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Espresso Shot: Creating a Classroom Community in an English Class

In the first month of school, teachers are usually focused on classroom setup, establishing procedures, launching routines, and digging into the first unit. Although we DO want students to be organized and to feel safe as individuals, we also need them to open up and collaborate as part of a bigger classroom community. 

Read on for 9 ideas about how to create bonding, shared experiences, and interactions that foster community-building. (By the way, you can check out a similar blog post of ours about community-building here.)

The SuperHERO Teacher
Teaching kindness and collaboration amongst students is such an important part of a positive classroom community! I love using interactive bulletin boards to encourage students to motivate each other. Recently, I created this nature-themed bulletin board using Polaroid frames with inspiring quotes, twine, and clothes pins. Basically, if students need a bit of motivation, they can take a quote from the board, but they must replace it with a new quote! At the end of the year, students will be exchanging quotes from each other-- making a strong classroom relationship! Here's the link

Addie Williams
I work hard to create a collaborative and welcoming classroom community and one way I do this is through writing about kindness. I share a kindness quote with my students as a writing prompt and have them work on it individually before sharing their ideas with a partner and then with a larger group. I ask them to look for similarities in their responses. Demonstrating to my students that I value kindness and community early on in the year will hopefully create a sense of caring throughout the year. Use these free Kindness Quotes to get started!

Secondary Sara
One of the hurdles to community-building is when students aren't willing to be vulnerable, they try to be perfect, or they compete instead of connect. As much as strengths and growth mindset are important, we teachers also need to help students identify and tackle their weaknesses in an honest way. I like doing this in a humorous way by "curing" student diseases. I joke about students who have "Procrastinitis", and when students own that problem, it becomes a springboard for other areas of concern as well (like upset binders, high test pressure, and silence infections). Get the poster set AND activities to accompany them here

Danielle Hall
One of the ways students build our classroom community is by working together to solve problems or puzzles. I use team trivia to start out our class at the beginning of the year, getting students used to collaborating and thinking critically.

 They develop a healthy sense of teamwork and competition.  Here's a free week to get you started.

The Classroom Sparrow
A simple way to create a positive classroom community is to display work from students around a classroom. It doesn't necessarily have to be an assignment, even a collaborative discussion full of insight from everyone in a class adds positivity and shows that everyone's opinion/view is valued! If you're lacking in work to display, simply begin a class with a simple prompt, motivational quote, or question! Here is a collaborative poem I had students create to begin a poetry unit. Everyone took 10-15 mins to cut out 30-40 words, then I paired students and peers to create a beautiful and colourful example of poetry, which remained on my bulletin boards for the length of the unit!

The Daring English Teacher
I teach at a very diverse school, and there are 23 different home languages represented in our student body. Bringing together such a diverse group can sometimes be challenging, so I created Classroom Community Bell Ringers to help us all find a common ground. These bell ringers include quotes about love, acceptance, diversity, and tolerance and a brief writing prompt. My students take the first five minutes in class to read the quote and quickly respond to the prompt. Then we share our responses aloud. This exercise has helped forge new connections amongst students who once thought there was no common ground.

Stacey Lloyd
At the beginning of the year we always spend time thinking about positive and negative behaviors in the classroom: social, emotional and academic. Students come up with their suggestions by walking around the room and anonymously adding their thoughts to various prompts. I then compile these into a list and have students all sign their names on the document - which stays on the wall all year. Any time I find a student acting out or being unkind or unhelpful, I point to their signature and hold them to account.

Room 213
We spend a great deal of time during the first few weeks building our classroom climate. I want kids to feel free to discuss their views and to know that it's okay to disagree with someone, as long as they do so respectfully. We develop a class code of conduct, and I put up posters to remind them to be empathetic, kind and understanding of differences. They are a good visual reminder of the things we discussed and the exercises we do during the first few days of school. You can grab them for free here.

Presto Plans
Building a positive classroom community is an intentional process. One way to do this is by having students complete short challenges that encourage kindness, collaboration, teamwork, expression, and the sharing of ideas and opinions. Start your year or semester by presenting short classroom challenges that can be used as bell-ringers, a class close-up activity, or a fun way to start or end the week. I suggest you set up a bulletin board that allows you to build suspense and reveal one challenge at a time. Make the challenges fun, collaborative, and stress-free. For example, you might consider getting students to write a thank-you card for someone, write a funny top 10 list, play a game of 20 questions, or interview a classmate.

We hope you enjoy these ideas! Tell us what you think, or tell us more ideas in the comments!

Espresso Shot: Our Worst Back-to-School Nightmares

It might look easy for some of us veteran teachers, but the truth is we all have back-to-school nightmares this time of year. Keep on reading to find out what keeps the Coffee Shop Teachers up at night:

The SuperHERO Teacher: Ahhhh! Back to school nightmares are the worst! I always dream that my students are in the classroom and my supervisor comes in and I have nothing to say and I completely blank. He just stares and me and is fiercely writing down notes. Then, the worst part, is when all of my students are smirking and laughing at me-- like I've instantly lost their respect! Yikes-- I'm getting uncomfortable just typing this! Lol.

The Daring English Teacher: Every single year as the new year approaches, I always have back-to-school nightmares that wake me up in a cold sweat, and they are always the same. I am scrambling to leave my house on time the first day back, and then once I get to school, I am in complete disarray. I haven't planned anything. I don't even know which classes I am teaching, my schedule, or where my room is, and I am a complete mess. After I eventually meander aimlessly into what must be my classroom, I am standing in front forty-something students without anything to say and a blank, dumbfounded look on my face. That is when I usually wake up, realize school isn't for another week or two, and try to go back to sleep.

Secondary SaraMy school nightmare is the classic unprepared dream with a twist. It's the first day of school, I find out that I'm teaching a new class I didn't know about, and when I arrive to a room of expectant teens, I obviously don't have a syllabus or lesson or anything ready... so I go off in search of one, and THEN proceed to get lost, until I end up wandering a mall or office supply store failing to find what I need... Just like any good Pixar plot, my dreams like to make things progressively worse for the protagonist!

Addie Williams: It never fails. Every year I have the same back to school nightmare. In it, I am starting at a new school and everything goes horribly wrong. I arrive late and when I get there I run in a panic through the halls because I can't find my classroom. When I finally locate my classroom, I arrive to find chaos. But the worst part of it is that my voice doesn't work... so as I try to gain control of the room... I can't. No words will come out...

Room 213: Even after almost thirty years of teaching, I still get that back to school nightmare in August, and it's always a variation on the same theme: I'm standing before an out of control class, trying to speak, and no sound comes out. I try and try to speak, getting increasingly frustrated as nothing works. The class gets worse and worse, and I stand there helpless.  I always wake up before I find my voice, but that feeling of desperation stays with me for hours. 

Stacey Lloyd: Oh, I get the nightmares: throughout the whole summer. And I have a whole variety of them: everything from being unable to find the school, to turning up completely unprepared, to having forgotten to put clothes on (that's a predictable, frequent one). Yet, every year my back-to-school season is a joy - a busy one, but still a joy. As yet, I have never gotten lost, or forgotten to get dressed, or turned up to the wrong class... so here's hoping this this year will be no different! I just wish my sleep wasn't so disturbed with these pesky nightmares.

Presto Plans: I tend to have a variety of nightmares during the month before heading back-to-school. Some of the reoccurring highlights include showing up late on the first day, having absolutely no control over my class, and being completely unprepared. One common dream that also finds its way into the mix has me arriving on the first day of school to learn that my schedule has completely changed from teaching English to teaching Advanced Math. I am given absolutely no time to prep and am thrown in front of a room full of high-achieving twelfth graders. I stumble my way through the start of a lesson, but it isn’t long until they see that I am a complete fraud who has no idea what she is talking about.

The Classroom Sparrow: My school year began like any other. Everything was set and organized for my first day of class. Our meet the teacher night was successful with lots of parents in attendance. I felt like I chatted with a lot more parents than usual, so I was pretty confident the school year was off to a great start. I also chatted with a lot of the teachers throughout the evening, as this was only my second term at this school after relocating, so I was still quite new to the building. I arrived home and was eager to tell my husband about the evening...then I looked down to take off my shoes. This image summed up my year. 

Nouvelle ELA: The rest of these nightmares are TERRIFYING and I'm glad I don't remember my dreams very often. I'll tell you that I have (in real life) shown up to school with two different shoes on, had mild clothing malfunctions, and made the wrong photocopies at least three times. My biggest tip is to handle every situation with grace and humor - kids will remember our reaction more than the incident itself, and this is what they learn from. So, admit you got dressed in the dark, fix the tear with a safety pin, and get them working on something without photocopies. You got this.

Clearly there's a theme here: we all have a great fear of not being our best selves on the first day, whether it's because a lack of preparation or the inability to take control of the situation. Luckily, we all know that these nightmares are just the stuff of dreams, as long as we go into that first day with a good plan (and all of our clothes on and matching!). As Danielle, from Nouvelle ELA said, "you've got this." 

What are your back-to-school nightmares? We'd love to hear them!

Espresso Shot: 9 of The Best Resources for Back to School

The lovely ladies of the Secondary English Coffee Shop have put together a list of their favorite resources to start off the year in your ELA classroom.  We hope these resources help you ease back into the school year after a restful and relaxing summer! Happy Back to School!

The first month of school is hectic as it is, so why not make your life a bit easier while you settle into your new classes? I use writing prompts to begin my first month of class. Not only do they give me an idea as to where my students' writing skills are, but they also give me a few minutes to settle into my new classes. That extra 10-15 minutes also settles the class before the lesson of the day begins!

Teachers have a lot of skills to review and procedures to explain during the first month of school. I like to find novel ways to do this that not only save my voice, but also help the kids really learn. These stations are designed to teach students the information they need to respond to text and to understand author technique. They make the kids more responsible for learning how to annotate, respond and analyze and get them ready for the work you'll do with them throughout the semester. - Room 213

One of the tough parts about the first month is easing back into the workload and staying as organized as you were on the first day. These grading helper sheets are my sanity-saver when student papers first start coming in. I've noticed that my turnaround time is faster and I actually remember to do and say more with students when I use these Grading Helpers. - Secondary Sara

In the first few weeks of school, I need to get to know my students. And yes, I mean that I need to get to know their names, work patterns, likes and dislikes; however, I also need to get to know them academically: how much they comprehend when they read a piece of text; where their weaknesses are grammatically; how fluently they can communicate their thoughts and idea. When I have a firm grasp on these things, I can better differentiate my instruction and meet their needs. Therefore, I always start with a reading/writing lesson which helps me quickly get to know my students academically, such as this Reading and Writing lesson, specifically designed for back-to-school. - Stacey Lloyd

Okay, so I am one of those teachers who doesn't rock at classroom decor. Instead, I make sure early on to let students do it for me. We review literary terms and devices in the first couple weeks, and each student makes a poster about a term. I use these to decorate our classroom for the first quarter, and swap them out later for drama terms or figurative language posters. Students love seeing their work on the walls, and their solid examples make the vocabulary easier to remember for everyone. - Nouvelle ELA

One lesson I always integrate into the first few weeks of school is teaching students how to effectively take notes. I prefer to teach students the Cornell Notes method since it uses a systematic procedure that allows students to organize ideas into categories and reflect and summarize on the information they learn. Not every student will choose to use the system regularly, but I make all my students try it for at least a couple of days to see if it could be a good method for them. Students can use their own loose-leaf, but I also keep Cornell notes templates in my classroom for those who prefer to use them - Presto Plans

One of the first things I do start off a new school year is to try to help students stay organized.  It can be easy to lose track of the vocabulary we learn during the year in my English class so I give all of my students a blank student dictionary.  As we move through different units and all of the new (and old) terms they learn during the year I have them add to their dictionaries.  By the end of the year my students have a great study guide and I know that many of them keep the dictionaries to use in their next English class.  - Addie Williams

There are so many essential skills I want to teach my new students in the first couple weeks of school, but there definitely isn’t enough time to get to it all. One of my favorite lessons to teach students is how to paraphrase, summarize, and quote text. I love this lesson for many reasons: it teaches students about three key writing elements for class; it helps make the transition into essay writing much easier; and it prepares students for future sub days. Once my students know how to paraphrase, summarize, and quote text, I can leave the graphic organizer and whatever text fits our current unit with the sub, and I know that they have a quality day planned. - The Daring English Teacher

At the beginning of the school year, I always feel overwhelmed about all of the data I'm required to record about my students as well as learning about my students' strengths and weaknesses in the ELA classroom!  To solve this issue, I designed a binder for student-teacher conferences.  Within the binder, there are three sections: beginning of the year check point, middle of the year check point, and end of the year check point.  During each check point, the teacher and the student sit down for a brief conference to discuss the students' strengths and weaknesses, and set goals for the next meeting!  Not only does it help you document essential information about your students' learning abilities, but it also builds positive rapport with them.  My students LOVED having one on one time with me and discussing all of the opportunities available for them.  -The SuperHERO Teacher

Espresso Shot: 9 Back-To-School Teacher Hacks

The ladies of the Coffee Shop are gearing up for back-to-school, and we want to share with you our favorite teacher hacks to help you ease back into the school year.  Read our Back-To-School Teacher Hacks Espresso Shot below to get some ideas to have the best year yet!

1. When teaching middle/high school, we are dealing with teens and pre-teens who SO appreciate validation, encouragement and recognition. However, they get oh-so-awkward about this in person, so I make sure that at the start of the school year I have a stack of literary-themed postcards in my desk and make a point of regularly penning a quick note to slip into a students' work, into their book, or just onto their desk. Place them somewhere visible on your desk to remind you to do this throughout the whole school year! - Stacey Lloyd
2. One simple back-to-school teacher hack (that I wished I had known earlier) is to use either brightly colored tissue paper or colored plastic table cloths that can be used as a backdrop for a bulletin board. Not only are they an inexpensive way to decorate a classroom, but also an easy way to bring a burst of color onto an otherwise dull-looking bulletin board! - The Classroom Sparrow
3. My back to school teacher hack has nothing to do with my classroom, and everything to do with surviving the first week back. I don't know about you, but I find the first few weeks exhausting, and so I like to make sure I can do as little as possible when I go home. During the last week of vacation, I'll spend an afternoon making some meals that are easy to heat up with little preparation -- spaghetti sauce, chili, and one of my favourites: Cauliflower Chickpea Coconut CurryI also get some things ready for my lunches -- I'll make a big pot of rice that I can mix with leftovers and chop and bag some veggies. If it's easy and ready to go, then I know I'll make good choices, rather than run out for a quick junk food fix! - Room 213
4. A few years ago, I was tired of my desk becoming a receptacle for post-it notes after only a few weeks back to school.  To calm the paper monster, I started laminating a teacher desk planner with a calendar and to-do and reminder lists.  I would attach it to my desk and fill it in with a dry-erase marker I kept close by.  When an item was completed, I would simply erase it!  I also used this method as a way to track missing student work and student library sign-outs.  - Presto Plans
5. One of the most time consuming things before heading to school is having to select an outfit! My back to school tip would be to prepare your outfits for the week on Sunday evening so you can have ten-fifteen extra minutes of sleep time in the morning! You'll feel more organized and well-rested, plus you'll look extra fashionable when you have time to think about what you're wearing! Ps: I found this awesome rack at TJ Maxx. - The SuperHERO Teacher
6. One of the most helpful and organized areas of my classroom is my whiteboard weekly class schedule. I use this space to write an abridged version of the week’s lesson plans and homework assignments for each section I teach. Having this dedicated space in my classroom helps keep me organized and helps keep the students informed about classroom assignments and activities. This weekly class schedule is also very helpful when a student is absent and want to know what he or she missed. - The Daring English Teacher
7. I love color-coding, so I give each section I teach a different color. I use binder clips in that color to organize copies, I keep information for each class in colored file folders, and I label things with colored tape. One hack I use is to have students put a piece of tape on the spine of their Interactive Notebooks so that I can quickly see which notebooks belong to which class. This is a great way to find a "missing" notebook that's been misshelved. Can you spot the outlier in this photo? ;) - Nouvelle ELA
8. I love bulletin boards that are cumulative and don't need to be redone all the time! Progress bars are fun and motivational, like this Reading Challenge that we did a year ago. - Secondary Sara

9. I find the first week of school can be so overwhelming for me and my students as we try to get back into the school schedule. Like The Daring English Teacher, I do my best to help my students start off the year organized. I print out a calendar for the first two months of school and together we fill in all of the important events. For us it's a special schedule for the first week, school photo day, welcome back breakfast, senior parent night etc. I also post a big version of the calendar in my classroom and refer to it often as special events come up. The visual calendar and reminders helps my students keep on track. - Addie Williams
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