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