Posted in New Teacher, Podcast, systems, systems and routines, Teacher Tips, teaching resources

That Janky Necklace is your New Best Friend

The Catch-All Color-Coding System

When I show up to school, many of my colleagues look at me weirdly or straight-up laugh when they see my janky flair pen necklace. Why?


It has 5 flair pens (the best pens in the entire world! They don’t bleed through, their ink lasts forever and is smooth, you can tell I’m a nerd about pens….), but I kept them attached to my school lanyard with rubber bands.


You read that right. It was the most janky set-up ever, but it WORKED. I always had a pen, and as a co-teacher running around to 6 classrooms, I NEEDED those pens so that I could give the students quickmeaningful feedback that they would ACTUALLY LOOK AT.

Keep to the System

I think we can all agree that color-coding can be a super useful note-taking tool. However, we can also turn it into a SCAFFOLDING tool, FEEDBACK tool, and ASSESSMENT tool. The way to do this is to make it a SYSTEM in your room.

The less brain-power students use for learning the process, the more brain power they can use for learning.

Seward Montessori ELL Team, "How Can I Level Up?"

The most important thing you can do if you choose to use this system is to BE CONSISTENT. Whether you are writing quick directions on the board, making a Google Slide or Flipchart presentation, teaching writing, math, or social studies, you ALWAYS make the ACADEMIC WORDS red. You ALWAYS make the TRANSITION WORDS blue. You DEFINITELY ALWAYS put the POWER VERBS in purple. That way, students can focus on the learning, and not trying to learn whatever new color-coding system you just accidentally put in front of them.

The Benefits of Color-Coding

You will find that not only will it help you as a teacher be more cognizant of the language you are using, the students clue-in super fast to what you are trying to teach them! 

Aaaand, they will insist on using it themselves! Leading to natural SELF-ASSESSMENT, PEER-ASSESSMENT, and a meaningful, quick way for you to give them FEEDBACK. The perfect combination!!!

What is the Color-Coding System?

The sentence at the very beginning that states what the subject of the whole paragraph will be about. I’ve also used this interchangeably with the “Topic Paragraph” as students advance into 5+ paragraph essays.

Examples: “I will be writing about _____.”     “This essay will _______”    “In this essay, you will learn ____.”

Words that are SPECIFIC to that TOPIC. Side-note: They are usually the vocabulary for that lesson or unit.

Example: If you are teaching how to solve a multiplication problem, the academic words/phrases would be MULTIPLY, GROUPING, HOW MANY IN ALL, etc. 

Words or phrases that help connect phrases and show the relationship between ideas. It also helps the writing sound smoother.

Examples: To begin, on the other hand, therefore, moreover, and, because, but

Words or phrases that tell the students what KIND OF THINKING AND PERFORMANCE we are asking them to do. 

Warning: Until students have been explicitly taught what these words mean, they will not know what these words actually mean or what you are expecting of them. Never assume the students know these particular words mean until you’ve done a super quick vocabulary lesson on it.

Examples: describe, compare and contrast, predict, extrapolate, summarize, identify, etc.

The sentence at the very END that re-states what the subject of the whole paragraph was about. I’ve also used this interchangeably with the “Concluding Paragraph” as students advance into 5+ paragraph essays.

Examples: “To summarize, I wrote about _____.”     “This essay was _______”    “In this essay, you learned ____.”

What can I use the Color-Coding System For?

Be Consistent in the Details!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

DO NOT make the same mistake some of my student-teachers did in thinking this system is easy!!!! I was RUTHLESS in my feedback to them regarding how they used it because it matters!!!!

In essence, you are creating a VISUAL REPRESENTATION of writing. If they even made the PERIOD red by accident, I’d get on their tail and make them change it. It was THAT important.

(Plus, it just looks prettier! I had a student say they LOVED looking at their Writer’s Notebook and self-assessing because it made it look like a rainbow. WHO WOULDN’T WANT TO HEAR THAT?)

If you're sometimes forgetful and drink coffee like me,

Consider getting this coffee-mug. Not only will you NEVER forget the color-coding system again, YOUR STUDENTS WILL REMIND YOU TOO!

Here's an Example of How to Be Consistent.

Need an example of consistency in action? 

Take a closer look at one of the mini-lesson presentations or word bank and you’ll see what I mean.

Does the power verb and transition words jump out at ya?
Made a mistake? That's okay! Just underline it to fix the color-coding.
Notice how even the underlined spaces are color-coded.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Is that janky flair-pen necklace worth it?

How about the color-coding system? Could you use it in your classroom? Would you change anything?

Would the mug help you implement the color-coding system?


Let me know in the comments below!

Posted in collaboration, Podcast, systems and routines, teaching resources

Flexible Grouping and Partnering System

A Fast and Easy Grouping Strategy

Teachers, try to count how many times you ask students to make a group of 6, to partner up, to make any other sort of group. Managing this seems like it takes too much time, too much direction, and too much stress. Not anymore with this EASY-to-implement Flexible Grouping and Partnering System!

Why should you care about setting up a flexible grouping and partnering system?

The answer: It makes it easy for your classroom to collaborate with each other. And, COLLABORATION IS KING.

Check out what I consider the God-Of-All-English-Language-Teachers has to say on the matter:

Even though it is tempting to focus on the more visible products of group work, we must keep in mind the power of the process. The learning that happens on the way to the final product is usually a rich array of exchanges that have cumulative impact on student language. 

Along the way, we must help students build what I call academic collaboration skills. These skills include elaborating and probing meaning, reasoning together, and making decisions together. In a sense, students use talk to “think together (Mercer 2000).” 

…ultimately, students construct new knowledge and new academic skills.

Building Academic Language: Essential Practices for Content Classrooms – Jeff Zwiers


Doesn’t that just give you the chills?!!! How powerful is that?!!! COLLABORATION helps students THINK TOGETHER, construct new knowledge, AND new academic skills!

(I would also like to add, a pretty necessary LIFE and CAREER skill for EVERYONE).

With that said….

You have 2 ways to learn how to implement this flexible grouping and partnering system:

(Both are pretty good, but I suggest you keep these visuals handy if you choose to listen via Podcast.)

Get your own copy HERE!

Watch via Youtubes

Get your own copy HERE!

Listen via Podcast

Listen to the rest HERE

Ready to make grouping and partnering EASIER in your classroom? Grab your copy HERE.

Let me know…..

Do you like this grouping and partnering system? Why or why not?

I can’t wait to read your thoughts in the comments!

Posted in New Teacher, Teacher Tips, teaching resources

Conferencing and Goal-Setting

Back to School Edition

I remember a HUMONGOUS problem I had the first 2 years of teaching. Students were NOT motivated to come to class. They did NOT care, at all.

So, I developed a conferencing and goal-setting system I could use at the beginning of the school-year, the middle, and the very end of the school year. And IT WORKED!

Listen to the full podcast about conferencing and goal-setting if you want to dive deeper!

What is the Process for Conferencing and Goal Setting?

1) What will the students set goals for?
—> WIDA scores?—> Fountas & Pinnel reading level?
2) Create a visual
representation of
the levels.
—> Make sure the visual
can fit at the TOP of
the goal-setting sheet.
—> Keep it visual with symbols and/or colors!
3) Make a student copy where they can set their goals. —> GROWTH-MINDSET! —> Level 5 represents what grade-level would look like at the END of the year. That way, EVERYONE can be challenged.
4) Use a separate copy to define the goals further. —> or to show the scope-and-sequence of what they are learning.

Posted in New Teacher, School Supplies, Teacher Tips, teaching resources

New Teacher Survival List

I remember walking into my first school, my first classroom, a week before the first day of school. AND I WAS TERRIFIED!!!

I started thinking about how my student teaching didn’t start until October, so I had NO CLUE how to start off a school year. What supplies did I need? Was I even going to get any from the school or students? What about my classroom? Does it have furniture? I just wished I could find a new teacher survival list!

My First Year Teaching


Luckily, I shared the room with another English-as-a-Second-Language teacher, and she showed me the ropes. She even went school shopping with me to help me get everything I would need to start the school year off right! ^_^

I KNOW I would NOT have survived without her help. So, as a way to help you through the wildest, hardest, most rewarding, crazy year of your life, here’s are all of the supplies I had (or wish I had!) that saved me throughout the school year!


Flair Pen Bun

Flair Pens

(ALL THE COLORS. Why flair pens? Because they are the BEST. They don’t bleed through anything, they don’t accidentally break and stain your clothes, kids can’t draw on themselves with them, and they KEEP WORKING).

Ticonderoga Pencils


Coloring Pencils (Skin-Color Edition!)

What better way to differentiate than to give students the choice to draw themselves?

HAND-HELD Pencil Sharpeners

(Believe me. There is nothing more annoying then hearing that electric pencil sharpener breaking during your lesson and hearing a kid say, “Teacher!!!! It’s broken!!!!!!!

Besides: They take more ownership for their own pencils when they have to sharpen them. Trust me on this.)

Washi Masking Tape to wrap around the pencils

(So that students know that it is YOUR pencil, and they remember to GIVE IT BACK). I wrapped mine in gold and drew Pikachu on it. It worked great!

My teacher planner

Teacher Planner

This is a more personal one. Bullet Journals work for some ( the teacher next-door had made a GORGEOUS one), others use google calendar, etc. If you are a visual person like me, somebody who NEEDS to write things down, or you don’t know where to start, try this one out!


Hot Pad for Shoulders

When your shoulders tense so hard it gives you a headache, this hot pad you can pop in the microwave is your SAVIOUR.

Coffee Mug.

The beans. The mug. The coffee-maker. The electric tea kettle. All of it. Then teach students how to make coffee in case you run out.

Bandaids – In multiple skin colors


ID Badge Holders with Lanyard

(Seems like a weird one, I know. But they are soooo useful for keeping track of student names, for field trips, for hall/bathroom passes, and for implementing the flexible grouping system I created for you).

Chalkboard Markers

Hate chalk dust? Hate it when your directions get smudged or erased? Now you never have to worry about it!

Firbon A4 Paper Cutter with a security safeguard and ruler

(Again, another weird one. You’ll thank me when you have ALL THOSE PAPERS to cut and the paper cutter available for staff is dull, broken, or always being used).

Electric Stapler

It’s time to treat yo’ self. Your welcome.

Other ESSENTIAL items: Coffee Maker (I personally use the french press), Microwave (to heat up your cold coffee), Hand Sanitizer (so you can drink your coffee without getting sick), Tissues, Packaging Tape (To keep things on desks and tables), BIG POSTER sticky notes, grid paper for students, chocolate, more coffee, mini-fridge, and pictures of cute happy things.

My puppy Momo. Isn’t she ADORABLE?!!!


Page Protectors

Not only does it help you NOT HAVE TO LAMINATE resources, you never have to worry about things falling out or ripping out again! You can even write and erase on it with a whiteboard marker!

Accordion File Folders

I used to keep all my graphic organizers here so that students can just grab it and go as they needed! Best part: They could do it independently!

Baskets, Organizers, etc.

The goal here is make supplies easily accessible for students. AKA, they can get it themselves without asking you.


All the Montessori teachers I worked with had binders STUFFED with their lessons plans and resources. I even saw one teacher use it to help students keep track of what lesson they are on, and what they need to do next!


Cheaper than sticky tac, and just as effective. Plus, it won’t take paint off the wall!

And there you have it! All the essentials to make it through that first year!

What do you think about this First-Year Teacher Survival List?
Would you add anything to it? Let us know below!