Spring Teacher Proactive Prep: Top 3

Spring makes me think of vacations, flowers, and lazy days outdoors with family. Like the students, it is beginning to get harder to stay focused at work and Spring Fever has taken hold! But we cannot allow our inner sloth to take over… not yet at least! 🙂 This is the best time to start thinking about next school year and begin to work towards meeting those goals.

Wait? Next year already? Yes!

The biggest misconception I had as a new teacher was thinking that I would have plenty time to establish my classroom perfectly in the 5 days before the students arrived. With the many interruptions and wasted time thinking about what I wanted to do, I was always scrambling around at the last minute before Sneak-A-Peek on the last day of pre-planning.

Your administrators will probably have a set agenda for the week prior to the first day of school. Good administrators will be empathetic towards giving you more time in your classroom, but be prepared to have your remaining hours spent attending district, building, and team meetings. Even though there will not be as much time as you may have hoped for (is there ever enough?) I want you to start off the year relaxed, happy, and feeling accomplished! Practical TipDo you already use Pinterest to organize your ideas and inspiration? Go ahead and start use it intentionally for your classroom planning as well! Throughout this post, I want to encourage you to begin documenting your thinking right on your Pinterest boards.

Simply Genius TAsk

Your first task is to create a board for all of your ideas by topic (see below) and begin to pin your ideas onto a board for each of the topics we are mentioning today.

Notice how I used the word Teaching: as the beginning of my labels. Everything on that board relates to the main topic in some way. I used to have only a teaching board and trying to find what I needed was taking too much time! Labeling the boards in this way helped me find what I needed quickly, especially if you have already have many boards like I do! 🙂

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Head on over to Pinterest and look for daurian_hogan (Simply Genius) and daurianhogan to see what seed ideas I have for you! If you do not already have a Pinterest account, click here.

Classroom Layout & Theme

Nothing beats getting into your classroom and seeing your new space and the size of your furniture in real life. But until then, let’s begin by considering the physical layout of the classroom you would want to have.

Every classroom will be different in size and layout and comes with different furniture. Most classrooms have the following items: teacher desk, 1-2 bookshelves, 24 desks, 1-3 desktop computers, and a large area rug. How will you organize it all?

Consider this


Teaching Style

Grouping Preferences

Available Furniture


Student Age & Readiness

Future Post Tease: I will be sharing more about how & why I organize my classroom in the way that I do. I hope to see you there! (Coming in Summer 2017)

Another idea that is quite fun to consider is your classroom theme! Themes are uniquely us and can be based on any number of things. The sky is the limit, be creative and create an environment that you and your learners will want to come to everyday.

As a new teacher, your budget will probably be tight (mine was…lol), so start thinking about how you can make your classroom a dream come true without breaking the bank! By searching for classroom design ideas on Pinterest, you can begin to catalog the ideas that stand out to you and start collecting and searching for those items now and through the Summer months.

Practical Tip

  • Start SMALL. Remember that the teacher next door and the teachers on Pinterest have had a lot of time (even years!!) to prepare and collect the perfect materials. Be realistic with the time and resources you have and know that every year you teach, you will begin to collect and add to your theme- assuming you are not like me and change your mind frequently! 🙂
  • Start looking for bargains at your favorite stores, yard sales, Goodwill, and thrift stores. Re-purposing some of the decorative items you find can save money!
  • Use fabric to cover walls instead of using butcher paper. I used multiple sets of twin and full size sheets to cover walls and bulletin boards in my room. They are washable and fade-resistant.
  • Choosing a color theme can leave room for creativity and allow you to play with accent colors. My color theme for the past two years has been a black background with bright chevron borders. I use the colors from the borders in the materials throughout the classroom. Since my color theme will probably be the same again next year, this part of getting ready is already done! Yes!
  • Kristen B. over at Ladybug Teacher Files uses color in everything she does! I am always inspired when I view her blog! I know you will be as well!

Lesson Planning Templates

Lesson plans are a funny thing. We love to hate them. We have to have them. They range from the most detailed to very general. It truly is up to you how you want to organize your plans.

I currently use a free, on-line lesson planning tool at Common Curriculum (I genuinely use this site and do not receive any compensation from your use of the link).  Common Curriculum allows you to create your own templates based on your needs and teaching position. This is what a typical week looks like in the week long view.

lesson plan snap


You can print your plans, download them for future reference, and collaborate with colleagues. I cannot say enough about this program!

I have created templates within Microsoft Word as well. It all comes down to what your administration wants to see, what you want to include, and your style and preference.


I will share more about lesson planning in a future post. For now decide how you want to record all of those amazing plans! There is no right or wrong way to do them unless you aren’t doing them at all!

Ask teachers on your team and in your college classes for ideas and samples, search     online for examples, and begin to either create your own version tailored specifically to you or find a program that you love.

“Sub Tub” Creation 

We all love the work we do each day for kids, but the reality is that life likes to throw us that infamous curve ball when we least expect it. Whether it is a health-related sickness or family emergency, having plans and activities ready for your sub makes being out of the classroom a little easier. Click the link above to learn about how I did it in ONE day!

Pinterest has many ideas available for you to begin your search! Check the Simply Genius boards for more inspiration! Practical Tip

  • Work with a teammate to create your Sub Tub! When a group of teachers come together to pool their resources, the entire process is streamlined and can be completed in a relatively short amount of time!
  • Any procedures and routines that are established in your classroom SHOULD absolutely be inside the substitute plans. I have never been a substitute, but I am a mom to three children. Whenever I leave vague directions for the baby-sitter, I always end up disappointed and a BIG mess is typically left to be cleaned up later. The same thinking is true with teaching- leaving specific and detailed instructions about how your classroom runs allows the guest teacher to create the same environment for your students as you would. Upon your return, your kids are more calm and they have been able to complete the work you have left for them.

All three of these prepping activities will potentially require you to make many decisions and will take some time to get just right. The good news is that we have plenty of time between now  and the first day of school to complete all of this thinking in advance of summer and the back to school season!

I am proud of you for beginning your journey with me as we prepare for a successful year of teaching! Feel free to leave positive comments and resources below!

Happy Prepping & Pinning!




How To Turn Your Scrap Box Uses From Blah Into Fantastic

When you look around at the items in your house or classroom what do you see? Do you see only trash or unlimited potential?

From your bottle caps, cardboard rolls, foil, tape, paper clips and note cards to the pantry staples of spaghetti, marshmallows, and raisins – you actually have everything you need to successfully teach creativity in the classroom and engage your students!

What if I said you could provide engaging activities for your students without spending a dime or needing more than 20 minutes?

Simply Genius TAsk

Creating a scrap box is easy to do and maintain. That’s why it’s simply genius! A scrap box is exactly that- a box of intentionally collected scrap items that will be re-purposed by your students in various activities throughout the year.

My scrap box was made from one of the cardboard boxes lying around in the hallway that would hold reams of copy paper. I created a quick (and simple) sign on the box labeled, “Scrap Box”. I discussed the purpose of this box with my students and shared my excitement in how the collection of materials will help us learn how to become creative thinkers.

Each week, I would send out a list to parents of items that I wanted them to bring in if they had them available. For example, one week I might ask for 2 Liter Soda Bottles, bottle caps (all sizes) and cardboard tubes. As students brought them in, we place the materials into the scrap box. I would change up items asked for every week to keep a variety of items coming in. Since I work in a low-income school, my parents were more than happy to help in this area because these were items they already had on hand and were already paid for. I also brought in items from home year round to supplement supplies.

You can download a list here: Supply List Spontaneous

Once you have collected enough of the required materials for a creative task, you use the materials in creative ways using our flexible thinking. The kids love having access to the materials and I love being able to teach creativity at minimal cost!

Here is an example of my scrap box after cleaning out my teacher closet in my house. Depending on the season  or time of year, the items I find will change. Part of the fun of using the scrap box in activities and crafts, like Spontaneous, is that you do not have to have enough for everyone to have the same type of resource. Being creative means using what you have on hand and making it work, right? So don’t worry about having enough.. just keep collecting. Reminds you of Dori’s song, huh? 🙂

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According to its website, Odyssey of the Mind (OM) is “largest creativity competition in the world” (2017).  Many educators have been a part of this competition and kids have enjoyed participating in the many events such as, Spontaneous, which is my favorite! I use this activity in my class all the time.

Spontaneous is an activity where students are given a set of random materials (ENTER the SCRAP BOX) and a limited amount of time to create something like a robot, or creature, tower, or a game for example. Tasks are typically chosen by the teacher or are based on available materials. The goal of this type of activity is to engage students in team work, flexible thinking, creative thinking among other skills.

There are three different versions of this activity- Verbal, Hands-On, and Combination. You can read more about them here. The BEST part of all three versions? They are free when you use your scrap box materials!


Here is how I have done these activities in my own classroom. Give one of them a try this week! 

Verbal Spontaneous:

When: During our morning meeting, during transitions

I engage students in a task that requires them to name as many items as they can about a certain theme or topic. For example, name things that can fly or name things that are printed. Sometimes I hand students a random or odd object from the scrap box and have student think of as many creative uses for that object.  Topics vary based on age and grade level.

Duration: I set the timer for about 2 minutes and allow students to go around in a circle and call out what they are thinking.

As students respond, I listen for the most creative responses. This task is difficult at first because students want to name the most obvious answers. As you practice, students realize that the more outlandish, creative, unique answers get the credit. You will be surprised at how comfortable the quiet students get with this activity!

There is nothing to write during Verbal Spontaneous for the teacher or student. The entire activity is verbal. If I write anything down, it is to record the answers I want to highlight after the activity.

Preparation: This is a student led activity and fun.

Make sure you have established turn-taking procedures and have modeled this a few times before turning it over to the students!


Name things that can be stacked (odds, blocks, pancakes, etc. )

Name containers that can be used to carry a liquid (bucket, bucket, coconut)

Name things that rise and fall (elevators, empires, chests)

Ideas from Team Challenges book pp. 55-58

Hands-On Spontaneous:

When: any 20 minute block of time- I scheduled this activity twice a month for my kids and took up to 30 minutes to discuss, share, and provide feedback.

What: Students are given random scrap box items to build or create something new based on the task provided. Within the allotted time, groups have to use team work and communication to successfully brainstorm, build, test, and complete the task. These tasks are very good at helping our students learn to use their groups’ strengths, but I will tell you that in the beginning this will be a bit of a challenge. By knowing your students and having done these type of activities before, you will find the “Sweet Spot” in how you group students.


Materials: 40 magazine subscription cards, 10 marshmallows, 20 toothpicks

Tell students they have 2 minutes to build a free standing tower as tall as possible, using only the provided materials. Tell students they will be notified when 30 seconds remain. Two points will be awarded fro every inch of height. (Bordessa, K., Team Challenge, p. 66)

Combination Spontaneous:

When: Morning Meeting

Duration: around 10-15 minutes

What: A problem that combines an hands-on activity and verbal responses. In these activities, students will make something from the materials provided and then describe it, tell a story about it, act it out, or explain a creative use for their invention.


Materials: 1 empty water bottle, 1 paper cup

Choose 2 team members to portray a day at the zoo. One player must hold the paper cup; the other will hold the plastic bottle. The two players have two minutes to plan a scene from a zoo visit and two minutes to act out the scene for the audience. But there is a catch! The two participants portraying the zoo visit may talk, but they cannot move without help. Two additional team members must move the actors to match the ongoing dialogue. Groups will receive twenty points if the scene includes an unexpected event.

team challenges bookResources:  I used a variety of resources to come up with sample tasks, but using the Team Challenges book by K. Bordessa was a great resource as well as the OM site.

I hope you found this post useful and I look forward to you sharing ideas with me on how you used Spontaneous activities and your scrap box in your classroom!