Monday, September 26, 2016

Presidential Election Resources for the Classroom

This election cycle has thus far been quite interesting, hasn’t it? Thoughts as to how to approach the topic have been on my mind for months. As teachers, it’s our job to present an unbiased look at the candidates while focusing on the ins and outs of the election process. We aim to facilitate healthy discussion, when appropriate, and guide students in becoming responsible citizens capable of making their own informed decisions. I hope you find the resources in this post helpful in your own curriculum design as you navigate the exciting world of elections.

Scholastic Election 2016  

This website is packed with resources for elementary and middle school students. A cool interactive feature is the Road to the White House. As students scroll along the page, they follow the steps that presidential candidates take as they attempt to win the election. There are small bios and fun facts in Meet the Candidates and even a selection of video clips that are each about 2 ½ minutes long.


I’m so thankful that iCivics exists. My students love it! The site includes short lessons on the Electoral Process, Candidate Evaluation and Voting. There are even NEW additions specifically to address the 2016 Election, like candidate bios, debate guides, and an election night tracker. One of my students’ favorite parts of the site is the games section! Two games specifically reinforce concepts related to the election process: Cast Your Vote and Win the White House. My students would happily play Win the White House every day if I let them. Ha!

2016 Presidential Election Candidate Quiz    

There are several candidate match-up quizzes available online, but one of my favorites is the 2016 Presidential Election Candidate Quiz available through As students select their choices, there is a pop-up box that shows them how the candidates align to their views. Students can learn more about certain issues by clicking on the “More” buttons located beside many of the questions. I recommend this quiz be shared with older students. I also always recommend that teachers preview the questions on the site to make sure that the topics are suitable for your school community.

Interactive Notebooks

I love interactive notebooks. They’re engaging and keep students interested in the content due to the hands-on nature of INBs. I designed one for students in 5th – 8th grade that covers voting rights, the voting process, types of elections, the Electoral College, the Presidential campaign process and campaign finance. Each time it’s used, student notes are organized and can be referred back to often during our lessons on the election cycle. The kids love to get out the scissors and glue sticks and customize their notes. If you’re interested in learning more, it’s available on Teachers Pay Teachers right now. There’s even a digital version for teachers using Google Drive in their classroom. J

The Living Room Candidate   

Can’t get enough of those campaign commercials? While we might be tired of seeing candidates in our living rooms by the end of the season, the commercials offer a great learning experience for our students. The Living Room Candidate is a website that has archived commercials that date back to 1952 and recently began including ones from the current campaign cycle! I appreciate that there are so many options available for teaching students the process of evaluating presidential campaigns. If you don’t feel comfortable showing the ads from this year’s election, choose ones with similar messages or themes from past years to teach students the same concepts. The website also includes a selection of lessons geared towards teaching students about evaluating campaign ads.

Does Your Vote Count? By TedEd      

I enjoy finding short, relevant video clips to incorporate into lessons. The Electoral College is a concept that many students find difficult to grasp at first. I was excited to find a 5 minute video hosted by TedEd that is not only informational but visually appropriate and engaging for students. There’s even a little quiz that you can use to check student understanding during your lesson on the Electoral College.


Classroom Debate Toolkit by PBS            

Classroom debates are memorable and rewarding experiences. They encourage students to research and synthesize information while the teacher facilitates a safe atmosphere to debate topics with fact-based evidence and supporting arguments. Middle School and High School is the perfect time to introduce debates to your students. If you’ve never conducted a debate in your classroom, check out the Classroom Debate Toolkit by PBS. Once on the site you can select a PDF document. It's a step-by-step guide to creating and hosting a debate in your classroom. It’s a student-driven experience facilitated by the teacher and challenges students to create logical arguments to support their point of view. The PDF even has a list of ideas for your classroom. While many of the ideas are geared towards older students, there were several debate topics that would be appropriate in a secondary classroom.

 What resources do you use to teach about the Presidential election? I'd love to hear about them so share in the comments!
~ The Teacher's Prep

Friday, July 29, 2016

THREE Back to School Giveaways!

You guys, I am SO EXCITED for this post because I get to share THREE giveaways with you!! I know, THREE! There's a gift card, resource prize packs and a grand prize! It's like Christmas in July, people.

Alright, enough extraneous capitalization. Let's get down to business!

The first giveaway is for a $10 Gift Card to TpT! The winner will be emailed a gift code they can enter in the "Redeem a Gift Card" box when they check out with their order on TpT. You can buy from your favorite teachers or put it towards that bundle you've had your eye on. To enter, all you have to do is complete the Rafflecopter entry below. The giveaway opens on July 30 at midnight (12:00 a.m. EST). You can complete as many entry options as you want and the giveaway will end at 12:00 am EST (midnight) on August 2nd. I'll contact the winner, send the gift code and the shopping can begin!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The second giveaway is being hosted by the incredible Julie Faulkner and Lauralee on her blog, Language Arts Classroom. It's filled with resources for secondary teachers like you! There are over $400.00 worth of resources being given away on her blog from August 1-5. All you have to do is hop on over to the post between those dates and enter into the category that you teach. I'm contributing something to the Secondary Social Studies Prize Pack...and let's just say it'll be an exciting addition to your creative project collection!

There's a little something for everybody in the giveaway and lots of sellers have contributed some fun resources! There are a variety of categories: Secondary Social Studies, Middle School Science, High School Science, Middle School Math, High School Math, Middle School English and High School English.

Oh yes, the GRAND PRIZE. Teachers Pay Teachers has generously provided a TpT swag bag filled with all sorts of goodies and gift cards to get someone's school year started off right. Visit the Language Arts Classroom between August 1-5 to enter the giveaway!

Have a wonderful Back to School season!

~The Teacher's Prep

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Middle School Teacher's Guide to the First Week of School

The pencils are sharpened, your classroom is clean and the bell rings…gulp…here they come! My feelings on the first week of school are conflicted. On one hand, it’s one of the most important weeks. Explaining and practicing the class procedures and expectations sets the tone for the rest of the school year. Success is vital. On the other hand, I’m so excited to start teaching my historical content that waiting until all the expectations are explained requires a lot of patience! Every teacher has their own plan of action for that pivotal time.
Here are 5 things I can’t live without during the first week of school:
One: An Icebreaker. I aim to try and make kids feel comfortable in my classroom on day one. One of my favorite little activities is Fact or Fiction. Each student receives a small slip of paper and they’re instructed to write one fact and two fictions. Then each person (including myself!) introduces themselves and we all try to guess which statement is the fact! It’s a great way to quickly learn about each other.
Two: Classroom Information and Expectations. This is every teacher’s staple, I know, but it had to go on the list because it’s a must-have! When you’re making your own, spell everything out – from the obvious grading procedures and late work policy to how to pass back papers and when to sharpen pencils and go to the bathroom. Trust me, leave no stone unturned. Your classroom will function much better if you set the tone from day one. (Oh, and don’t forget a seating chart!)
Three: Fun and Games. On the second day of school, I love to start class with a little game. It’s a great way for the kids to start practicing our classroom procedures and expectations while getting familiar with their teacher and classmates. Here are some of my favorite games that I use during the first week of school: (P.S. Some of these activities can be found in my Back to School Activities resources! Click the grade level you’re teaching to check them out: Sixth, Seventh, Eighth)
InstaFriend: This activity gets students moving around the room and interviewing fellow classmates! Their InstaFriend paper has a series of descriptions and characteristics. When they find a student who matches the description, they write their name in the box. Each name can only be used once!
Right or Wrong: I love skits. LOVE THEM. I like to introduce students to the idea of skits during the first week by allowing them to create their own based on our class expectations. I first divide students into small groups of 2-3. Each group then randomly receives one of our class procedures or expectations. As a group, they have to work together to create two mini skits – one showing the RIGHT way to follow the expectation, the other showing the WRONG way. They get to be silly and I get to reinforce my class expectations. After each skit I happily point out all the positive behaviors as well as each time a class policy was violated. It’s a light-hearted way to grab their attention and create a positive atmosphere all while practicing the laws of the land.
Classmate Bingo: I love to play this game at the end of the first week. I give each student a blank bingo board with a large selection of personal characteristics, hobbies, etc. at the bottom. The students choose 16 off the list and create their customized board. Then, I randomly select characteristics from the list. If a student has that characteristic on their board, they have to write down a student’s name that matches the characteristic – but no cheating! They have to use what they’ve learned about others during their first week of school to try and win the game.
Four: A Pre Test. After a few days of class information and fun, it’s time to start getting down to business. Each year, I make a short pre-test on the information they’ll learn about that year. It gives me a chance to see what the kids already know and gives them a feel for what subject matter they’ll be learning about in the coming weeks. FYI: Your pre-test probably won’t take the whole class period. Make sure to have plans for other activities, too, on the day you give your pre-test!
Five: A Writing Activity. True fact: when I tell kids they’re going to do a writing activity, they groan every time. It’s a signal that the “real work” is about to begin. Luckily, they’re always relieved when I assure them that this activity will require very little research because it’s about a subject they’re experts in – themselves! I have a few different activities to choose from each year. Here are some suggestions:
Student Survey: What are your strengths? Weaknesses? What do you hope to learn in this class? These are just some of the questions I ask students in the survey. The more I know about my students, the better I can help them achieve success in my class.
Write Away: A staple of many: write a letter to a future you! I ask students to write goals for the year, dreams they wish to see realized, and questions they want to ask their “End of the Year” self. I tuck these letters away and revisit them during the last week of school.
I’m Ready: Like every middle school history class, we do a lot of writing and students always have to back up their reasons, statements, etc. with evidence to support their claim. In this writing activity, students have to identify which class rule or expectation they believe is most important and provide evidence to support their claim. This activity both reinforces my classroom policies and secretly gives me a preview of their writing proficiency.
Have I left anything out? If you have any fun plans for the first week of school, share them in the comments. I’m always looking for new ideas for my classroom!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

5 Ways to Ace the Teacher Interview

Whether you’re fresh out of college, making a career change or finding yourself in need of a new position in the school system, the interview is a daunting hurdle faced by everyone.  Hearing the words, “You’re hired!” was the sweetest sound my new-teacher ears had ever heard.  Happy dancing ensued and I was more than ready for the wonderful challenge of being an educator.

Right now, though, you may be where I was when the interview process had just begun…scared, nervous, excited…and frantically searching the internet for practice questions and tips for finding success in those school interviews.  Since becoming a new teacher not too long ago, I’ve had the opportunity to sit on the other side of the table and be a part of interviewing committees. Here’s a secret: the process is just as challenging on the part of the interviewers, too! Who knew?! I seriously thought it would be a breeze to interview candidates…after all, I wasn’t in the hot seat anymore! As they say, there is always more to learn and I’m excited to share some insight in hopes that it helps YOU ace your teacher interview.
I know I’m starting with a basic tip, but you’d be surprised at how many candidates show up in wrinkled or ill-fitting clothes! When you walk into the interview room that first impression is vital. You don’t have to spend a ton of money, but arrive in a smart suit or skirt with a classic blouse or ironed and well-fitted Oxford shirt. (Hint: the buttons shouldn’t pull across your stomach or chest to reveal skin or an undershirt! And yes, that actually happened.)  As an interviewer, when I see someone who has clearly taken time to prepare themselves for a good first impression….well…I’m impressed! (See? It works!)
My favorite places to shop for business attire are Ann Taylor, Macy's, Dillard's and New York and Company. Head for the sales racks first to see if you can snag a deal. I was able to luck into great sales when I visited these stores before my interviews.
Also, make sure your hair is brushed, any makeup appears natural, and stick to simple jewelry. Save the statement necklaces for later!
A small portfolio with samples of a lesson or two that represent your teaching style will help interviewers get a better idea of your potential. If you’re brand new to teaching and don’t have any lessons prepared, bring samples of lessons that excite you and that you would like to use in your own classroom! The purpose of the portfolio is to demonstrate that you are ready to bring new or innovative ideas to the school and that you are prepared to work hard and go the extra mile. Very few people actually bring a portfolio to interviews, which makes it all the more impressive when a well-constructed one appears on the table. Oh, and bring extra resumes, too. Everyone at the table should have one in front of them during the interview.
Just a side note: don't forget to follow up after the interview with a personal email or handwritten card. Even if you don't get the job, you'll leave a lasting and positive impression.

Before you arrive at an interview, spend time thoroughly researching the school and its programs. When answering questions, weave details about the school into your responses to demonstrate that you understand the needs, challenges or values that are relevant to that particular school. Not only will this (once again) demonstrate your level of preparedness, but it will also ensure that you understand the school culture. If you’re researching the school and find that it may not be the best fit for you, consider looking elsewhere for a teaching position. After all, the interview is as much about YOU finding the perfect fit for your career as it is for the interviewers to find the perfect fit for their students and colleagues.
Talk to teacher friends and scour the internet for interview-type questions. Read, review, and practice answering as many as you need to until you feel comfortable fielding a variety of questions – from the mundane to the subject or grade-level specific. You definitely don’t want your answers to seem canned or overly rehearsed, but feeling confident in your ability to answer a multitude of queries will shine through during your interview.

Try a few of these:

1.       When did you decide that you wanted to be a teacher?

2.       Take us through a typical lesson.

3.       If I walked into your classroom, what would I see?

4.       Describe your plan to communicate with parents.

5.       How would you differentiate instruction?

6.       What role would assessments play in your classroom? Examples?

7.       What is your behavior management strategy?

8.       Why would you be a good fit at our school?

Finally, and most importantly, be yourself. Finding that perfect fit can be a long process, but it’s vital to find a situation where your personality and teaching style is welcomed and embraced by the school you’ll call home.  Be honest on your resume and when answering questions.  The truth always comes out, and it’s better to discover that you’re not a perfect fit for a school before you’re hired than after you’ve started teaching.  Losing a job due to dishonesty is not a great way to start your career.  Above all, remain confident that you are a great teacher and that it’s only a matter of time before you find the place and people that will help you grow into an amazing educator who will one day turn and offer a helping hand and a warm smile to others in search of their own teaching dream job.

-The Teacher's Prep

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Digital Interactive Notebooks in the Social Studies Classroom

The idea of using Google Drive in the classroom is an exciting and daunting adventure. One minute you’re printing worksheets and activities. The next, you’re faced with a room full of tablets or laptops, the world at your fingertips and no idea how to get started. Gulp. The good news is you’re not alone. I hope this post sparks your creativity and ignites your passion for using technology in the classroom!

For the purposes of this post, I’m assuming you already have access to the right technology and that your students have access to Google accounts sanctioned and established by your district. If not, look HERE for more information on setting up your Google-ready classroom or search for Google Classroom on the internet!

What is a Digital Interactive Notebook?

Digital interactive notebooks (Digital INBs) are virtual notes pages that students use to organize their class notes. Instead of using paper, glue, scissors and other supplies, all you need is access to a computer, the internet, and the right software. You can use Google Drive – which is FREE! Using Google Slides, students can easily navigate between topics and pages. Everything is always organized, neat, and accessible.
Why should I use Digital INBs?
Interactive notebooks are a great way for students to organize their notes in an engaging format. Students love to navigate between the pages, insert textboxes and use the computers to take their notes. Granted, it’s still notetaking, but in a new and novel format! Oh, and you’ll LOVE that they students never lose their work. It’s never stuffed at the bottom of a backpack or flittering away in the wind. It’s all safely stored online where they can always find it. FINALLY! J
What do digital INBs look like?
Digital INBs have a wide range of styles and various graphic organizers. I love designing digital notebooks with lots of color, clip art, photographs and of course plenty of room for student notes. Check out the pictures below for a better idea of the format and design of some digital INBs I created for Ancient History!


What if my students don’t have technology or internet at home?
Every school and district is different and you know your students best. If you’re worried about tech and internet access at home, I propose using the computers and Google Drive at school, then printing out a student’s notes so that they have access to it at home. They still get to use the technology in school with the rest of their peers but get to take a hard-copy home with them at the end of the day or unit. It’s the best of both worlds for students who need that accommodation in your own classroom.
Where can I find digital INBs and how can I make my own?
I love making digital interactive notebooks. In fact, I’m uploading more and more to my Teachers Pay Teachers shop whenever I can find a spare moment. If you’re interested in purchasing some ready-made digital INBs, I recommend checking out The Teacher’s Prep (that's me! J), Students of History, and more! For a few bucks, a complete digital INB is at your fingertips for use in your own classroom!
If you want to make your own, I highly recommend Danielle Knight’s Google Drive Toolkit. I owe everything I learned about Google Drive to her amazing resource. You may be able to search for help online, but she’s organized everything (with pictures) in an easy-to-use file. Seriously amazing.
If you’re interested in looking at a notebook before taking the plunge, check out my FREE Exploring Social Studies Digital Interactive Notebook for Google Drive. Play around with it, try it in your classroom, and gauge the activity in your own classroom. Try making history come alive in a whole new way!

-The Teacher's Prep