Free Computer Software

Read about free software that would be helpful for students and teachers.

Do your students ever tell you they cannot type up a good copy of an assignment because they don't have a word processing assignment?

I used to get it all the time, until I found a free word processing, spreadsheet, drawing, and presentation making program at This program allows the format to be saved as a Microsoft Office format to make it more easily accessible on various computers.

Now the first assignment I give, I also introduce students to Open Office a free open source computer program. Last year our Grade 8 students used Open Office Draw to create their Graduation Yearbook. It looked great, like they used professional software. 
Here is a reminder about another GREAT open source program called GIMP.  GIMP is short for GNU Image Manipulation Program.  It is free open source software that can be used for photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. I have used GIMP to create blog buttons, re-size photos and edit images.

What computer or web based programs do your students love to use? Let me know in the comments below. 


Making Exam Review Fun

Make exam review fun, but academic with these 8 great tips.

This week we are working on Math exam review in class. Every year I give students a "Math Exam" at the mid point in the year aligned with when our local high schools are starting their official exams. 

These are not official provincial or state exams, they are just a study tool to help lesson exam anxiety among my students. These students in a few short months will be in Grade 9, and writing official exams that will count towards a percentage of their final mark. 

How do I help them review five months worth of content?
  • each day of the five day week is assign exclusively to review one strand/topic of math that we have covered since the beginning of the year
  • students get to "teach" the review lessons - a different small group of students each day gets to come up to the white board, and demonstrate to their classmates how they solved one math question pertaining to the topic of the day
  • create fun and relevant review questions and unit problems 
  • use white boards and dry erase markers 
  • working in partners, triads and groups 
  • incorporate games, challenges and rewards
  • ensure students get up and move around the room -think stations or different tasks at different areas of the room
  • make sure the review is interactive websites like Kahoot enable students to use their personal technology and answer questions in competition with the class

Get your READ on!

Students will thrive at reading if the classroom is set up to encourage relevant and purposeful reading materials. 9 tips for creating a rich reading environment are shared.

Below are my suggestions for how to fill up your "reading tool box". 

Students will thrive at reading if the classroom is set up to encourage relevant and purposeful reading materials. 9 tips for creating a rich reading environment are shared.

1. Books on display 24/7. Change them up weekly.
This is my display case of high interest books. I consider this my reading advertising spot. This is located front and centre in my classroom to keep the student's eyes on books. They can browse this shelf at lunch time or if they finish a task early. I love the Scholastic Top 10 Series! Great for grades 4-8. 

2. Comfy spot to read. I bought "reading carpets" to encourage students to find their reading spot. The carpets are the perfect size for partner and individual reading. This allows students to read anywhere in the classroom in comfort. I got these carpets at JYSK, but I am sure any big box store has something similar. 

Students will thrive at reading if the classroom is set up to encourage relevant and purposeful reading materials. 9 tips for creating a rich reading environment are shared.

3. High Interest News Articles. This newspaper article wall gets updated a few times a week. I get one of Canada's national daily papers to my classroom each day. I found that it was just sitting on my white board ledge and not being read. Now I tear out articles that might interest my students and they are reading up a storm! 

Use student created posters in your classroom.

4. Student Created Posters. I had store bought reading posters up, but this year my student created posters are a hit!

Students will thrive at reading if the classroom is set up to encourage relevant and purposeful reading materials. 9 tips for creating a rich reading environment are shared.

5. Genre reminder anchor board. This helps students remember to read a variety of genres. 

6. High Interest Reading Assignments. My students read a different genre every month and complete different activities based on choice and interest. To see more information on these assignments click on the photos above. 

7. Student choice on reading material! Provide choice for major student readings: literature circles, reading groups, book reports. A little as choosing between two or three books helps engage students and enables them to control their own learning. 

8. High Interest Core Novels. Please stop reading boring books for read alouds and whole class novel studies. There are so many interesting novels to choose from. My two go to core novels for Grades 7 & 8 are The Giver by Lois Lowry and The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I have read The Outsiders for 6 years now and not ONE class has disliked it. 

Students will thrive at reading if the classroom is set up to encourage relevant and purposeful reading materials. 9 tips for creating a rich reading environment are shared.

9. Student selected reading advertisements. I surveyed all three of my rotary classes, and they came up with these 11 books that they enjoyed reading. I printed off the covers and posted the plot synopsis below. Students are constantly walking over to read what their classmates recommended. 

Next week I am going to change the top row of my display shelf to showcase these Best of 2012 books. 

What is in your literacy tool box? Feel free to comment below. 


Got Paper? Get Goos(e) Paper

Save paper and money in your classroom by having students use G.O.O.S paper when completing non-assessment tasks.

If your school is anything like mine paper is at a premium, but your students visit the lined paper box daily. 

To solve this dilemma many teachers at my school have a GOOS (Good On One Side) paper box. Students know that anything that requires paper, which is not an official note or good copy must be done on GOOS paper.

I call it goose paper. The sticker on my paper box comes from my regional recycling depot and prominently features a Canadian goose on it.  It is amazing how much GOOS paper one finds when they start to look for it. 

Where do I get my GOOS paper from?
  • extra photocopies (sometimes I make errors when I try to do fancy things with the photocopier)
  • extra notices from the school (I always seem to get more flyers than students)
I could never give up GOOS(E) paper because I like saying the name too much. 

Can you make the switch? Use only GOOS paper in the classroom unless it is a formal assessment? Let me know in the comments how you conserve paper in your classroom. 


Math - The Grass Strategy

Students often need support with solving word problems in math class. Use the GRASS method to help them solve their math questions completely and with detail.

Before I implemented this Math Problem Solving strategy in my classroom, I was getting incomplete answers. Now that my students have a structure to follow their answers are more detailed and focused. 

Students often need support with solving word problems in math class. Use the GRASS method to help them solve their math questions completely and with detail.
GRASS Anchor Chart in my classroom
GRASS is an acronym that stands for: Given, Required, Application, Solution, Statement.

Given - What information are you given in the word problem? I have students rewrite the information into their notebooks or GRASS sheet. Students who are accommodated or modified as per their I.E.P. can high light the given information in one colour. 

Required - What information are you required to find out once you solve this problem?

Application - What strategy will you use to solve this problem? e.g. models, manipulatives, formulas, equations. 

Solution - Solve this problem using the chosen strategy 

Statement - Sum up your findings in a final statement. 

If you use this method or another method in your classroom I would love to hear from you in the comments section. Don't forget to try our FREE Math Test Prep Strategy Resource, which will make your students want to study for their tests.


The Magic of a Homework Pass for Classroom Management

Middle school classroom management can be difficult, but it can be made easier if you surprise reward students with various passes.
I surprised all of them this morning with a HAPPY NEW YEAR homework pass. I rarely hand out paper homework passes because I am trying to cut down on my class' paper consumption. This year students have received only three paper homework passes: Welcome Back, Birthday and Happy New Year. 

This year I started to use a class list as my homework pass tracker. Next to the student's name, in what would normally be the grade box, I write HWP (short for Home Work Pass). I think I have at least 10 or 15 boxes per student on my class list which saves a TON of little homework pass papers flying around. When the student uses a homework pass I diagonally cross off one of their HWP

Students get so excited when they get a homework pass. The majority of my students do not use them. They like to collect them through out the year to see how many they can collect and not use. I taught some of my current students last year in my 7/8 split. They asked me on the first day of school if their homework passes carry over. 

To read more details on my homework pass program or other classroom management ideas read my guest blog from last week at The Resourceful Room.

Do you use homework passes in your classroom? What is your procedure? Please share your ideas in the comments section below. 

Try our Reward Passes for Classroom Management Free!


Reading Check In Strategy

Students need to be held accountable for their independent reading. It is also important for teachers to demonstrate an interest in their student's reading choices.

Today I am so excited to introduce Meg from Fourth Grade Studio as a guest blogger on 2 Peas and a Dog. 

The Power of Connections!
One of the most valuable times of my day begins when my students come in from lunch recess, casually make one last little bit of small talk with their friends, and make their back to their desks to get their independent reading supplies--book...reading log...response notebooks--out and ready for action.  Once I see that they are settling in, it's time for me to take "status of the class".  Each day I write down what my students are reading and what page they are on.  The entire process could take 3 minutes but each day I make it last about 10.  Why?

Those ten minutes are what I consider a "guaranteed connection" time with my students. At that time, I know that every single day I can have a meaningful connection with each and every one of them!  Whether it simply be my asking how they are liking their book, or noticing that they MUST have read a ton at home the night before, or to mention another book they may enjoy--this is my time to get in touch with them as readers and as people.  Every one of them gets my attention for 30 seconds...which doesn't seem like a lot until you really think about your day.  Which kids demand your attention the most?  Who are your invisible kids? This levels the playing field!

Of course, there are added bonuses as well!  I learn about their independent reading behaviors...about their home reading habits...about their taste in books...about their abandon/completion rate...about their thoughts and ideas about their books...and more.  But that's not all!  The other students reap the benefits as well!  I have 5 students waiting to read "The Eye of the Storm" simply because of the little snippets they have overheard during those status of the class "mini conferences".  Think of how many mini lessons the students will have heard over the course of a year!

I have taken status for years and have taken small breaks from it during that time and I always return to it...I simply get so much information from it that I can't let it go!  It's funny...I always thought that status time was essentially a data collection time for me until, around the holidays, I missed a few days here and there.  One of my fourth graders chimed out "Hey! Aren't you going to take status?  I don't know what everyone is reading!" and I then realized that it isn't just about me after all!  My students have grown to count on it to share their successes, to point out things they have noticed in their texts, to brag that they read for 80 minutes straight the night before without losing stamina, and to get great book recommendations from others.  

There is not much more a teacher needs to do when you hear students saying, "Oh!  Ashley--if you liked 'The Lemonade War' you will LOVE 'Lunch Money'".  Mission accomplished.  Reading community established.

Here is a link to get you started:

Don't forget to come visit me when I am guest blogging today at The Resourceful Room.

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