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My September Top Ten List: Back to School We Go!

By Beth Newingham on September 16, 2010
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5



I am so excited to be blogging for Scholastic again this school year!  While I will continue to share my ideas with all of you, my role will be a bit different this year. I will be creating a "Top 10" list at the beginning of each month for my readers to enjoy.  It will include timely lesson ideas, instructional videos, technology tips, management tools, links to cool Web sites, and, of course, a window into my own classroom so that you can see what I am doing with my students each month. 

READ ON to check out my first "Top 10" list of the year and discover the things I am most excited about this month. Printables and links to useful Web sites are included.


New year 1. Happy New School Year!

Why not make your students' first day back to school after the long summer a celebration?  In past years, I have purchased New Year's Eve hats, blowers, and other decorations when they were on sale in January.  I saved them for the following school year and threw a "New School Year" party on the first day of school.  When students walk into the classroom, they find a New Year's hat and blower on their desks, and the song "Celebration" by Kool and the Gang is playing. Their first task is to then write New School Year resolutions similar to the ones people make at the beginning of a new year.  I encourage students to make their resolutions related to the school year.  If you want to do this, consider visiting a local party supply store and asking the manager if they have any New Year's Eve supplies in the back.  (Oftentimes they keep them in boxes until December.)  If you have already started school this year, stock up on New Year's Eve supplies once they go on sale in January and plan this fun event for next school year.


Baby 2. We Are Family

Building community is a huge goal for me each school year.  I want my students to feel as if they are part of a close-knit family when they are in my classroom.  To help students get to know each other and really feel as though they are brothers and sisters, I ask them to bring a baby picture to school on the first day.  I request that they put it in an envelope so that other classmates do not see the picture.  I then create a bulletin board in our classroom entitled "Who's That Baby?"  Each baby picture is on the board along with a number.  After the pictures are up for a week or so, students are given a blank sheet of paper.  They number the paper and try to guess each baby.  It is fun for the students, and it creates a sense of family to have all of their baby pictures hanging in our classroom.




Tiles 3. Use Student Art to Decorate a Wall 

On one of the first days of school, I give each student a white tile.  (I purchase the most inexpensive individual tiles I can find at Home Depot or Lowes.)  Students use permanent markers to write their names on their tiles and draw pictures of things that represent who they are (hobbies, pets, food, etc.).  Once the students are finished, I attach a self-adhesive business card magnet to the back of the tiles and arrange them on a magnetic wall in our classroom.  It makes for a beautiful wall display and adds a personalized component to my classroom design.






4. Partner Clocks   

Partner ClockPartner ClockI ask students to work in partnerships quite often in my classroom.  While they have assigned partners in Reading and Writing Workshop (based on reading level and other factors), there are certainly times when I want them to quickly find a partner with whom they can complete a task or do an assignment.  If I ask students to find a partner, feelings often end up getting hurt.  Some students are excluded by others, or they may complain about working with a particular student.  For this reason, students make "appointments" with their classmates for each hour on the clock.  I can then quickly say, "Work with your 10 o'clock partner for this activity.  This management tool saves a lot of time and hassle. Read more about my partner clock idea, and download a partner clock from Scholastic Printables.



5. Reaching Out to Parents

ParentParentDeveloping a positive relationship with my students' parents is incredibly important.  The school year runs much more smoothly when parents know that I care about their child and that I have their child's best interest in mind.  For this reason, I write parents at the beginning of the school year asking them to write a letter to me about their child telling me anything that may help me be the best teacher that I can be to them. I encourage parents to tell me about their child's personality, interests, talents, learning style, etc.  Not only does this letter help me get to know my students so much better, but it also sends a positive message to parents.  It tells them that I value their input and want to alter my teaching to best meet the needs of their child. You might also send them a simple parent questionnaire to help guide their responses.  


6. Read-Aloud Books for Launching Reading Workshop

You set the tone of Reading Workshop in your classroom during your launching unit. For this reason, it is  important to choose read-aloud books that both reinforce the behaviors you are teaching during your mini-lessons and promote a love of reading.

(Click on each book for more information about the story.)

Abe LincolnThe Wednesday Surprise Please Bury Me in the LibraryThe Bee TreeTomas and the Library LadyThe LibraryRichard Wright and the Library CardMore than Anything Else The Hard-Times JarRead for Me, MamaLibrary Lil The Library Dragon












 For more on Reading Workshops, read a detailed blog entry and watch a video showing how it works in my classroom.


7. Cool Tool for Creating Random Groups  

Group MakerGroup MakerAt the beginning of the year, I find it hard to form groups before I really know my students and how they work together. Instead of having them count off in numbers or drawing sticks, I found this neat online tool at a site called Super Teacher Tools that will randomly group my students for me.  It allows you to create a class list and then choose how many students you want in each group.  It automatically creates the groups with just a click of the mouse.  (In addition to Group Maker, this Web site also has cool online review games and management tools you can use with your students.)


Writing 8. Have Students Personalize Their Writer's Notebook

My students write each day in their Writer's Notebook during Writing Workshop.  They are given a blank composition book at the beginning of the year and I ask them, in class and with a letter to their parents, to bring things from home (photos, sticks, postcards, souvenirs, etc.) to decorate both the front and back of the notebook.  While this may just seem like a fun art project, it is so much more than that!  Allowing students to personalize their notebooks helps them truly take ownership of the writing that will soon cover the pages of their book.  The photos and other things they choose to put on their notebooks often give them ideas for new notebook entries as well.  I have parent volunteers cover the notebooks with contact paper when they are done decorating them. 


9. Creative Activities for the First Days of School

Get to knowGet to knowI am always looking for new ideas when it comes to planning for the first week of school. Some great resources I've found for getting to know students and welcoming them to the classroom include an article "Top 5 Ways to Welcome Students Back to School," this page of getting-to-know-you" activities, and these getting-to-know-you printables.




10. Using a Classroom Economy to Manage Behavior (and Teach Economics) in Your Classroom


Banker1 Teachers often ask what behavior management looks like in my classroom.  I use my classroom economy to teach economic concepts, but it also serves as my behavior management system.  It is so important to introduce the economy during the first days of school, so I am including a link to one of my favorite blog posts from last year.  In this post, you will find out how to set up an economy in your classroom and use it to effectively manage behavior in your classroom.  Creating class rules and determining class jobs are done right at the beginning of the school year, and they serve as the catalyst for this dynamic classroom economy. Read more about my classroom economy/behavior management system.




Check back next month for my October Top Ten List. It will include new resources for Reading Workshop, a video of my classroom makeover, ideas for celebrating Halloween in your classroom, and much more!




Comments (61)

Linda Sweat,

I am so glad that you are doing the sports theme in your classroom this year and that you were able to use some of my ideas! That was one of my favorite themes I've ever done. I am now recycling old themes (and trying to make them even better), so I am back to the Rockin' Room 13 theme this year. However, I am trying to take more of a "rock star" approach and update the theme from when I did it a few years ago. I will add pictures in my October Top Ten list post later this month as well as a sneak peek of our first class movie.

Thanks for posting your comments! I love hearing from teachers like you who are so excited to motivate students in fun (and educational) ways!



You asked if there were any good books that would help you plan lessons, units, etc. I was going to direct you to the page on my website that lists all of my favorite professional books, but it looks like you have already found that. To be honest with you, at this point in my career, I feel like I am creating most of my own lesson plans and units myself rather than using professional books like I did earlier in my career. When I am looking for a great idea for a specific lesson, however, I tend to do a Google search these days. I find that teachers have become so generous in sharing their ideas and posting their best lessons and units that I rely more on that than on professional books. Below is a link to a great website that inlcudes units for reading and writing workshop for all grade levels. I think you will find it very useful! http://curriculum.dpsk12.org/

I hope you have a wonderful school year!!


Hi, Beth. Thanks again for all the great ideas. Typing camp has become a staple in our classroom for the past three years as has movie making. For Back to School Night my kids are holding a Press Conference to ask and answer questions so I don't have to do most of the talking that night. As for the tiles, if you don't have a magnetic wall, my suggestion (and what I do) is just use a piece of white paper and hang them on the wall. It forms a kind of quilt, which looks great for Back to School. Thanks again. Stacy

I just want to thank you for the wonderful ideas that you have shared about your past classrooms. I have used many of your Sports theme ideas this year...even hanging the cardboard jerseys! I taught Force and Motion as the first unit in Science, and, therefore, the theme REALLY gave me plenty of Force and Motion 'lead ins' to get the kids right in the mood for Science. I can't wait to give movie-making a try!

Beth, I am a student teacher and I was wondering if you can suggest any good books that would help new teachers plan units, lessons or learning centers for various subjects (since new teachers must start from scratch!). I recently found your page with books for implementing Reading / Writing workshops. Are there any others that you pull ideas from? Please share! Thank you for your wonderful ideas!


Your question about my "magnetic wall" makes perfect sense! I am actually very lucky because, of the four walls in my classroom, two of them are steel (magnetic), one is all bulletin boards, and only one is the dreaded cinderblock. The steel walls are great because I just attach business card magnets to the back of everything I put on those walls.

If you do not have steel/magentic walls in your classroom, you could always use part of a dry erase board (if you have one on a wall in your classroom), or you could attach some sort of self-adhesive material to the back of each tile. I often use different self-adhesive materials from office supply stores to post things on the cinderblock walls in my classroom.

I hope one of my ideas works for you. The tile wall really does add a neat touch to a classroom!

Thanks for reading my blog and posting your comments!


Beth, This may seem like a silly question, but since I tell my students that "No question is a silly question", I'm going to go for it! I like the idea of using tiles to create a class mural; however I'm not sure that I understand how you have a magnetic wall. Is this something that was pre-existing in your classroom, or did you create it yourself? Please give me the scoop! An extra magnetic space would be wonderful considering that I have yet to find an adhesive that actually keeps my anchor charts on my walls for more than a week. Thanks! Welcome back!



Thanks for your comments! I'm thrilled to know that teachers are using the things I share and finding my ideas to be useful. Typing Camp and Movie Making are two of my favorite things I do during the school year!

Have a great school year! Hopefully you wil continue reading the blog and I will hear more from you througout the year!


Hi Beth, I am so impressed with everything you do and share. I have become such a better teacher because of you. I especially love the typing camp and movie making ideas! Thanks for all you do! Meaghan


My main discipline/behavior management is done through my classroom economy. If you check out #10 on my top ten list, you will find a link to more information about my classroom economy and how students earn credits and debits.

We try to make bucket filling a positive activity in our classroom, so it is not really related to our discipline plan. It is intended to be an intrinsically motivating activity where students focus on filling each other's buckets. We never take pom poms out of students buckets if they are not behaving. Instead, they would earn debits in our class economy.

Let me know if you have any more questions after you read my classroom economy post: http://blogs.scholastic.com/top_teaching/2010/01/class-economy.html

Thanks for posting! I hope to have more dialogue with you this school year!


Hi Beth! Do you have any kind of discipline plan besides bucket filling?

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