April 18

How to use ‘Study Boxes’ in the classroom

I love my study boxes! Well that’s what I call them, I’ve also seen them be referred to as carrels, partitions, dividers. I bought mine about 5 years ago from Kangaroo Educational Supplies. They are perfect for giving students a private distraction free space for learning. I can’t find any on the Kangaroo site but here is a link to some at classroomproducts.com. I also found them on Amazon – as privacy partitions. This site also has multi fold up ones for round desks!


  • They are great for testing situations, for students who may copy or get stressed that other students are looking at their work
  • Use them for students who are often distracted. In my room I can tell you you’re having a study box, or you can ask for a study box
  • Students who have sensory issues or are on the Autism Spectrum can benefit from having a study box around them if they are feeling overwhelmed. I have a student who likes to go under the table when he is overstimulated or anxious. This term I have managed to transition him into a studybox instead, which gives him that ‘small safe space’ that he craves.
  • If you don’t have a lot of these boxes, give one to every second child, and one opposite, then the child without has a wall on each side anyway. On a table of six if you gve out 3, all students have privacy from others
  • Its great when you need to quieten a noisy group! My rule is, if you have a study box, you aren’t talking to others! Sometimes the chatterboxes get a study box just so they and their buddies can have some peace and quiet in which to work! Oh and the teacher can get some peace and quiet too!







They have lasted quite well over the years. A few of my previous students had scribbled some questionable language on the inside covers, so this year for year 3 I covered the inside with contact, to give them a new life in 2017.









This year everyone wants one. I made some extras by taping two manila folders together. These aren’t as sturdy as the bought ones, but they are a simple temporary solution.

Here are some other solutions for desktop dividers:

April 16

Saved by Sensory Toys

This term I have literally been saved by sensory toys. I have called them a variety of things – sensory toys, sensory items, calming tools, fidget tools, de-stress tools, fidgeters… but I have not used them as much in the past as I have this term with my Year 3 class.

I knew this year I had a few students on the Autism Spectrum, some students with trauma backgrounds and some with sensory needs. I had my trusty box all ready to go. My neediest and most demanding student almost needs a constantly revolving rotation of items to help him focus, or stop fidgeting, or calm down, or wake up or keep on task. I had the “sensory toys” box out and in use by 10.30am on the first day of term.

Since then the box and its contents have been constantly out and about in 3J. I have added some more items and split the contents into two smaller boxes; items for fidgeting and items for stress relief. I spend a bit of time teaching and modelling the use of these items to my students. Other teachers, especially new and younger teachers have seen me using my sensory toys in the classroom and have quickly introduced them into their own teaching repertoire. I always caution them on ‘teaching’ the use of the items, otherwise they just become a distraction to the student, other students and you! More on how I use the sensory toys below.

So what’s in my kits?

KIT ONE is classic fidget toys, things that keep the fingers busy. Rubricks cubes, manipulative fold up cubes and key rings, slinkies, wooden hand massages and puzzles etc. Most of these have been purchased from Sue Larkey’s website  or  have been gifts.






These kits are great for fidgeters, keeping students busy during tedious situations and even early finishers who like a challenge. They are not so great at having in your student’s hands while teaching or learning, as most of them usually require two hands and to be looking at them.

KIT TWO is more sensory – stress relieving items for calming and comforting. Shells, marbles, pebbles, stress balls, squish balls, off cuts of possum fur (more on that later) and other random textural items.






I tend to give the items from Kit Two out more often, especially when my class get restless and unfocused. I keep an eye out at junk stores and dollar shops for small stretchy items and toys that can go in here. Anything that is nice to touch and hold can work.


Which leads me to the possum fur item. A lot of people (mainly adults) balk at the sight of a full possum pelt sitting on my chair. But my class LOVE IT. It is the number one hot property item for my students and it has so many uses. I also have some smaller, hand size pieces of possum fur in the sensory toys box. In New Zealand possums are an introduced species and are a threat to native flora and fauna. As a result possums are allowed to be hunted and culled. My cousin hunts possums and recycles their fur into a number of items. You can check out her unique store here.


She gifted me my own pelt last year. After sitting in my lounge room for a few months I took it to school. BINGO! 3J love it. It is incredibly soft and rubbing your hands down the fur is very calming, akin to petting a cat or dog. I have two students in particular who are prone to becoming very overstimulated, stressed and they can have big meltdowns. Both of them will curl up in the corner and stroke the possum fur.

Morbid? Possibly. Successful in reducing stress? Absolutely.

Having the possum fur on your lap while you work, read or listen is the highest honour in my classroom. It can be used a reward, a distraction, a comforting tool or a sensory toy. It has been so successful I am on the look out for more possum fur and other faux fur items, a sheepskin or bearskin rug perhaps?



This is crucial and worth your time at the beginning. I have strict rules for using a sensory toy and if someone is unable to use them correctly, they lose the privilege. Most of these rules apply when using the toys with the whole class, while on the floor or working on desks. Rules are different if someone is using them in a calm down / time out space individually.

  • When I give out a sensory toy the student MUST have it in one hand only. Most of them are nice to roll around, rub or squeeze so one hand is enough. This avoids the two hand hold that leads to the head drooping into the lap.
  • They must continue to work / listen while holding the sensory toy.
  • If listening, their eyes must be focused on me / the board. Once they start staring at their toy and zoning out, they lose it.

It is also important the way you distribute these toys to students. I make it a point not to give them only to my fidgety/naughty/autistic students. Anyone can have one. That way the class don’t just see it as something different that only ‘Johnny’ gets. By handing out maybe 5-8 at a time I can insure that ‘Johnny’ gets one (because he needs it), but it isn’t obvious. It can be a reward for best listeners, a way to refocus off task or daydreaming students, a goal to work towards, a connection back to the lesson. I have a few students who always get upset when they miss out (one who throws epic tantrums) so I usually give the sensory toys out, then ask the students who received them to look for another student who is focused who they can hand their sensory toy to after a 5 minute period. After 20 minutes or so every child has experienced a sensory toy and your lesson has occurred with hopefully everyone on task and fidget free.

There are so many ways to use sensory toys and each teacher is different. In the past I have kept some in the time out box, some in my special ‘chill out’ box or in the tubs on the desks. When I had an all boys class a few years ago I had a box of slinkies and stressballs on each table.

Along with the sensory toys, I also use a basket of stuffed animals, including our class mascot, Bosco. These are also a great success!


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.