your flip can be commented on (called a collaboration), as well as liked and shared by the other students. Students can also flag responses to immediately inform you of unhelpful, rude, or abusive comments.

Verso can be accessed by your students through the mobile app installed on their smartphones or tablets, and through the web browsers on their computers at home.

Verso can be accessed by your students through the mobile app installed on their smartphones or tablets, and through the web browsers on their computers at home.

Verso was created to promote independent thinking and your students will not see any of their classmates’ comments until they post theirs first. I love this feature because it encourages kids to think for themselves instead of just echoing other people’s thoughts. And because every comments remains anonymous, your students will be able to focus on the opinion shared and not on the person who shared it, effectively eliminating any “popularity contests” going on in your class.

You will be able to view all the comments in Verso in real time. Not only that, every flip comes with a flip report which measures all participants’ engagement, helping you determine who among your students are contributing to the discussion most and who needs more support.

Verso also allows you to group your students’ responses, making it a fantastic tool for lesson planning. You can tell at a glance who’s on the mark and who’s not, and can plan follow-up instruction accordingly.

The Verso Campus - a Verso system that can be implemented school-wide, allowing principals to monitor the engagement level of the teachers’ classes.

The Verso Campus: a Verso system that can be implemented school-wide.

Additionally, there is also the Verso Campus which is a Verso system that can be applied throughout the school. Instead of keeping track of individual students’ engagement levels, Verso Campus monitors the engagement levels of each teachers’ classes and trending flips, among other important data. This could be a great tool for instructional coaches and for grade level teams to analyze together and talk about strategies they’ve found effective for increasing participation.

To learn more about how Verso works, you can watch the video below which demonstrates the app’s basic functionalities:

Have you tried Verso with your class? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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10 ways to calm a class after lunch or recess

December 2, 2014
calm class after lunch

After recess or lunch can be one of the toughest times to transition back into instruction. Often the kids are so wound up that it takes 10 minutes (or more) to get everyone ready to learn again, and with the amount of curriculum we need to teach during the school day, that’s 10 minutes we can’t afford […]

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Win a $25 TeachersPayTeachers gift card in time for the sale!

November 30, 2014
Angela Watson TeachersPayTeachers

As part of the site-wide TeachersPayTeachers Cyber Monday sale, my entire store will be 28% off on December 1st and 2nd. The sale includes all of my math partner game bundles for grades 1-5 which provide fun, hands-on, and rigorous practice of the Common Core State Standards. The sale also includes all of the PDF versions of […]

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Happy Thanksgiving from snowy Virginia!

November 26, 2014
Thanksgiving snow 2

We’re currently under 5 inches of snow at my grandmother’s house and expecting several inches more. My mom and I just cooked up some sausage and eggs we got straight from a neighbor’s farm, and the guys are out shoveling the driveway. My family won’t be getting together for Christmas, so we’re enjoying our White Thanksgiving together. […]

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Holiday gift ideas (under $20!) that will make teachers smile

November 23, 2014
holiday gift ideas for teachers (under $20!)

I love to share funny, clever, and inspirational sayings on my Facebook page, and people are always commenting, “I need this on a t-shirt!” So I figured, why not design some teacher apparel and accessories? I created a store for teacher shirts, totes, mugs, and more on Spreadshirt. Almost all the prices for teacher merchandise are $20 […]

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8 ways to foster gratitude in your students

November 19, 2014
How to foster gratitude and teach kids to be thankful (classroom ideas)

Every year, it seems like the grumbling grows louder about the next generation’s sense of entitlement. People say they want things handed to them. They’re not appreciative of what adults do for them. They complain when teachers give them things (“Is that all you’ve got?”) and ask “What do we get for doing this?” before completing […]

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Thank students for good choices with compliment slips

November 16, 2014
rewards-with-compliment-strips

The problem with most behavior management systems is that the kids who are misbehaving get all the attention. It’s hard to remember to pay attention to kids’ GOOD choices when you’re required to track and address their bad choices. And often rewards are built into behavior management plans so that a child who struggles to […]

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5 ways to make your classroom fun (but not chaotic)

November 13, 2014
real teachers, real tips on classroom management

Catherine Ross is here today to share practical ways to bring fun into the learning process! Catherine is a former elementary school teacher (now a stay-at-home mom) who believes learning should be enjoyable for young minds. She loves coming up with creative ways through which kids can grasp the seemingly difficult concepts of learning easily, and believes that a […]

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7 steps to avoiding the classroom paper trap

November 9, 2014
7 steps for avoiding the classroom paper trap

The amount of paper that we as teachers collect in the classroom can be staggering! And on top of everything else we have to do, organizing paperwork can feel so overwhelming that we just put it off indefinitely. Though organizing papers in the classroom may seem like an incredibly difficult task, it doesn’t have to be! All you need is […]

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If you agree with this statement, it’s time to quit teaching.

November 4, 2014
If you agree with this statement, it

A teacher recently asked me the following question: How do you know when it’s time to find another career? I’ve been at this for a couple of years and tried switching schools and grade levels to see if that helped, but watching the kids learn and grow just doesn’t do it for me. I feel like the kids are supposed to be […]

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Empowered. Passion. Relationships. Hope.

November 2, 2014
NCAEE2014

The last few weeks of October have been a whirlwind of conferences and meet-ups for me. It’s been a lot of fun and I’m still trying to wrap my head around everything that I’ve learned from the amazing educators I had the privilege of talking with. Here’s a glimpse of what I’ve been up to. […]

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What’s the craziest thing you ever said to your students?

October 29, 2014
Huge list of crazy things teachers say

Kids say the darndest things. But teachers do, too!  Between bathroom conversations, weird smells, bizarre use of school supplies, and suspicious animal noises coming from backpacks, how could you not? I posted the above image on my Facebook page and asked teachers to share the craziest thing they’ve ever heard come out of their own […]

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15 easy book character costumes for teachers

October 25, 2014
15 easy book character costumes for teachers

What better Halloween costume for a teacher than one which promotes a love of books? I got really into the idea when I taught in a district that didn’t allow Halloween costumes and instead encouraged kids and teachers to dress as characters from children’s literature. We held a Book Character Parade around the school to show off our […]

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Yes, the October Blues are a real thing.

October 22, 2014
Yes, the October Blues are a real thing. If you’re feeling completely discouraged right now and don’t know how you can possibly make it until June, that is completely NORMAL.

If you’re feeling completely discouraged right now and don’t know how you can possibly make it until June, that is completely NORMAL. In October, the optimism that comes from having a fresh start at back to school has faded, the holiday breaks are still weeks away, and the rest of the school year looms ahead […]

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How working memory games can improve kids’ executive function in 5 minutes a day

October 19, 2014
working memory games that improve kids

Are there kids in your class that struggle with multi-step directions and need frequent reminders about what to do? Or students who lose their place in texts, struggle to copy information and take notes, and forget what they were just taught? If so, there’s a strong possibility that the issue might be something that you […]

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Don’t discount your ideas: YOU have practices worth sharing

October 15, 2014
Don’t discount your ideas: YOU have practices worth sharing!

My post on discovering the 2×10 strategy has gotten over 200,000 page views in the past week and 35,000 shares on Facebook and incredibly, is still going strong. Literally thousands of teachers were just as impressed as me by the simplicity of the idea. We all know we need to build relationships with kids, but we […]

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Overcoming the 3 biggest obstacles in relationship building with kids

October 12, 2014
How to make time for relationship building, establish a rapport with students who don't like you, and more

So the 2×10 “miraculous” behavior management strategy really resonated with a lot of teachers. It’s a simple method for making the nebulous goal of relationship building much more concrete and achievable—simply spend 2 minutes a day for 10 consecutive days talking with a challenging student about anything she or he would like. Though many people indicated […]

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Share how your school is innovating and win 200K in prizes

October 9, 2014
Britten Follett

Britten Follett, Director of Social Media and Web Content at Follett School Solutions, is here today to share information about this year’s Follett Challenge. It’s a great opportunity to share the good stuff that’s happening in your school and reward teachers and students for their hard work! Follett is a longtime supporter of The Cornerstone […]

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The 2×10 strategy: a miraculous solution for behavior issues?

October 6, 2014
This is as close as it gets to a miracle solution for students

In the eleven years that I’ve been writing on this site, I don’t think I’ve ever, ever used the term “miracle” in relation to behavior management. But lately I’ve been hearing a lot of teachers talk about a strategy that might be as close as it gets. If you have a student for whom no other solutions […]

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