Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Minecraft Challenge... A True Labor of Love!

Well, we finished it! The Minecraft Challenge was a success!

Was it worth it? Yes!

Was it a pain? Yes!

Would I do it again? Yes!

Would I change the some things? Oh yes! I'll elaborate later. ;)

Let me give you some background...

My kiddos this year are obsessed with Minecraft-to the point where everyday at least one of them is wearing a Minecraft shirt. They LOVE it.

So, I knew I somehow wanted to incorporate the game into our classroom, but I literally knew nothing about it. I decided last Friday that I wanted to come up with something fun to review for our math CBA. The idea to do a Minecraft Challenge was born, but I really didn't know how to make it work.

The first step was to learn about the game. I watched videos, asked the kids, and tried to develop a basic understanding. It is much more complicated than I ever imagined! I even downloaded the game on my computer and tried to play, but I couldn't even figure out how to move myself around! It was pathetic! I died several times in a row before I gave up! (Don't tell my students!)

If you don't know anything about Minecraft, here's the basics: You create your own world by "mining" for resources that are all around you, and then "crafting" those resources into things like tools, weapons, building supplies, food, etc. You can play the game in a creative mode where you have no risk of dying and you have unlimited resources, or you can play the game in survival mode, where you are at risk of dying from hunger or monsters.

Because I had a short time to figure out how I wanted the challenge to work (I wanted to do it on Monday, two days after I had the idea, lol), I went of the very limited knowledge I had.

I typed up a text giving some basic information about Minecraft and we read that during reading time. I created comprehension questions to go with it that reinforced the concepts we were focusing on in language arts.

Then, during math, the real challenge began. I decided to have the kids answer questions and if they answered correctly, they could earn "resources"- similar to the mining process in the game. They would then use the resources they earned to "craft" tools. Their goal was to craft all four of the tools I listed in their crafting guide.

I divided the class into four teams. Each team was given a file folder with their team name, their "health bar," instructions, crafting guide, and crafting grid.

I downloaded a free Minecraft font from and used screenshots from a blog I found to make the folders.

The directions were explained in the first part of the folder under the 'Objective' heading. I also got a little ambitious and decided to hang the challenge questions around the school in the hallway, so I also added a map the kids had to use to find where the questions were. Yeah.... it ended up taking us WAAYY too long to move from question to question, and we weren't able to finish in one day. So, I moved the question cards back to the classroom to finish up the second day. :)

The kids had to find a question card and work together to answer the question with their team. If they answered correctly, they earned the resources listed near the question. If they answered incorrectly, they lost one of the hearts on their health bar and did not earn the resources for that question.

As they answered the questions, they earned the resources. They had a small Ziploc bag included in their folder to store their items. 

In the middle of their "mining," Herobrine snuck up and surprised the kids with a special challenge! Everyone had to get together to solve the problem and escape him! 

In the picture above, all of those little pieces of paper coming out of the bag are the "resources" they earned from answering their questions. They could earn wood and cobblestone. And yes, I had to run from team to team as they answered each question to check their answers and either take a heart or award them their resources. It was a great way for me to do some last-minute reteach. Thank goodness I only had four teams! Below are all the baggies that held the resources they could earn as well as the tools they were responsible for creating. It was a lot to juggle! 

Once the kids answered all of the questions, the "crafting" process began. The first objective was to create a crafting table from the wood they collected. Then, they had to craft the four tools listed in their guide. They used the guide included in their folder and the crafting grid on the back of their folder to show the correct recipe, and then they traded the resources they used for the tool they created. I loved this part just as much as the academic part because they quickly realized they didn't have all of the materials they needed to make their tools. They first had to use the wood to make sticks! They really had to rely on their guide and discuss with their teammates to make sure they had the correct materials and put them in the correct order to craft their tools. 

As the kids were crafting, they called me out on a mistake I made! Apparently, the wood shown in the recipe for the crafting table and sticks is called a "wood plank." I used the picture for another type of wood that needs to be crafted into a wood plank first before it can be used to make anything else. OOPS! That's what I get for not doing enough research! LOL! Of course, I told the kids to just pretend it was the right thing! Notice in the picture below how the wood pictures are NOT the same! 

As they used the resources in their crafting recipes, they earned the tools! Once they created all four tools, their mission was accomplished! The picture below shows the crafting table and the four tools they were required to craft. 

All in all, it was a huge success.  The kids absolutely LOVED it and were all smiles the entire time. It was all worth it! 

It was hard to manage moving between teams to check answers, give resources, trade them for their tools, etc. It was much easier to do in the classroom instead of running up and down the hallway to the different teams. Here's what I would do differently if I could have a redo:

1. Keep the challenge in the classroom. It was super fun to get out of the room and use the hallways, but it wasn't the best idea to do it the first time we attempted this. It was too hard for me to move between teams and it wasted valuable time. 
2. Have the crafting grid separate from the folder. The kids had to flip the folders back and forth to see the recipes and then place the pieces correctly. It would have been much easier to have the recipe and the grid side by side.
3. Be sure I have the correct pictures! I should have done a little bit more research to make the game a bit more accurate! 

The great thing about this format is that now that the kids understand how it works, I can simply change out the question cards and we can play it to practice whatever content I want! Next week we may do this again to review for our grammar test! I can also change out the tools they are creating and the resources they earn to add some variety. The kids were begging to do it again, so I just might have to give in! 

Want to try this crazy thing out for yourself?? Click the links below to get a copy of the text we read and the file to create your own challenge! Let me warn you, the wood pictures don't match! Maybe this weekend when I have some energy I will fix it! ;) 

Now to survive the rest of the week! 

Do you have ideas of how to incorporate Minecraft-inspired activities in the classroom?? I would love to hear them!!! 

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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Halloween and Fall Resources- Freebies!!

Happy Halloween Week!

I know it's a little last minute, but here are some Halloween-themed resources I have to share with you! Just click on the link below each picture. I hope you can find something you can use!!

Roll It: Use a dice and a deck of cards.  Roll the die and then follow the directions. This is a random assortment of place value skills. This was from two years ago before the TEKS were changed, so it doesn't include any of the new TEKS. It's supposed to rain ALL weekend, so this *might* be something I update or add to this weekend. ;)

(You'll need digit cards and dice)

Multiplication Word Problems: Just a few word problems with a Halloween theme. We haven't covered multiplication yet this year, but I used these two years ago when I taught math and the kids enjoyed them.

Spooky Multiplication Word Problems

Addition and Subtraction Brew- addition and subtraction with regrouping (computation only).
This activity does NOT include any word problems, it is strictly computation.

Language Arts: 

Pumpkin Prefixes Match-Up: Super simple and quick match-up game to review the prefixes re-, un-, pre-, dis-, and non-. 

Pumpkin Prefixes

Do They Agree? Subject/Verb Agreement: 12 short sentences to quickly review subject verb agreement.

Again, I hope you were able to find something you could use! 

Enjoy celebrating this week with your kiddos! 

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Simple Station Solution

Happy Thursday!

I'm dropping in to show you a solution I found for my station activities that is working wonderfully.

Before I share, let me share a little bit of the struggle I have had this year with stations.

My kiddos are very easily distracted. Our desks are in groups, and we mostly work at the desks during stations. So, this presented a problem. When my kids sit at a table group of 4, one partner pair is working on one activity and the other partner pair is working on a different activity. Therefore, it created some distraction. The partner pair working on one side of the group of desks was constantly hearing the partner pair on the other side of the group and would become easily off-task.

One day I had an idea. I love my "offices" from Really Good Stuff and I have several extra. So, I decided to use them to help with station management.

Here's what I camp up with:

I just stapled two sheet protectors on the right and left sides and one of my extra magnetic paper pockets from Lakeshore in the middle section. I only had one of the fancy pockets, so on my other station "offices" I just used 12x12 cardstock and stapled a sheet of construction paper on top to create a pocket. Simple!

I have the title of the station on the left side, the directions for the kids on the right side, and the materials they need in the pocket in the middle. They have everything they need plus the separation from the other group to stay distraction-free!

Now, when my partner pairs are ready to work in their stations, they just unfold the "office" and they have everything they need! When we are ready to clean up, the stations just fold right up!

The sheet protectors allow for me to easily change out the title and directions.

I am loving the simplicity and the flexibility this creates. The kids love that they are in their little "zones" and don't have to constantly tune out the partner pair across from them.

Of course these station offices could easily be moved to the floor. My students just tend to work more effectively when sitting at a desk. You could also easily make this using poster board or a tri-fold board.

Do you have any creative ways that you manage station materials?? I would love to hear!

Have a great Friday!

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Monday, September 7, 2015

Sunday (Monday) Pass Along! Fluency, Math, and More!

I keep thinking it's Sunday. But nope, it's MONDAY thanks to a glorious three-day weekend. It comes just in time after two solid weeks of the back-to-school frenzy. I love how each year brings unique kiddos and challenges and is so different from the last. There is never a boring day!

Now that I am semi-caught up, I have some time to lounge in my jammies and read my blogs!

One of the beauties of having this little ol' blog of mine means that I can pass along awesome blog posts straight to you and you get all the goods! I'm hoping to keep this little tradition of the Sunday Pass Along going (even though today is technically Monday).

Here are some awesome posts I found while browsing my feed that are usable for me tomorrow!!

Parent Brochure from The Thinker Builder

This post from Michael at The Thinker Builder is fantastic. Well-written and comes complete with a free downloadable brochure for parents! I love his language and how relatable he is. You will definitely want to check this out! I will be handing these out to parents as I meet with them individually.

The Reading Strategies Book 

This is seriously the most amazing find ever. EVER! I was eventually going to do a post on this book, but luckily Megan at I Teach, What's Your Superpower already did! This post gives you a peek inside the book and outlines why it is just so amazing. This year I have students on levels C-M. This book is perfect for me because I have concrete strategies to use with each and every one of them. Megan does a great job of explaining everything this great book has to offer. Get your Amazon account open!

Intervention Folder Idea

I love, love, love Cara's (First Grade Parade) idea for keeping track of the concepts students need to work on. It's visual, easy to manage, and you can see everything at a glance. When you click on the post, it's tip #2. As soon as I've had my second cup of coffee, I'll be heading to my room to make one for myself! Click on this post to read more of her sanity-saving tips!

Partner Plays for Fluency

My group this year is going to need LOTS of fluency practice. I mean, LOTS! I've been looking for fun and interesting way to practice fluency and these partner plays from Christina at Bunting, Books, and Bainbridge are going to be perfect! I love my Partner Scripts from Lakeshore, but they are actually a little too challenging for my students this year. These partner scripts are perfect because they have a nice balance of text and engaging topics. Plus, she has them on sale right now!

Amazing Race Number Decomposition 

Greg at Mr. Elementary Math offers some amazing and fun number sense routines as well as a free download for decomposing numbers. There is space for a number at the top and then circles underneath for students to record each way they can decompose the number. He offers two versions- one with more circles and one with a smaller number of circles so you can differentiate as needed. This is exactly what I need this week as we work with decomposing numbers! He also offers a bonus freebie in the post, so be sure to read the whole thing to get that goodie!

I hope you were able to find something useful and maybe even a new blogger to follow. I'm going to enjoy the rest of this lazy three-day weekend and prepare myself for another awesome week!

I'll be back tomorrow to share some place value resources with you so be sure to check back then!

Happy Sunday! Monday!

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Camping Stool for the Classroom... Genius!

Imagine the following scenario:

It's independent reading time. I'm walking around the classroom, clipboard in hand, ready to listen in and confer with students as they read. The classroom is peaceful, students are reading quietly, soft music plays in the background. As I try to quietly grab a chair from the back of the room to sit next to little Johnny at his desk, I somehow manage to bang all four chair legs against the legs of both the desk where the extra chair came from as well as his desk and then continue to hit every stray object in my path with my chair as well.

So much for the peaceful atmosphere.

I then try standing. Of course, today is the day I decided to wear my long chain necklace, so as soon as I lean in to talk with Johnny, my necklace makes direct contact with his face.

So I kneel.

Of course today is also the day I wore shoes with the cute rhinestone flower applique on them. So now, not only are my knees creaking and soaking up who knows what from the carpet, the longer I kneel, the more I feel my cute rhinestone flower loosen itself from its threads. My clipboard is awkwardly filling the small space between Johnny and I and eventually I'm so uncomfortable that I give up and have to walk away, my rhinestone flower flopping along with me.

Enter: The camping stool!

Jennifer Serravalo shared this little tip in her book Teaching Reading in Small Groups and I am happy to report that I am no longer a victim of ruined shoes and clanging chairs!

This little baby lets me sit snugly up to one student or a group of students, even in small spaces, and use my lap to rest my clipboard. It's seriously genius!!! You can see the scale of it in the picture above. It folds up and is super light so I can easily carry it and my clipboard around without a problem. I am absolutely in love!

I ordered this one on Amazon. It might be one of my favorite purchases ever. Best of all, it was only $12! I'm a prime member, but still, $17 for a little peace, quiet, and functionality is worth it.

If you suffer from noisy chair syndrome like me, or enjoy wearing long necklaces, this camping stool might just be exactly what you need!!

Have a great Friday!

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Teacher Fail Turned Victory... Sort Of!

I just have to share this funny story from today!

In May, I was lucky enough to visit the Ron Clark Academy and see the amazing Hope King in person. She taught a great session about games in the classroom and explained how she uses a game called Headbands. I just have to post the picture my friend and I took with her again. I was in complete teacher heaven!

The game is based on the popular board game, Headbandz. Hope adapted it to be used with vocabulary words and when I first heard her explain it, I had one of those, "Why didn't I ever think of that?" moments. Each small group had a large stack of index cards with vocabulary words written on them and one person would wear a headband. That person would load their headband with one vocabulary word at a time by putting the card in their band with the word facing the rest of the group. The other group members worked together to give clues so that headband wearer could guess the word they were showing. Hope set the timer for one minute and we tried to get our headband wearer to guess as many words as possible within that minute. It was a blast! I was so excited to try the "Headbands" game and but never had a chance at the end of the year last year.

Fast forward to this morning. I had the great idea to use the headband format but infuse it with Quiz-Quiz-Trade, one of my absolute favorite Kagan activities that we do each and every day. So I walk around and pass out one card to each student and explain how it will work. I tell them that they will put their word in their headband facing out and then they will stand up-hand up-pair up like normal, but instead of quizzing their partner with a question card, they will listen to their partner give them clues so that they can guess the word they have in their band. They won't trade cards like normal, but just leave their card in their headband and find a new partner. And I'm excited y'all. Like too excited. I've been waiting all summer to do this activity and I was pumped.

So, the kids put their one word in their headband and get with a partner. Then it hits me. Once they have guessed their word, they know what's on their card. And they know their partner's word, so they can't trade cards because the whole point is that you don't know what is on your card. I didn't give them any other words. Duh!!! The whole point of Quiz-Quiz-Trade is that it is a continuous process, where kids meet with multiple partners. So essentially, the whole essence of the Headbands idea was lost! I just had to laugh. I was so embarrassed!

After they figured out their words with their first partners, I had to quickly change my directions. The only thing I could come up with at that moment was that since they already knew their word, their new partners would have to give the definition of the word, which is just like what we do with a normal quiz-quiz-trade card anyway! However, it did turn out better than I expected. The kids still got good practice with our vocabulary words and used more language in the process because our normal cards typically provide the sentence frame or stem. It was just so stinkin' cute to see them walking around with those words on their heads, though! Check them out!

Reflecting back now, I could have had the kids go ahead and trade cards with their partner so at least they had a different word in their headband. Next time, though, I think I will give the kids a stack of at least five or six words so they can carry the words with them and switch their cards out after they meet with each partner. I'm sure there are more ways to make this work, but it was just so funny in the moment!

You live and learn!!!

Happy Wednesday!

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Teach Like a Champion- The Ultimate Tool to Ramp Up Your Teaching

I am exhausted. What a great, but crazy, first week back to school! My feet are aching and I'm hoping the tickle in my throat is just from allergies....... I have a great group of kiddos and I have my work cut out for me this year! It's going to be great!

Tomorrow I am welcoming a student teacher in my classroom for the very first time. I'm a little nervous because I really don't feel like I have much to offer, but I'm hoping she will pick up some knowledge along the way. To ensure that she does, I insisted that she get the book I describe below and we use that as kind of our "textbook" for her student teaching experience. I have been meaning to share about this book for awhile, so now seems like the perfect time!

Several years ago, in the midst of one of the my toughest teaching years to date, I happened to stumble across this book:

Little did I know as I cracked open the first pages, that this book would completely transform my teaching.

People always say that "teaching is an art." Yes, yes, yes. I firmly believe that there is a definite art to teaching, there's a human and affective aspect that must be present along with having a deep understanding of content. However, what author Doug Lemov and his team have done is come up with concrete strategies they have seen highly effective, or who they call "champion teachers," use- strategies that are common between teachers across districts, cities, and states. Essentially, they have pinned down some of the "art" of teaching into directly replicable techniques. Not only does this book give a name to specific techniques, it also creates a common language among teachers so those techniques can be analyzed and discussed.

Sounds too good to be true, right? I thought so at first. But once I started reading, I literally could not put the book down. Remember, when I first found this book I was in my third year of teaching with a tough, tough, tough, group of kiddos. You can read more about that year HERE. :)

One of the first techniques that really hit home with me is called "No Opt Out." In a nutshell, this technique does not allow a student to simply "opt out" of answering a question. If you call on a student and they don't know an answer, Lemov gives you practical classroom examples of how to respond to the student, provide various types of cues, hints, or questions, but always returning to the student to have them answer the question- even if it comes down to them simply repeating what you say.

As a young teacher still feeling slightly intimidated by my class, this technique was hard to follow at first. I had boys that would get upset and and angry when I called on them. But with consistency and persistence, the class got used to knowing that they would be held responsible for answering every question. Slowly but surely the culture of my classroom began to change and I found my confidence.

Another small example he mentions in the book that has stuck with me, and I really don't even think this is its own technique or strategy, but it's the simple concept of standing still when giving directions. Man, I thought I was on fire those first few years. I could walk and talk and pass out papers and give directions, and find the pen I left on my back table, and correct little Johnny's behavior... I was a multi-tasking, let's-get-things-done machine. But inevitably, when I was through giving my directions and thought I would take a well-deserved deep breath, fifteen hands would shoot up in the air because they didn't understand a thing I said. They were too distracted by all of my movement to even think about the words I was saying.

Again, looking back now, it seems so obvious! I should have checked in to see that students were hearing me and understanding my words. But with my sense of urgency and feeling the time crunch, I thought I was making the best use of time.

The examples I gave are just a few of the many. The book is divided into chapters with overarching themes and it's meant to be read on a what-I-need-at-this-moment basis. When I first found the book, my focus was on the classroom management type techniques, as I described above. As I have evolved and grown, my focus is now more on the techniques that promote higher-level thinking. But of course, without strong classroom management, the environment isn't ripe for critical thinking anyway. I have revisited the book with a new lens each year as I get a new group of kiddos and add more tools to my toolbox. This book is a great resource for every teacher, whether you are just starting out, or a twenty-year veteran.

I realized after talking with my student teacher that there is a new and updated version of the book: Teach Like a Champion 2.0!  This version has even more techniques and expanded commentary. I am so excited to dig back in and revisit all the great things this book has to offer!

The new book is divided into four major parts with several techniques subdivided in the chapters within. Below is an outline of just the four parts and included chapters. These are not the specific techniques themselves!

I highly, highly, highly suggest looking into this book. There is always room for improvement and growth, and as a teacher, I never stop growing. In just the little bit I've looked through in the past few days, I already have some goals for myself.  It. Is. Fabulous. 

Have a great week!!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Reading is Like Eating a Snickers

Have you ever heard someone say something in relation to a concept you have taught many times and you just want to kick yourself because you didn't think to say it quite like that before? The way they said it makes it so clear and you just go, "Ugh! Why didn't I think of that?!"

Well, that happened to me last week while attending a reading training. The presenter shared this amazing little analogy that rocked my world. Ready for it? Here it is:

Reading is like enjoying a Snickers.  

Allow me to explain.

This particular training was about fiction texts and how to make elements of plot more understandable for students. The conversation turned to struggling readers and the presenter told us a story.

She told us about an experience she had when she was working with struggling high school readers several years ago. She realized that they were not truly thinking about what they were reading, but rather just word calling. So, one day she brought in a mini Snickers for each student. The kids were obviously excited and wanting to enjoy the candy. However, she told them that if they wanted to eat the Snickers in class, they could NOT chew it at all.  Of course the students were upset saying, "What's the point of eating a Snickers if you can't chew it up? That's the good part!"


And so she explained to the students, "If you were to just swallow the Snickers whole, you miss out on all the great flavors. The best part of eating a Snickers is when all the different flavors mix together in your mouth: the peanuts, the chocolate, the caramel, and you get all that deliciousness swirling around. The same thing happens when we read. Something is supposed to happen. The words come off the page and swirl around in our brains. They mix with all the things we know and answer questions we might have. The words help us make a picture in our minds. That's what it means when we read and think at the same time. There's a lot going on in your mouth when you eat a Snickers, and there should be a lot going on in your head when you read."

I mean, seriously! How simple! How relatable! How perfect!

Struggling readers who lack the ability to visualize and truly think when they read miss out on the joy of reading, the deliciousness. Making this concrete connection to something so simple shows kids how enjoyable reading can be.

Why didn't I ever think of that?!

Here's a little graphic that puts it as succinctly as I could:

Thank you so much to the amazing lady who shared this great analogy!! ;)

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Pencils: A Painless Solution

My first year teaching I realized what a mega nightmare pencils can be. Seriously. Broken pencils, missing pencils, pencils became a huge issue. I cannot explain to you how much I absolutely abhor the sound of an electric pencil sharpener. It literally makes me cringe. Two years ago I found the most amazing solution from The Wise Owl Teacher. You can download her explanation of her system HERE.

Introducing... The Pencil Bag! I know, earth shattering, right? It's so simple.

Here's how it works:

Each student is given their own pencil bag similar to the one shown below.

Image: Office Depot

The first year I used this system pencil bags were not on the supply list, so I bought them myself. I used the cheap plastic ones from the Dollar Store. By the end of the year only a few were still intact. Thankfully, at my new school they are on the supply list! Score! The sturdier nylon ones with a real zipper work the best. Trust me.

 On Mondays, each student makes sure that they have at least five pencils in their pouch and I sharpen them. I know, I know, third graders are completely capable of sharpening their own pencils, but I just cannot let go of the pencil sharpener. I have been through too many to give it up! Plus, it gives me the opportunity to check in with each individual student on Monday and ask about their weekend. ;) In my classroom the students keep all of their extra supplies in Sterilite storage containers that I store on a bookshelf. They are easily accessible and the kids can restock their bags as needed on Monday mornings.

After we sharpen pencils on Monday, not ONE pencil gets sharpened the rest of the week. Each kid has five pencils to ensure that even if one breaks, they have a reserve supply. If all five pencils are broken before the end of the week, they must borrow one from a friend. We resharpen pencils and restock the bag as needed each Monday.

In two years, I have not had issues with pencils. Honestly. Last year I adapted the 'pencil bag' into the 'supply bag' to include other basic supplies that students need on a daily basis. I give them this letter on the first day of school that explains the pouch and the expectations:

The beauty of this system is that it teaches the students to be responsible and keep up with their supplies. If a student is constantly needing to restock with five brand new pencils each week, I have a conversation with them to figure out what's going on and help them come up with a plan. This year I'm upping the expectations and fining them a dollar each time they do not have their supplies when we need them during class. Because we do not start our classroom economy until we are a few weeks into the year, the students will have plenty of time to get into the routine.

The first year I gave the students some type of reward for keeping up with their supplies each and every week. I felt like this was contradictory to what I was trying to promote. The kids were keeping up with their supplies, but not because they saw it as a necessity but a way to earn a reward. This past year I phased out the rewards as the year went on. This year I am stopping the every week reward and will be performing random checks instead. If you notice in the letter above, it says they "might" earn Scholar Dollars during these checks, meaning they will not earn a physical reward each time.

This is what the letter looked like two years ago when I first used this system.

We used a communal system  at that time so I kept all of the pencils in my cabinet and refilled the bags myself and sharpened the pencils on Fridays. I like the current system much better!

Well, that's it! Simple, but effective. I never have to think about pencils or even look at the pencil sharpener ALL WEEK!!

Do you have any great ideas for pencil management?? If you do, please share!

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