Humor is a Great Way to Build Interest


Ever have one of those days?

One thing I’ve often found in my classroom is that a well placed joke can pique even the most disinterested student’s attention.  I’ve found making a (typically bad) joke during instructional time can keep students listening.  In fact, I’ve been working on powerpoints for my new Reading Street materials this summer and I’ve inserted silly pictures or jokes into each day’s presentation.  I find most of these on, but is also a good source.

What’s great about these jokes is that it helps the class see you as more of a regular person.  When we laugh together, we bond, which makes them more likely to want to learn what you have to teach.  It also relieves stress, which we all know is in plentiful supply in a middle school!

Gotta love a pun!

As the students spend their days worrying about whether they fit in, it’s nice to take a break from the worry and relax for a minute.  I’ve also had students come to me with jokes between classes because they know I like silly, corny jokes.

Today, I found a wonderful video, made by people at Mission Control about the Mars Curiosity Rover:  Take a look – it’s fun to watch and helps make a point with your students that being silly can blow off steam and helps anyone do a better job.  If NASA can laugh at itself, certainly an eleven year old can.

Do you use humor in your class?  What have you found to be the best way to engage your students?

Kids will totally love this one!

Absent? Lost an Assignment? Look Here!

In my classroom, I keep folders for all of the extra worksheets, permission slips, letters and other paperwork that is handed out.  They are in a holder at the back of the room (near the turn in basket).  Each folder is a different color and labeled with a day of the week.

When I have handed out a new paper, I put any extras in the folder for that day.  This keeps all of the papers somewhat organized, and allows students to access what they need.  In the past, I tried to put papers for absent students, with their name on it, in a spot to hand back when they returned.  However, I would inevitably get busy, forget to do that, and some poor student would miss an assignment.

By keeping the extras in a folder, the students know just where to look when they return from being absent.  Missed school on a Tuesday?  Check the Tuesday folder.  Missed Wednesday through Friday?  Check all three.  This is also handy when a parent requests homework for absent students – I simply pull from the appropriate folders and all of the assignments are ready to go.

This puts the responsibility on the student, instead of on me.  It’s very easy for them to keep track of what they have missed, and they can each get what they need.  Since students are absent on varying days, for varying lengths of time, this keeps me from having to remember each absence.

In addition to helping absent students, it also helps those students who lose a paper.  I usually run 5-6 extra copies, which allows them to get an extra paper without involving me.  This eliminates excuses for not having the correct assignment.

Each day, when I put fresh papers in the folder, I remove the past week’s papers.  (On Monday, when I place papers in the folder, I remove the old Monday papers).  I used to empty the folders on Friday (since our deadline for all work is Friday), but this became an issue when a student was absent at the end of the week.  By leaving the papers in the folders for a week, it assures that students have plenty of time to retrieve what they need.

These folders save me large amounts of stress!

This system makes it very easy for everyone in the classroom (including special ed teachers who team with me).  Even other teachers are able to stop in and find the papers needed – for instance, if a parent stops for work and I’m not available.  It’s also useful during the Undone Club, since students can get a copy of missing work and complete it.  Any time I can remove students’ excuses, it’s a good day!

The white wire baskets are where the students turn in their work.

Youtube for the Classroom

I often use in my classroom.  Being able to use a short video clip to demonstrate a concept or idea helps students better understand what I’m teaching them.  I’ve found that by searching the site with a keyword, I can find lots of different videos to choose from.

The drawback to is that it can include inappropriate comments or ads.  In addition, the suggestions are occasionally not something you want your students looking at.  To the rescue is “A Cleaner Internet”.  This site takes all of that extra stuff off of the youtube  page and allows you to simply show the video you wanted.

Using this site, you can still search for the videos you’d like.  In fact, I generally insert the link into a powerpoint that I’m using, allowing me to simply click on the link during the lecture.  (More on powerpoints later).  By seamlessly integrating the youtube site into your powerpoint, you can save valuable time in class.  In addition, students who access your powerpoint from home can still look at the video, if they have internet access.

Simply go to for the extension.  It’s super simple to install and from that point on, you simply type into your browser and it takes you to the clean version.  This was one of the best tools I’ve found for the classroom presentation!

Motivating Students

What motivates you?


A couple of years ago, some teachers at my building trained for a 5k to raise awareness for a program we have for at-risk students.  This meant that we had to train for months to be ready for it.  I was out running several days a week, working on my form and forcing myself to go out (even when I’d rather sit on the couch eating junk food.)


One day, I was feeling very down and didn’t feel like running.  Visions of being the only teacher not able to complete the race forced me out the door.  As I ran, I pondered what makes us improve ourselves.  Is it because of forces within us, or outside of us?


Our students face the same hurdles we do in making changes.  It has always struck me as slightly unfair that it is easier to get out of shape, than into shape; easier to gain weight than lose it; easier to spend money than make it.  For middle school students, sometimes improving their study habits can be just as hard as getting back into shape is for me.


It has always seemed easy to know how to get decent grades.  Do your work, complete your assignments to the best of your ability, turn in your homework and study for tests.  While it’s difficult, at times, to master a concept, a little extra study and you can do it.  It is clear, though, that for an at-risk student, that can seem as insurmountable as my finishing a run.


What kept me on the road to the 5K?  Coaching; Plain and simple, the people who have encouraged me along the way have kept me going.  Teachers at school have helped with my form, my friends and family have helped with my persistence and my daughters have helped me overcome my laziness.  I kept looking forward to the day I would run through the tunnel at Spartan Stadium and feel the pride of accomplishment.


These coaches have been invaluable to me.  In the same way, coaches can be invaluable to at-risk students.  By helping them with their form (building better study habits, helping with learning a concept), encouraging them in persisting (doing your homework, even when the TV is calling) and assisting them with overcoming laziness (aren’t we all a bit lazy, at heart?) mentors can keep them on the road to success.


As a teacher, I have mentored a lot of students.  Over the years, I have watched students work hard, make those changes in their study habits and feel the pride of accomplishment.  It is this that motivates me to be a better teacher.  Helping others to achieve their best is the best feeling in the world.


What do you do to motivate and encourage students?



Teaching Middle School

Funny Workplace Ecard: Thanks for teaching the age group the rest of the world can't handle. Your tolerance level for obnoxious insecurity is impressive.

I really like this quote.  It reminds me that what we’re doing really does matter.  While I don’t see my students as obnoxious at all, I do hear this sentiment from others quite often.  Just about every time we go on a field trip, one of the parent chaperones says “I don’t know how you do it every day”.


I usually just smile, because if I explained that I do it every day because I actually enjoy it, they wouldn’t understand.  🙂

The School-Bus Bullies: Are Adults to Blame Too?

Definitely thought-provoking…


The nation’s hearts and wallets opened last week for Karen Klein, the bus monitor in upstate New York who was mercilessly taunted by a pack of feral-minded middle schoolers. But the gold rush of online donations (more than $600,000 and a free trip to Disneyland for 10 people) leaves a slag heap of questions. When we grow tired of the bus video heard ’round the world, we might start by asking, What is a bus monitor’s role exactly?

(MORE: After Abuse Video Goes Viral, Campaign Raises Money for Bus Monitor)

It’s not victim blaming to acknowledge that Klein was both horribly abused and also hired to prevent the kind of torment she endured. It’s therefore puzzling that neither she nor the bus driver — the adults on the bus — took any measures to prevent, stop or report the atrocious behavior. Did she ever receive any training in…

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All Done Club/Undone Club Part 1

All Done/Undone Club

Motivating students is always tough.  One way we manage to motivate our students is with our All Done Club.  This activity serves two purposes: it motivates students to complete their work by Friday morning, and it gives a little extra time to those students who did not complete their work.

Weekly Cut Off

Each week, we have a cutoff day/time of Friday morning at 8:00.  Any work turned in by this time helps students attend the All Done Club.  Anything not turned in, keeps them out.  We remind students on Friday mornings as they are coming in to class to check the charts and turn in their work.

During our planning time, we check in any last work that was turned in and compare our charts (see earlier posts for our chart methods).  If a student is missing work on either chart (even just one assignment), they are placed in the Undone Club.  Any students who have all work turned in have earned their spot in the All Done Club.  Our goal, each week is to have all students in the All Done Club.  We rarely meet that goal, but it exists, nonetheless!