February 26

The New Year Struggle

The start of a new year is an exciting time for teachers! So many things you want to do with your new class, and get things ‘just right’.

This is the year I will get the kids to diligently maintain a reading journal….

I will fix that storage shelf once and for all…

My students this year will be awesome at looking after their book covers…

We tell ourselves this all through the summer holidays and as the term begins. We are so optimistic and so diligent in teaching our new pupils ‘the way’ of doing things, everything from setting up their maths book pages to where to store their books and equipment.


But usually by the third or fourth week in, THE STRUGGLE begins.

Oh no!  I’ve already forgotten to remind them to do that thing that I promised I’d be so diligent about…. and now things look bad!

Darn it! This system isn’t working? Why did  I ever thing this would work?

How is it week 4 and I haven’t done a (insert important component) lesson yet!

My god, I haven’t put up those labels/posters/display yet, the term is half way over! I promised I’d be so organised…

Why is everything taking so long to do? Why haven’t they ‘got this’ yet?


I know that I am not alone in thinking these thoughts and living this struggle every day. Heck I know this struggle can last all term, all year!

This year I am working with two temporary teachers experiencing their own class for the whole year for the first or second time. They have already come to me worried about ‘The Struggle’. How do I do it all?!     I haven’t had time for…?!       My kids just aren’t …!?

WELCOME! I told them. You are now a real teacher. I reassured them that this was normal, and even for people who have taught for 5, 15 or 35 years, we all face the struggle, it’s a regular part of the job these days. Especially these days!

So my advice was –

You will never have EVERYTHING done. Relax and accept that. 

There will always be something you really want to do but it has to wait for a blue moon rainy night when there is nothing on Netflix (so, like never).

One KLA /Subject component every term will feel like you are doing a great job, you are smashing the teaching of it! And another area will be really crap and you never feel like you deliver it well. It is almost impossible to have every area fully planned, prepared, on track and bringing amazing results every lesson. Accept this and do the best you can.

Don’t worry about getting it all done. Do less, better. Take time out to look after yourself or you will end up  burnt out, and no good for anyone!

Ask others for advice, even for things that seem mundane. Always be on the lookout for an idea that can make your everyday life easier. Surf the net, read blogs, listen to podcasts, hunt pinterest and sneak peek into other teachers’ rooms for ideas. Get specific advice from the experts – like the famous 40 hour teacher work week club.

And sometimes, you just have to roll with a situation, throw an idea/lesson out the window, regroup and restart!

February 26

The Eyes Have It

As part of my art unit on ‘solids, liquids and gases’ we were creating works using movement, air, water etc. This was our ‘gases’ artwork. Now blowing ink through a straw is nothing new, and not really a Year 5/6 activity, so the challenge was to create the illusion of eye lashes. We were inspired by an artist we found on Deviant Art, PixieCold. It was amazing for the students to find an artist that exists today and produces work in current times. They even wanted to message the artist and ask questions about her technique. You can’t do that with Van Gogh!

Once finished, these artworks looked surreal up on our wall. Many people would come in and comment on them. My class even wanted to send the link to our blog post about them to the German artist who inspired us!


March 27

O.P.A.L.S Narrative Planning

Many teachers are familiar with the O.R.E.O planning model to assist students to write persuasive texts, where O.R.E.O stands for Opinion, Reason, Example, Opinion.

I wanted to come up with something just as simple for the planning of writing a Narrative, utilising an orientation, complication and resolution, with students focusing on the language choices they make as well.

And  thus  O. P. A. L. S  was  born.

Originally I had and trialled with my class:

O – Opening (How will you start the story)

P – Problem (What complication/s will arise)

A – Action (What actions will follow the problem)

L – Language (What language choices will you use)


But after some consideration I added:

S – Solution (How will you resolve the problem)


Each letter follows the sequence of a narrative except for the L.

I added the Language section to get students to think about the types of devices they would include. Vocabulary, adjectives, similes, etc, the Language section is a place to record them as they come into your head when planning a narrative.

The reason I didn’t call the O ‘Orientation’ was to get the students to think about their very first line, how will you OPEN your story. This follows on lessons we have done on ‘hooking’ your reader in from the very beginning. You will see that the ‘Opening’ poster mentions orientation as well.

I made some posters for each section. To purchase the entire set of posters as a PDf visit my teachers pay teachers store.



This was accompanied by some planning sheets with sections for each part of the O.P.A.L.S process. I modelled this approach with my class by simply writing O – P – A – L – S underneath each other down a blank page, and wrote bullet points next to each part.

We had been reading and writing about ‘Adventures on the High Seas’ and I showed my year 5 and 6 class two fantasy images, one of a mermaid and one of a pirate ship. They had to use both or one of the images to plan and write a narrative using O.P.A.L.S (at this stage though, we only used O.P.A.L). Click here to download a free copy of the planning document used below.

Here are some samples of their planning:




The following week we used our planning to write a narrative. The results were really good, with many using the O.P.A.L sheet effectively.

Here is a slideshow of some of the best narratives.

January 11

Wanted… new reading corner cushions

Time for an upgrade for my reading corner/class library. I need some new cushions, chairs, beanbags etc, maybe to fit in with my jungle theme.

Here’s some inspiration:



The Library Store a79208931602e0779944a32bf11f16b4

These beanbags look great, but out of my budget at $133 each!  The map cushions look great as a set, found this on pinterest and the link no longer exists so no idea where to get them from or how much.



Love these animal cushions! Only 55 pounds (from the UK) for 10! I could almost justify buying them and having the send to Australia… depends on the postage. I used to have some of these animal fold up cushions, but they don’t last long in the classroom before you have to throw them out. Maybe time for some new ones?


There are other uses for the cushions/beanbags etc besides just for reading. I have some little stool/ottoman shapes that selected students can sit on when the rest of the class is on the floor, either to keep fidgety students more focused, to alleviate some of the crowding that goes on when you try to have up to 32 students on the ground, as a reward, to keep certain students away from each other, so shorter kids can see over the others’ heads. One of my ottoman’s got broken (well 2 out of 3 actually) last year while I was on leave – always happens then doesn’t it? So I need to look out for mini stools/ottomans as well as replacements.

You are also limited by the classroom size and space as to how many and what type of cushions, chairs etc you can accommodate. I love the idea of director chairs, fold up chairs and couches, but could never fit them in the classrooms we have at our school!

I have grand visions of palm trees and canopies for my jungle theme, like the classroom below, but we’ll see what we can fit, maybe just start with 4 cushion and my newly created jungle signs, see my teacherspayteachers store!

reading hut









January 7

A New Year

A fresh start! I think this is something all teachers love, the start of a new school year with a new class, sometimes even a new school and/or a new room!

Setting up things, I always have that “this year I will…’ voice in my head with everything from managing student behaviour to how I distribute the pens.

The summer break is the perfect time for teachers to recharge and consider new ideas for the new class, which in Australia arrives January 28th. A lot of looking at ideas on Pinterest too I think!

Some ideas I’m musing over:

A classroom decorating theme. Some of my posters and labels have been in use for over 10 years, so it’s time for an upgrade! Decided on a jungle / rainforest theme, which will incorporate quite nicely our class mascot Bosco the Proboscis monkey.

Managing the borrowing of classroom equipment. I spend a small fortune on pens, pencils and whiteboard markers (among other things) for students to use who constantly bring no equipment. It seems to vanish within a fortnight! I don’t want a system that will take forever to sort out or manage by me. I think the best option I have come up with is the popstick borrowing system. Each student gets 6 posticks with their names written on the end. Every time they borrow a ruler, pen, eraser, etc they have to put one of their popsticks in the container UNTIL the item is returned. Once returned, they remove their popstick. Students can keep their popsticks in their pencil cases or tote trays. Some will never use them, but have the option, some will use ALL 6 AT THE SAME TIME. This way I can track who hasn’t returned their items as their popstick will still be in the container.

I may even introduce some sort of consequence for those who consistently don’t return items (and with the popsticks I can tract WHO!). Maybe a ban from borrowing? Or lunchtime sharpening duty… We’ll see how successful it is!

New student packs! I saw this idea on the relief teaching ideas facebook page, its a step up from what I usually do. In my first ever year of teaching I got EIGHT new students. That taught me a lesson! From then on I always prepare more book covers (painted, contact, wrapping paper) just incase. Any title pages or colouring sheets always got copied 5 times extra and kept in one place in the classroom for those new students. Having it all in a plastic sleeve is a great idea.

new student

Managing work collection. I saw this idea on Pinterest (no surprises) originally from buzzfeed – a very simple basket idea to track who has and hasn’t handed in work. The trick will be emptying it regularly for reuse, or I may need several baskets!


work basket

There are other things I am considering (as I peruse Pinterest) but these are the ones I’m locking in for now.

What are your back to school new ideas for 2015?

April 13

Promoting Independent Reading

Every day my students need to read independently (I call it ‘Indepedendent Reading’ also referred to  DEAR time or USSR time). They have to read a chapter book of their choosing. My novels are broken into 3 levels, and at the beginning of the year I tell them which level of fiction matches the various PM reading levels.

We discuss ‘real readers’ v. ‘fake readers‘ and I have a chart that goes with this discussion. I provide a bookmark for each student and allow them to keep the chapter book they are reading in a tub on their desk, as reading a novel is often a task for early finishers.

I have a lot of other books on the bookshelf besides chapter books, but I find some students will always choose joke books, picture books, drawing books or non fiction texts. I understand that they love those sorts of books, but I want to ensure they are reading a range of texts at their instructional level, and can maintain the reading of a long text over a number of days or weeks.

But if I make them only read chapter books, when will all those other books get read?

There were two things I did to address this issue. I tell them they have to read a ‘chapter book’, not necessarily a novel. That way the non fiction fans can read the ‘Horrible Histories and Horrible Science’ books – still in a chapter book form. Also, each week one reading group gets to have ‘free choice reading’ – whereas for the whole week they can choose any book they want and also get to read on the cushions and wear the genre glasses. it was too hard changing groups each day for free choice reading, so rotating through the groups each week is less disruptive.

I had a few parents comment at the Parent Teacher Interviews that they have noticed their child has increased their level of interest in reading this year, so all the things I’m implementing must be working!

March 14

Tips for Writing Narratives

After my initial  assessment of students’ narratives at the beginning of the year, I saw way too much of the common things students do that holds back their writing.

Over use of ‘and then’ ,

‘sentences that go on for 4 lines and don’t have breaks and you can’t get a breath or know when to stop because there is no full stop and it is just 5 lines that go on and on’

Overuse of ‘The End’

Dialogue that takes up the whole page with no reference to who is speaking.

Eek! Every year. So I made some ‘tips poster’s to use as we developed our story writing skills. There are  8 posters in total, with a butterfly theme.

They are available in my TeachersPayTeachers store!

TIPS FOR NARRATIVE WRITING - TeachersPayTeachers.com     TIPS FOR NARRATIVE WRITING - TeachersPayTeachers.com

February 19

My Classroom 2014

Here are some photos showing how I have set up my room for 2014!



I’ve had big cats and big dogs, so this year I continued my animal theme and went with rare and strange birds for my table groups. This is the second year I have used cups with paddlepop stick points. Saves having to use board space and means I never have to go looking for a whiteboard marker just to give out some points. 



Many teachers at my school use a peg system for Behaviour Management. I used one for years, a ‘behaviour train’, but haven’t been using one for the past few years. My previous peg systems were only negative, so this year I made one with 2 positive options too, so its a reward and consequence system all in one.

In keeping with the bird theme I made this bird puns for each level. I love my first warning “how hawkward!”.



Each day in morning routine we have a word of the day. Then the word is relocated to our Word Wall. I also a  quote of the month. This is a freebie in my TpT store.



I bought this ottoman from Officeworks for $39.00. Its great and everyone comments on it! Inside it is full of our wet weather games. Each morning 2 people sit on it during morning routine. I tend to sit here a lot when I’m reading, as it’s right in front of our class library. 



Here is half of my bookshelf. So many books! Its a Tetris game trying to fit all the boxes in the shelves. I have been using a coloured dot system for years to help sort the books.



More of the bookshelf (there’s even more that you can’t see!) All students need to have a chapter book (from one of the three levels of junior fiction) in the tub on their desk at all times.



My genre posters with glasses. One group a week gets to wear the glasses that match the genre that they are reading. These posters are available through my TpT store



Thinking Hats. I need to find ways to include these more in my teaching. 



Reward charts and Job charts. Typical classroom organisation stuff. 



Some cute Owl themed months of the year that double as birthdays. I bought this from TpT (actually I think it was a freebie!)



Our word wall. Each letter has a different coloured square. 



Half of the class set of tote trays. Coloured backgrounds make the names stand out, especially as this year I went from black writing to white.



Our reading group boxes. Each group is assigned a colour. The leader follows the responsibilities on the front. In the boxes are their reading folders with exercise books, bookmarks, post it notes. In the tub I put the clipboard for that day’s activity.


I have some puzzle fans this year, so I got out the 3 year old perpetual puzzle of Chateau Chambord in France. Maybe this year we will finish it? 




Our table tubs, one for books and journals, one for novels and bookmarks. 




Elton and Betty, two of our computers. Giving them names helps with allocating students and when they report back to me any tech issues ‘Betty isn’t loading’ etc…



The reading corner with ottomans and cushions!



Looking up the back of the room to the sink, my desk and storage areas. 

October 26


So we all have Interactive White Boards now (IWBs) but at my school we are all using PWBs – Personal White Boards that is. Small whiteboards are part of many sessions, especially English and Mathematics. You can buy them in bulk from educational suppliers, or cheaply at dollar shops and department stores like Kmart.

My students, even though they are 11-12 year olds love using them, they are more keen to write on these than in their books (a pro and a con!). A quick glance around the room at what is on the whiteboards is a great assessment tool, and errors can be fixed easily without wrecking a page or paragraph in a book.

The cons are the constant buying of whiteboard pens, and of course training the students not to draw on them at the wrong time.

August 22


There are so many sites out there for teachers now, where you can download and upload everything and anything you’ll ever need as a teacher, from lesson plans, to posters, displays, games, worksheets, presentations and things to help with management and behaviour.

I have some favourites that I’ve used over the years, including enchanted learning, teach this, Sparklebox, TES Australia  and of course Teachers Pay Teachers. Some have account fees and membership deals, some have free membership or free limited membership, some you earn points to allow you to download.

A favourite at the moment is education.com (such a great domain name to snap up!)

The free membership account lets you download 10 single resources a month (not sets or booklets), which is a great way to trial the website out before signing up for a year or monthly membership with more features.

I really like that you can see a preview before you download the resource you want. Education.com has well-designed and interesting looking pages (nothing worse than downloading a document that you haven’t been allowed to preview only to find it is in size 10 Times New Roman font)

I’m a fan  (and have reached my 10 limits this month already!).

education 2 education


What are your favourite resource sites for teachers?