Graphic Organizers, Shared Reading

6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Interactive Notebooks

6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Interactive Notebooks from Reading with a Plan. These 6 tips will help you use interactive notebooks as a powerful teaching tool.

These 6 tips will help you use interactive notebooks as a powerful teaching tool and keep you sane in the process.

1 Establish a routine

Without a good routine, all the chatting, cutting, coloring, and gluing can make you come unglued.  Take some time to think about how you want things to run.

  • Where do you want materials to be stored?  How do you want students to access them?
  • How/when do you want to give directions?
  • When do you want students to begin cutting?  Do you want them to wait until you are finished talking? Or, are you alright with them cutting while they listen to you?
  • How/when will the students take care of their trash?
  • What will students do if they finish early and have extra wait time?  Do you want them to help others catch up?

Once you decide how you want to run your lessons, make sure you teach these procedures and routines to the students.  Once the kids know what to anticipate, things will run smoothly.

6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Interactive Notebooks_Establish a Routine and Keep Materials Organized

2 Make sure it is useful

All too many times I see a teacher (myself included) use a material for his/her interactive notebook that is just a waste of time.  Sure, it can be cute.  But, a page needs to do one of the following for it to be worth the time:

  • The page itself is an activity that requires your students to use the skill/strategy to complete it.
  • The student fills in minimal blanks to create a small anchor chart for the skill/strategy that can be referenced later.
  • The page serves as a tool for introducing or reinforcing a lesson that you are teaching.

If a resource doesn’t do one of those, don’t waste your time.  Just because it’s cute, doesn’t mean it’s not crap.  *Pardon my language.*  Instead, find something that fits your purpose, engages your students, and adds to the lesson.

Here is an example of how I use my interactive reading notebook for two different activities when I am teaching schema.

6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Interactive Notebooks_Interactive Notebook Activities for Teaching Schema

Click here or on the picture to get your copy of my INTERACTIVE READING NOTEBOOK GROWING BUNDLE.  Buy it now to save!


3 Have a plan

Interactive notebooks are a great resource, but don’t let it drive the lesson.  Know how you plan to implement it ahead of time.  Is it a good introduction with a definition of the skill/strategy?  Can it be used as an activity to reinforce what your students are learning?  Should it be used as an exit ticket or reflection after a lesson is taught?  How you decide to use the interactive notebook is what makes it a powerful teaching tool.

My INTERACTIVE READING NOTEBOOK GROWING BUNDLE includes lesson ideas and ways to use the interactive notebook pages for each strategy and skill.  Click here or on the picture to get your copy and save now!

Interactive Reading Notebook Growing Bundle. This bundle includes interactive notebook pages, examples, lesson ideas, I will statements, and book lists. Buy it now to save.

4 Require an appropriate amount of writing


If students are just copying what you write the entire time, they are not fully engaged in the discussion about the skill/strategy.  They may not be paying attention at all.  Think about how much you want your students to write ahead of time.  You know your students and you know what is appropriate for their level(s).  Keep in mind that what is appropriate for some may not be appropriate for others and modify as needed.  Interactive notebooks are easy to modify ahead of time by writing, outlining, or cutting a few things before passing it out.


5 Keep it organized

Years ago, one of my incredible teammates showed me an amazing, yet simple trick for keeping interactive notebook materials organized.  I had an issue with students losing small pieces that they didn’t have time to glue down (or that they weren’t supposed to cut yet – see tip #1), so she introduced me to the “parking lot.”  It’s simple enough to have the kids create when they are setting up their interactive notebooks and it has saved me time and time again.  All it takes is a regular envelope and a glue stick!  Just glue the back of an envelope to the inside cover of the notebook.  Make sure the kids don’t seal the envelope.  This way all the items that have been cut, but don’t have a home can be safely stored in this little pocket.

6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Interactive Notebooks_Keep It Organized


6 Use it as a reference

An interactive notebook is as useful as you allow it to be.  If you are allowing time to create them, consider allowing time to reference them.  Students get excited when they can use a tool that they created to find an answer.  Plus, the more times they see it, the more likely they will remember it.  My students love using the glossary in our poetry notebooks and the charts in our reading notebooks to help them answer questions during reading workshop.  They know that if I see them take out their notebooks after I ask a question I will allow enough wait time for them to find the answer on their own.  I love seeing students light up when they find their own answers!

Reinforce Reading Skills and Strategies with Interactive Student Notebooks

Other great times to allow students to reference their notebooks are during review games at the end of a unit, group projects, or independent reading.  I have reading response menus for my students to use during independent reading, so I like for them to brush up on the skill/strategy of their response choice before writing their responses.  I find that they interact with the text on a deeper level and I get much more thorough responses this way.

6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Interactive Notebooks from Reading with a Plan


How do you implement your interactive notebooks


Back to School


10 Things to Do on the First Day of School


Greet your students and their families at the door of your classroom with a smile.  The first day can be scary, so show them that they have a kind teacher who is excited to meet them.  Make them feel welcome by showing them their desk, cubby, etc.  Be sure to have a name tag already made for your students.  If a student that was not previously on your roster shows up, make a name tag as soon as possible.  This helps students feel like they have a place in your room and in your heart.


Having an activity ready for your students not only gives them something fun to do but is also an excellent management trick.  Students who are busy at work have less time to devote to other less than desirable activities.  Make sure the activity you plan is simple enough for students to complete independently and entertaining enough to hold their attention.  A simple “All About Me” activity like the one below allows for creativity and naturally differentiation.  Click here or on the picture to get your copy.

All About Me Collage


The first day is busy enough to exhaust even the most experienced of teachers.  Don’t let yourself run around at the last minute checking the after-school transportation of your students.  Instead, check with parents as your students arrive in the morning.  Having a form printed and ready to go makes the day so much easier!  You will still need to spend your conference period checking on transportation with parents who do not accompany their students on the first day, but it’s nice to have a giant head start.  Click here or on the picture to get back to school forms that will make the day run smoothly.

Back to School Forms


Start the year off with strong parent-teacher communication.  Parents are the best source of information about your students.  Building strong parent-teacher relationships will help you meet the needs of all your students.  Not to mention, starting the year off on the right foot with the parents will help ease the stress of any difficult conversations with them throughout the year. 

Make your first phone calls with parents positive by calling home the first day and throughout the week, especially with students who seem to have “a lot of energy.” 

Make sure all parents have your contact information as early as possible.  I like to hand out contact info magnets with all my information.  Giving out contact magnets ensures that parents always have your contact information, highlights your organization, and expresses your commitment in working together.  Click here or on the picture to purchase these easy to edit templates.  There are six templates to choose from. Just choose the style(s) that you like most, edit, and print.

Editable Teacher Contact Magnets

You’ll want to gather information about your students as early as possible.  I like to send student information forms home on the first day.  This is a great tool for getting to know your students.  I use this form to gather critical information about my students’ strengths, weaknesses, medical concerns, and histories.  Click here or on the picture to get your copy.

student information


The first day of school brings excitement and anxiety as students look around at the new faces in their classroom.  Break the ice and help the students get to know each other with a fun game.  A couple of my favorites are Classmate Bingo and the Who’s in Our Class dice game.  Click here or on the picture for these games.

Classmate BINGO Get your students up and talking to each other as they search for friends who can help them complete Classmate BINGO. This will have them learning about each others’ talents, families, and interests.

Who’s in Our Class? This game can be played in small groups or in a whole group setting. Students roll a die to see which question they will answer about themselves. This takes the stress out of deciding which “one thing about themselves” to tell the class.

Back to School Games


Creating the rules as a class gives the students a voice.  Their knowledge and experiences are valued, and they feel a sense of pride in the community that they are helping to build.  Another advantage of having the students help in the creation of the rules is that they are more likely to follow the rules that they create. 

The downfall of creating this list with the students is that it could last all day and take all the pages in your chart tablet if you let it.  Once I feel like we’ve covered most of the big ones, I like to tell them that I notice some similarities.  I then help them see that the rules we’ve come up with fit into three categories:  Be safe, Be respectful, and Be responsible.


Teach classroom and school-wide procedures to keep your year running smoothly.  Many of the things that make you want to pull your hair out throughout the year can be prevented by teaching your students how you want things to be done.  How do you want your students to enter and exit the classroom?  How will students get a sharpened pencil?  How do you want them to ask permission to get water or use the restroom?  Once you’ve taught the procedures necessary to keep the classroom running, make sure to reinforce them throughout the day.

Back to School Bundle


Make sure your students know the best routes to get to the nurse, office, library, etc. from your classroom.  You will undoubtedly have a few students who are new to the school this year.  A tour is especially helpful to them.  This is also the perfect time to practice and reinforce hallway expectations.


Allowing the students to help organize gives them a sense of ownership in the room.  They are more likely to take care of their materials and put them back where they belong when they know that everything has a place.  If you’re too uncomfortable with possible management issues arising to have the students up (with things like scissors) helping, consider a supply scavenger hunt once things are organized.  When you have a substitute and happen to run out of tissues or pencils, it is helpful for students to know where supplies are stored.

  1. READ!!!

A great read aloud on the first day is a must.  A read aloud serves many purposes.  It helps your students feel a little more at ease, connects the class through a mutual experience, gives us a new perspective, helps us create our identity as a class full of readers, and facilitates discussions about our feelings, expectations, and community.

Read Alouds

Looking for savings??  Check out my Back to School Bundle!

Back to School Bundle






3 Reasons to STOP Using Reading Passages for Homework:

3 Reasons to Stop Using Reading Passages for Homework.fw.png


circle1 The best reading practice is READING.

Allow your students the freedom of choice in what they read.  Being required to read passage after passage does not teach our students to love reading.  It teaches them that we only read when we are told to by an authority figure.

Allowing them to choose what they read leads to the development of good reading habits.  It helps them understand how to choose a book that is both interesting and on their level.  They will learn what they like to read, where they like to read, and when they like to read.  Learning these things about themselves and reading will help them become readers for life, not just school.

  circle2. Reading passages are BORING.

You have to admit; even you do not like reading these.  I know it is tempting to use them because “you need a way to hold them accountable for their reading” and the multiple choice questions at the end of a passage provide a quick check.  However, these questions provide zero practice for real life.  Students can still guess at the answers or make something up by skimming the passage, rendering this exercise pointless.  Plus, who wants to waste their time checking it?

We all know that real reading requires careful thought.  A child reading something that he/she has chosen will naturally be more engaged with the text.  He/she will be learning about and questioning a nonfiction topic of choice, solving an intriguing mystery, exploring a new destination, or experiencing life through another’s perspective.

circle3. You have a class full of DIVERSE LEARNERS.

They are not all on the same reading level, so an assigned reading passage will not be good practice for many of them.  It will be far too easy for your “high” readers and a cause of frustration for your “low” readers.  Homework should be practice that reinforces the lessons taught at school.  If a child is struggling just to get through the passage, he/she is unable to practice the reading skills and strategies that you’ve taught while reading.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, if the passage is too easy it simply becomes a waste of time.


What Should I Use for Homework?

Menus and reading logs are a great alternative.  Students are happiest about doing work when it is work that they chose to do.  Give them the opportunity to decide what to read and how to practice their reading skills and strategies.

Click below to get printable and ready to use reading logs and reading response menus.

FREE Reading Logs.fw
These reading logs can be used both for homework and reading notebooks in the classroom. Printable and ready to use. Included: • Three different styles of homework reading logs • An in class reading log • A “Books on Deck” list



FREE Reading Response Menus.fw
Make reading meaningful with these two differentiated TEKS based and Common Core aligned reading response menus. These are perfect for both homework and independent reading in class. Printable and ready to use!


If your district or school requires you to use a spelling list, these spelling menus are a great way for your students to practice for homework and during their word work station!

FREE Spelling Menus.fw
Keep your homework interesting and fun with these three different spelling menus. This includes three different menus that are printable and ready to use for homework or a word work station.


Free your students from boring homework 3 Reasons to STOP Using Reading Passages for Homework.fw

Test Prep

Test Prep Dos and Don’ts


  1. Do plan FUN activities!2 FREEBIES! 10 Dos and Don'ts to help you get through standardized testing this Spring without losing your mind.

Tests are boring, but learning is fun.  Students will thrive when instruction is interactive, engaging, and exciting.  Preparing fun activities keeps students focused and motivated.  This is a tough time of year for both students AND teachers.  Lighten the mood and keep your kids happy as they work.

  1. Do use the language of the test year-round.

Prepare your students for the verbiage of the test.  Familiarize yourself with the types of questions that the test asks and the ways that those questions are worded.  Using this wording in your questions throughout the year will enable your students to understand test questions and feel confident on test day.

  1. Do teach your students test taking strategies.

Test taking strategies do not come naturally.  Teach your students how you want them to tackle passages, questions, and compositions.  Understanding and using test taking strategies helps students become effective, successful, and confident test takers.

Click here to see my post about testing strategies for the STAAR reading test and grab the FREEBIE poster.

FREEBIE Test Taking Strategies Poster

  1. Do plan a fun review activity.

Review games are a great way to help students review.  The kids get so excited about the game that they don’t even realize how hard they are working.  Some fun ideas include trash can basketball, PowerPoint Jeopardy!, and Kahoot.

  1. Do prepare your students for the schedule of test day.

When is lunch?  Will we have recess?  How long do I have to take the test?  What if I don’t finish?

Test day is intimidating enough without adding all this uncertainty.  Start by familiarizing yourself with testing procedures and testing administrator responsibilities.  Think about things such as whether you need to provide snack and what time you need to finish reading the directions.  Explain the day’s schedule and procedures to your students ahead of time.  This will allow their minds to focus on the test rather than questioning lunch time.

  1. Do give motivational treats and notes!

Your students love getting gifts from you, no matter how small.  Giving your students a small treat with a note lets them know that you are thinking about them and they are important to you.  While a handwritten, personalized note for each individual student is certainly the sweetest gift, it may not be practical for everyone.  A simple note that you print and cut for the students can be just as exciting for students to receive.  I like using a printed note with a goody bag of Hershey Kisses.  Grab my FREEBIE here!

  1. Do involve parents!

Parents are such an important tool when it comes to student motivation and encouragement.  Express to them the importance of “pumping up” the kids for the test.  Encourage them to speak positively about the test with the students.  Have families create encouraging posters for their children and hang them up in the classroom or hallway.

2 FREEBIES! 10 Dos and Don'ts to help you get through standardized testing this Spring without losing your mind.


  1. Don’t talk about the test year-round.

Talking about the test all year does not increase student performance.  It increases student stress.  Yes, YOU will likely be thinking about and preparing for the test all year (it’s hard to help), but they do not need to be a part of this.  Teach with the standards in mind and keep the students focused on learning.  There is no point in causing the students to start worrying in August about a test they will take in May.

We start our test prep lessons about 6 – 8 weeks prior to test day.  This allows us to teach at the depth and rigor of the standards before we review for the test.

  1. Don’t only use test-like materials.

Of course, you will want to show the students what the test will look like, but don’t limit yourself to only those materials.  Preparing for the test does not mean only exposing the students to one type of text or format.  Using a mixture of high-interest materials and test-like materials will both engage and prepare your students.

  1. Don’t “drill and kill”.

Please do not turn school into a never-ending series of worksheets.  Boring your students to tears will not make them learn more or perform better.  Keep learning fun and engaging.

Fiction, Graphic Organizers, Plot Structure, Summary

Two Instructional Shifts to Increase Student Understanding of Fiction

Follow my blog with Bloglovin2 Simple Ways to Increase Student Understanding of Fiction

Fiction is my favorite genre to teach.  I love seeing my students connect and grow with the characters as they face and overcome challenges together.  Fiction has the ability to grab them as a reader and build them into stronger, more empathetic people.  This ability to shape who my students are is why a complete understanding of its structure is crucial for our young readers.  Here are two simple and easy instructional shifts that will enhance your students’ understanding of plot structure.

1. Teach the Plot Structure with its Realistic Shape

Two Simple Instructional Shifts to Increase Students' Understanding of Fiction

Stop teaching the witch’s hat!  Until I attended a workshop led by Judy Wallis I taught the plot structure with this unrealistic shape, or its more rounded version.  She explained how this shape gives students the wrong picture for how the plot develops throughout the story.  The climax is never in the middle.  Rather, the author spends a great deal of time developing rich characters and building their problem(s) with mounting tension, leading to the inevitable moment when the tension breaks and a resolution is born.  This is something I understood as a reader, but had been failing to share with my students.

If we give the students the correct shape to visualize the plot structure, they understand how it develops as they read much better.  It helps them see how the plot’s main events develop the story as a whole.  One reason so many teachers use the witch’s hat or the symmetrical roller coaster shapes is that it is easily accessible.  Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers are flooded with anchor charts, freebies, and other products that use this incorrect shape.  Here are some free resources to help you break this bad habit.  Click one the pictures to download your free copies from my TPT store.

FREE Plot and Summary Graphic Organizers


These complete plot structure lesson plans will help you introduce plot structure and teach to the rigor and complexity of STAAR. Teach your students to identify the plot’s main events, sequence main events in the story, and understand how events influence future events. These lessons are for use with Kat Kong by Dav Pilkey, a high interest text that will keep your students engaged throughout the lesson.

                                                                                                                    Plot Structure Lesson Plans

Included in the Plot Structure Lesson Plans:

– Complete plot lesson plans for 2 days of shared reading
– Thorough explanations of plot structure
– Example plot structure and fiction anchor charts
– Sentence strips for identifying plot points
– A hands on activity for partner work
– STAAR-like multiple choice questions

2. Teach Your Students to Anticipate the Structure of the Text Before Reading

Kids like to know what to expect.  This preference transfers easily to their reading and is the simplest way to reinforce the parts of the plot structure while preparing the students for their reading.

After you teach the plot structure and that (most) fiction texts follow this same structure, you can begin teaching the students to mentally prepare to read this genre.  Before we read anything in our classroom, we preview the text and predict the genre.  Once we identify that the text is a fiction story we “prepare a space in our brains” for the story.  I ask the students what kinds of things they can expect to find when reading the story.  I usually hear a few pieces of the plot shouted out and use those pieces to lead them to the plot structure as a whole.  We then physically move our hands in front of our brains to form the (realistic) shape of the plot structure.  This helps the students prepare to understand how the author develops the story.

These simple shifts have drastically improved my students’ understanding of fiction stories as a whole.  Let me know how it goes for you.  Happy teaching!

Homophones, Literacy Stations, Vocabulary

New Halloween Literacy Station Games

Which Witch? Halloween Homophone Game

FREE Which Witch - Halloween Homophone Game.

FREE ITEM at Reading with a Plan TpT Store!

This easy to assemble Halloween homophones game will allow your students to have fun using context clues and identifying homophones. Students can play this Halloween homophone game during literacy stations, in small groups, or even when you have a sub during guided reading.  Visit the Reading with a Plan TpT Store or click the picture to download your free copy!


  • Easy to assemble instructions. Just print, cut, laminate, and throw it in a station!
  • Easy to follow student directions
  • 40 playing cards (20 homophone pairs)
  • 4 game boards
  • Answer key


Trick or Treat:  A Beginning Blends Game

FREE Trick or Treat Beginning Blends Game

FREE ITEM at Reading with a Plan TpT Store!

Print and Play! This ready to use Halloween themed beginning blends game is a fun, engaging way to practice word study.

This Halloween beginning blends word study game includes:

  • one beginning blends game board w/ “trick spaces” and “treat spaces” to keep it interesting
  • beginning blends spinner (all you need is a pencil and a paper clip)
  • Blends included:
    tr, br, sl, st
Guided Reading, Novel Study

Novel Study: The Haunting of Grade Three

Just in time for Halloween!

The Haunting of Grade Three Novel Study.fw

This is a novel study for The Haunting of Grade Three by Grace Maccarone.  The Haunting of Grade Three is a DRA 34 (reading level O).

This TEKS aligned novel study contains 19 pages of meaningful student work and an answer key! The novel study is organized by chapter, grouping chapters 10 & 11 and chapters 14 & 15. The questions were created from STAAR stem questions and will inspire thought provoking conversations about the book.  Click the picture to get your copy from the Reading with a Plan TpT store.

The Haunting of Grade Three Novel Study

“We never believed in ghosts before!

There it was.  The old Blackwell mansion!  One big monster of a building.  It had dark towers, pointed gables, and shadowy arches.  And it was haunted!  Or at least that’s what most people thought.

The third grade of Elmwood Elementary was spending the year there because the school’s main building was overcrowded.  And very strange things we happening…”

Fiction, Plot Structure, Shared Reading

FREE Plot Structure Lesson Plans

Plot Structure Lesson Plans


These complete lesson plans will help you introduce plot structure and teach to the rigor and complexity of STAAR. Teach your students to identify the plot’s main events, sequence main events in the story, and understand how events influence future events. These lessons are for use with Kat Kong by Dav Pilkey, a high interest text that will keep your students engaged throughout the lesson.

Included in this resource:
– Complete lesson plans
– Thorough explanations
– Example anchor charts
– Sentence strips for identifying plot points
– A hands on activity for partner work
– STAAR-like multiple choice questions

Get this product for free at Reading with a Plan TpT Store!  Click the picture or here to get these lesson plans.

Character Analysis, Graphic Organizers, Guided Reading, Shared Reading

New Character Analysis Resource Added!

FREEBIE Character Analysis Graphic Organizers

Teach your students to analyze a character, their relationships, and the changes they undergo while teaching your fiction unit. This graphic organizer can be paired with any fiction text that showcases well developed characters and relationships. Click on the picture to get your FREE GRAPHIC ORGANIZER.

Second Grade: 2.9(B), Third Grade: 3.8(B), Fourth Grade: 4.6(B), Fifth Grade: 5.6(B)

The first organizer is helpful when teaching your students to analyze a character’s relationship and how that relationship changes throughout the story.  I use the space between the characters to record how the characters treat each other, feel about each other, how the nature of their relationship changes, and the events that caused those changes.

Free Character Analysis Graphic Organizer _ RelationshipsFree Character Analysis Graphic Organizer

If you are teaching your students to analyze one character, the single character organizer will be more focused and helpful for you.  This may be a good starting place for those new to analyzing characters.  I recommend starting with analyzing one character in second grade.  Once this skill is fully mastered, deepen your students’ understanding of character analysis by taking a look at their relationships with other characters in the text.

Happy teaching!

Classroom Organization, Guided Reading, Student Data

First Steps

“Before you learn to play basketball, you need to learn to run.  Before you learn to run, you learn to walk.  It is the same with school and education.  You learn to read for the same reason you learn to walk.  This is the first step.” – These wise words were shared by a parent with his child during a parent-teacher conference last year. 

Each year we face new challenges as teachers.  Defiant behaviors, new policies, demanding parents, below level readers, hurricanes…  You name it, we’ve seen it.  No matter the challenge, the importance lies in taking the first steps.  Sometimes we become so fixated on end of year expectations that we forget this importance and allow ourselves to feel defeated before we begin.  Plan with the end in mind, but don’t let it overwhelm you.

In the beginning of the year, focus on the first steps.  Each of our students begin the year in a different place, but they all need to move forward and make progress just the same.  Whether a student’s first step this school year is to learn all of the letters or learn to distinguish between literary and informational text, we will help him/her take it and run with it.  This is the beginning of his/her lifelong love of education.

It is October, which means guided reading instruction is in full swing in my classroom.  During guided reading I have been helping each of my students enhance their reading skills and improve their reading levels.  The thing that I love most about guided reading is that everyone is focused on moving forward and making progress.  Students who are two full grade levels behind in their reading level have the same goal as those who are reading a grade level ahead:  Be a better than I was yesterday.  This is a big focus in our classroom and it is highlighted during our guided reading block.

My GR Binder

I start my guided reading planning by getting my guided reading notebook organized and ready for the year.  I keep my groups, plans, books, and focus organized each week with a “Week at a Glance” page that I put in the beginning of my notebook.  This provides an easy way to see what I will be doing with each group all week long.  An editable version of this is available at my TpT store.  Click on the picture to download your FREE copy.

FREE Guided Reading Week at a Glance Editable Page

I use dividers to create a section for each group that includes a list of the books we have already read, an anecdotal notes page for each student, running records and comprehension rubrics taken for each student, and the current lesson plan for the group.  All of my extra copies are stored in the back of my binder, so I can replace notes pages for the students as I run out of space.

I have a FREE Guided Reading Binder bundle that includes everything I use at my TpT store.  Click on the picture to download your FREE copy.

FREE Guided Reading Binder Pages