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Kindergarten math and first grade math homework can be confusing and frustration to parents and teachers at times. My favorite messages come from these adults regarding questions on homework pages. Come 4:00 p.m., my cellphone starts blowing up with pictures of homework pages! These parents and teachers know that my love of math runs deep, but my love for helping others understand, especially the students who are depending on them to answers runs deeper! Most recently, I received one of these after-school text messages with a question from first grade geometry. The question read: "I am not a rectangle. I am not a triangle. What shape am I?" Four answer choices were given including a circle, square, rectangle, and triangle. How can you answer this question? More importantly, how you can you explain this answer to your child at home or in your classroom? Read more to learn about why a square is considered a special rectangle.

Math 101: Why is a Square a Special Rectangle?

If you haven't read between the lines yet, the answer to the question is a square.

I am not a rectangle. I am not a triangle. What shape am I?

The child on the other end of the text message instantly crossed out a rectangle and triangle.

I was especially excited to see this because it is evident that the child's parent and/or teacher had taught them the importance of eliminating answer choices!

The circle and square were remaining. The father instantly thought:

 It must be the circle.

Why is that? Why did the parent deduce the circle from those two choices?

The human brain is constantly looking for patterns. The child just eliminated two prominent shapes that have characteristics similar to the square. The rectangle and the triangle have vertices and edges. The brain sends the message that the square fits into a similar pattern; therefore, it must be the circle. 

Right and wrong.

There's more to this question that meets the eye, as with many word problems.

Though "circle" is in fact the correct answer, the justification needs a little work.

This question is testing the knowledge of a first grader, in this instance, if they know that a square is considered a special type of rectangle.

The father instantly proclaimed:

When I was in school, a square was a square and a rectangle was a rectangle!
Though I can't discount this statement {we do know a lot more mathematical explanation in education these days}, this is a common frustration point with many teachers and parents alike.

To learn more about this mysterious "special rectangle," we need to revisit the attributes or properties of shapes, particularly quadrilaterals.

Attributes or Properties of a Quadrilateral 

It's really easy to get lost within all of the academic vocabulary of kindergarten, first grade, and second grade geometry.

Here's the basics:


A quadrilateral has four sides, is 2-dimensional (a flat shape), closed (the lines join up), and has straight sides.

Both rectangles and squares are quadrilaterals. Both shapes are two-dimensional four-sided closed figures with straight sides.

Rectangles, squares, trapezoids, rhombuses, and parallelograms are all part of the quadrilateral family.

What makes rectangles and squares unique within this family?


A rectangle is a quadrilateral. It's sides intersect at 90 degree angles. A rectangle has opposite sides which are congruent, or have the exact same length. . The diagonals, are mutually bisecting, or cut each other in half.


A square is a quadrilateral. It's sides also intersect at 90 degree angle. Similar to a rectangle, its opposite sides are congruent, but ALL of its sides are congruent, or have the exact same length. The diagonals, are mutually bisecting, or cut each other in half. The square also has perpendicular bisecting diagonals.

A rectangle is also classified as a square when both pairs of opposite sides are the same length; thus, a square is a special rectangle. 

Hierarchy of Quadrilaterals

In this illustration above, the rectangle has the properties identified within the red quadrilateral.

The square contains ALL of the properties of the rectangle AND the properties listed solely within the square figure. 

This further depicts that a square is a special type of rectangle.

If you are still following this, you know have passed kindergarten math in Texas! Yeehaw! This just so happens to be first grade math in pretty much the rest of the country.

Content Standards Addressed: TEKS K.6A
The student applies mathematical process standards to analyze attributes of two-dimensional shapes and three-dimensional solids to develop generalizations about their properties. The student is expected to: identify two-dimensional shapes, including circles, triangles, rectangles, and squares as special rectangles

I hope this post inspires you to dust off your college textbook and learn more math lingo, or gives me the privilege to be a bookmarked site for future mathematical assistance.

What is the most confusing homework problem you've seen?

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Comparing numbers can be difficult. Young mathematicians, especially in kindergarten, just become proficient in learning the quantity of numbers before diving into comparing those numbers. For decades, teachers have relied on the 'ole alligator analogy for teaching students to compare numbers and draw comparison symbols. You will find numerous blog posts and printables with this cute alligator, even suggesting to use him with decimals and percentages. Have you or your students become dependent on drawing teeth on comparison symbols? Students think, "Is the bigger value eating the smaller one?" or "Is it the value it already chopped on?" This becomes confusing, especially for younger students. While this can be a cute anchor chart, students are not internalizing the meaning of the comparison symbols. This misnomer is confusing children and frustrating their future teachers. I know what you are thinking, if the alligator analogy isn't the best for students to learn, what can I teach my students so they can retain the correct meaning for these symbols? Read more to find a strategy for teaching comparing numbers and correctly explaining comparison symbols. 

Why You Need to Ditch the Alligator When Comparing Numbers Blog Post by Down River Resources

There's A Better Way To Compare Numbers

Thinking about how a child learns vocabulary, it's easy to roll back time and reflect on how a young child learns their name. How does a child learn their name? Parents have identified the child by their name. The parents and others around the child use their name in context. With repeated exposure to their name, the young child memorizes it. Soon they are able to repeat their name and identify themselves as such.

Children are innately logical and literal. If we say "alligator," children think of the lizard-like swamp animal, not a mathematical symbol. 

If adults call a comparison symbol an "alligator," we are mislabeling a content-specific word for students.

I truly believe this is what happened in my early education. I learned tricks in school, not actual mathematics. Eventually, there comes a point when tricks no longer suffice for students and can lead to failure in advanced mathematics, which is the WHY behind everything I do with Down River Resources.

There is a big movement, especially in upper elementary, middle, and high schools to break students away from these misrepresentations.

Trust me, I know it is not ANYONE'S intention to teach incorrectly, often times, we are victims of our own education. Educators teach the way they were taught unless they have since learned differently.

How Do I Teach Comparisons?

Use a word problem to introduce two sets of numbers. If you are comparing numbers 9 and 7, it may sound like this:

Kaila and Marco were born on the same day. Kaila has 9 birthday candles on her cake. Marco has 7 candles on her birthday cake. Use a comparsion symbol (>, <, or =) to compare 9 and 7.

Ideally, with exposure to symbols, such as in the word problem above, students memorize the meaning. Just as students hear comparative language, such as "equal to," "greater than," and "less than," they need to see the symbols that represent these phrases too.

After modeling this language and its corresponding symbols, the students should practice saying and writing them too!

If you are still stuck on the alligator so the students have a scaffold for learning the comparison symbol, I have a strategy to help. 

Sometimes before students can internalize the meaning of the symbol, it helps to actually analyze the shape of the comparison symbol.

Why You Need to Ditch the Alligator When Comparing Numbers and Strategy Support
Think about an equal symbol. 

The line segments are parallel; the bars are the same distance apart on both sides. (See the "equal to" image.)

Now, let's take a closer look at the symbols that represent inequalities. 

The segments, or bars, are tilted when using the inequalities. There is a smaller side and a larger sides.

The GREATER number is next to the wider end, while the LESSER number is next to the narrower end. 

Please note the language used in that statement above. Use GREATER instead of 'bigger,' and LESS rather than 'smaller.'

Why You Need to Ditch the Alligator When Comparing Numbers and Strategy Support As students move into advanced mathematics, students will need to apply this skill to integers. Calling -6 'bigger' than -16 creates confusion for students.

As you can see below, EVERY grade level focuses on comparisons to some degree. 

Let's commit to focus on teaching mathematics, not just the tricks!

Math Content Standards Addressed: 

Why You Need to Ditch the Alligator When Comparing Numbers and Strategy Support - TEKS K.2G Compare sets of objects up to at least 20 in each set using comparative language.
- TEKS K.2H Use comparative language to describe two numbers up to 20 presented as written numerals.

First Grade
- TEKS 1.2D Generate a number that is greater than or less than a given whole number up to 120.
- TEKS 1.2E Use place value to compare whole numbers up to 120 using comparative language.
- TEKS 1.2F Order whole numbers up to 120 using place value and open number lines.
- TEKS 1.2G Represent the comparison of two numbers to 100 using the symbols >, <, or =.

Second Grade
- TEKS 2.2C Generate a number that is greater than or less than a given whole number up to 1,200.
- TEKS 2.2D Use place value to compare and order whole numbers up to 1,200 using comparative language, numbers, and symbols (>, <, or =).

Third Grade
- TEKS 3.2D Compare and order whole numbers up to 100,000 and represent comparisons using the symbols >, <, or =.

Fourth Grade
TEKS 4.2 Compare and order whole numbers to 1,000,000,000 and represent comparisons using the symbols >, <, or =.
- TEKS 4.3D Compare two fractions with different numerators and different denominators and represent the comparison using the symbols >, =, or <.

Fifth Grade
TEKS 5.2B Compare and order two decimals to thousandths and represent comparisons using the symbols >, <, or =.

I hope this post inspires you to use math language when teaching students how to compare numbers, if you want to download some free mats to use when comparing numbers, you can find them here.

Were you taught the alligator analogy?

Get FREE Comparing Numbers Mats Delivered Straight to Your Inbox! Join Down River Resources as a Valued Partner!

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Why You Need to Ditch the Alligator When Comparing Numbers Strategy

One of the best things about teaching history during Women's History Month is the accessibility of quality children's literature or picture books! Students are much more likely to learn about the important events, people, and places which make our world unique through an accessible text. Throughout our history women have made valuable contributions. No matter what their role, women's experiences remain an important and sometimes overlooked aspect of our history. I've included some historical texts and a few inspirations book for young girls. These picture books value the diverse experience of women and provide inspiration for the young girl sitting in our classroom or being raised within our home.

Finding the Best Picture Books for Women's History Month

This post contains affiliate links for Amazon. I only recommend items that I own and use to my Valued Partners. By purchasing an item on the Amazon site using these links, I will receive a very small commission on your purchase that allows me to maintain this website. Thank you for your continued support!

Girls come in all different colors and sizes. They delight and amaze us. They're full of surprises. Girls can do anything they want to do. And if YOU are a girl . . . You can do these things too! 
- Girls Can Do Anything

Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World

Shaking Things Up introduces fourteen revolutionary young women—each paired with a noteworthy female artist—to the next generation of activists, trail-blazers, and rabble-rousers. This book has beautiful illustrations and is sure to inspire your budding artists too!

In this book of poems, you will find Mary Anning, who was just thirteen when she unearthed a prehistoric fossil. You’ll meet Ruby Bridges, the brave six year old who helped end segregation in the South. And Maya Lin, who at twenty-one won a competition to create a war memorial, and then had to appear before Congress to defend her right to create.

And those are just a few of the young women included in this book. Readers will also hear about Molly Williams, Annette Kellerman, Nellie Bly, Pura Belprè, Frida Kahlo, Jacqueline and Eileen Nearne, Frances Moore LappĂ©, Mae Jemison, Angela Zhang, and Malala Yousafzai—all whose stories will enthrall and inspire. This poetry collection was written, illustrated, edited, and designed by women and includes an author’s note, a timeline, and additional resources.

With artwork by notable artists including Selina Alko, Sophie Blackall, Lisa Brown, Hadley Hooper, Emily Winfield Martin, Oge Mora, Julie Morstad, Sara Palacios, LeUyen Pham, Erin Robinson, Isabel Roxas, Shadra Strickland, and Melissa Sweet.

This book is best suited for upper elementary students.

She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World

Chelsea Clinton introduces eager students who are ready to take on the world to thirteen inspirational women who never took no for an answer, and who always, inevitably and without fail, persisted.

Throughout American history, there have always been women who have spoken out for what's right, even when they have to fight to be heard. In She Persisted, Chelsea Clinton celebrates thirteen American women who helped shape our country through their tenacity, sometimes through speaking out, sometimes by staying seated, sometimes by captivating an audience. They all certainly persisted.

This book features: Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Clara Lemlich, Nellie Bly, Virginia Apgar, Maria Tallchief, Claudette Colvin, Ruby Bridges, Margaret Chase Smith, Sally Ride, Florence Griffith Joyner, Oprah Winfrey, Sonia Sotomayor—and one special cameo.

Dear Girl, 

Dear Girl, is a remarkable love letter written for the special girl in your life; a gentle reminder that she’s powerful, strong, and holds a valuable place in the world.

Through this charming text and stunning illustrations, any girl reading this book will feel that she's great just the way she is—whether she enjoys jumping in a muddy puddle, has a face full of freckles, or dances on table tops.

Dear Girl, encourages girls to always be themselves and to love who they are—inside and out.

I love text letter written inside of  book jacket. This surely gives you the sentiment that is beautifully captured within the pages of this text:

Dear Girl,
This book is for you.
Wonderful, smart, beautiful you.
If you ever need a reminder, just turn to any page in this book and know that you are special and you are loved.
—Amy and Paris

If you are a mother, aunt, grandmother, or someone special to a lucky girl, this book is the perfect gift!

Girls Can Do Anything

This enchanting book is all about the things girls can do. Whether she dreams of being a vet that heals people's pets, a firefighter that braves the flames, an astronaut floating in deep, dark space, or a fearless jungle explorer, there's nothing that a girl can't do. Girls Can Do Anything!

One size definitely does not fit all in this book: charming depictions of girls being scruffy or fancy, neat or messy, and everything in between are explored and celebrated, because each girl is unique and unlike all others. 

Empower young girls everywhere and let them know that being told "you're such a girl" is the greatest compliment of all!

One of my favorite things about this book is that girls of every walk of life are represented. There's a girl in a wheelchair and girls of color in this text. If representation matters to you when selecting a text this book surely fits the bill. 

Girl, You're Amazing!

An upbeat, rhyming tribute to girls offers readers encouragement to build confidence and self-esteem while whimsical paintings celebrate the many things that girls of every age can do.

Girl, You're Amazing! has you chanting that beautiful sentence to your favorite girl all day long!

This book also celebrates diversity. If you are looking for a book that celebrates the uniqueness of all girls, this book is for you! The illustrator aims for inclusion in her hip gouaches, which feature girls of all races and appearances. Asymmetrical faces, fashionably mismatched patterns, and a quirky palette of colors adorn each unique page.

Another great thing about this text is that it has a companion, Boy, You're Amazing! With all this girl talk, we need to remember that EACH child is unique and special no matter their gender!

I hope this post inspires you to find the perfect picture book to celebrate girls and women this March and beyond! I look forward to adding to this list as I find more books that celebrate girls.

What is your favorite female picture book?

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STAAR testing season is right around the corner! The best STAAR test prep strategy is high-quality instruction throughout the school year, but many teachers like to add a test prep session to their schedule for good measure! {Whatever helps, right?!} Whether you test prep throughout the school year or in the final weeks before the STAAR test, or other standards-based assessment, you can gamify your test prep materials to improve student motivation and engagement! Do your students want to learn? Are your students making the effort to learn? Are they enjoying the process and doing well? Are your students motivated to learn or are they dragging their heels? Gamifying test prep might be just what your students need, especially if you are reading this right around Spring Break?! Continuing reading to find a simple way to increase motivation and engagement during test prep!

How To Increase Motivation and Engagement During Test Prep

Test Prep Games are Good for the Brain

This post contains affiliate links for Amazon. I only recommend items that I own and use to my Valued Partners. By purchasing an item on the Amazon site using these links, I will receive a very small commission on your purchase that allows me to maintain this website. Thank you for your continued support!

The social component of working on a game in a group leads to LOADS of benefits on brain function including:

- Activate neurotransmission
- Increase brain plasticity
- Rewires
- Mitigates brain inflammation
- Mitigates deleterious effects of oxidative stress

These are just the benefits of the social components of gamifying educational content.

Adding learning games in your classroom will boost intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, engagement, and learning outcomes for learner!

With so many benefits, what are you waiting for friend?

My favorite way of gamifying the classroom is by simply adding a popular game to test prep sessions.  

Want to do it too?

Here's How To Test Prep with Ease:

Collect a game or gameboard. Goodwill and Savers are the best cost-savings options. I often find games on clearance too!

Use word problems or sample test questions as the educational basis of the game. You can use questions from worksheets, released test questions, or specific game cards to practice heavily-tested standards. (In Texas, we call these the readiness standards.)

Rigorous game cards

The class can be divided into two teams. The team can work together to solve the problem.

If the team gets the problem correct, the team has a turn to play the game. Students within each team can take turns being the “player” for their team by following the game’s instructions.

If the team does not get the problem correct, they forfeit their turn. {You can also create a “Steal” option. The other team can generate a solution for an extra turn. You can give teams a couple extra chances to use through the game, three strikes, etc.}

Connect Four Shots

Are you ready to try this strategy, but need test-like questions to minimize your prep time?

I'll keep you afloat with my math test prep bundles that are just waiting for you to print. These will surely add some challenge into your math test prep sessions. They can be used during testing season or throughout the year for a spiral review. The bundles come with printable game boards OR you can add your own physical game too. 

I hope this post inspires you to gamify your test prep sessions, if you need Connect Four Shots,
you can find it here.

The rigorous test prep bundles can be found in my TpT shop:

What are some other ways you have motivated and engaged your students during test prep sessions?

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One of my favorite things to do is walk into a bookstore. It doesn't matter if it is a big box bookstore or the Friends of the Library resell shop in town. I love books... especially children's picture books. Before I started teaching, I would buy any and all books. I have had to be more strategic as the years have passed and the space to shelve these books shrinks. My focus has been building a collection of diverse and rigorous books which I can use to teach mathematics. I buy math picture books now! I have four favorites that I use for teaching place value! I hope this list helps you as you grow your math picture book library!

Place Value Picture Books

The Best Picture Books for Place Value

Picture books provide an opportunity to open mathematical discussions with children. This list will help you find the best picture books to use with your classroom to facilitate their learning of place value. Each of these titles specifically teach mathematical concepts about place value and were written to inform the reader about them. This is not an exhaustive list of books that can be used to teach this skill, but a solid start of titles that I actually own and use!

This post contains affiliate links for Amazon. I only recommend items that I own and use to my Valued Partners. By purchasing an item on the Amazon site using these links, I will receive a very small commission on your purchase that allows me to maintain this website. Thank you for your continued support!

Count to a Million by Jerry Pallotta - Place Value Picture Books
Count to a Million

Count to a Million

Popular children's author, Jerry Pallotta, hits it out of the ballpark again with this title, Count to a Million! If you can count to ten, you can count to one million! That's a pretty bold statement! Although some may have their doubts, readers will find themselves counting higher than they ever thought possible, inspiring even the most reluctant math student, as they build confidence and have fun.

Earth Day- Hooray! Place Value Picture Books
Earth Day-Hooray!

Earth Day-Hooray!

I can't get enough of the MathStart books by Stuart J. Murphy! Earth Day–Hooray! is one of his most popular children’s books too!  Earth Day-Hooray! is a story about Ryan, Luke, and Carly.  These friends need to collect and recycle 5,000 cans if they want to make enough money to plant flowers in the park.  This story is a two-for-one lesson about recycling and the math skill of place value.  Your students will be counting by groups of hundreds, tens, and ones as you read this title to them!

How Much is a Million? Place Value Picture Books
How Much is a Million?

How Much is a Million?

How Much is a Million? by David M. Schwartz is a great story about large numbers.  Ever wonder just what a million of something actually means? How about a billion? Or a trillion? Marvelosissimo, the mathematical magician, can teach you! Say that two times fast! How Much is a Million? breaks down complex numbers down to size in a fun and humorous way that helps children conceptualize a difficult mathematical concept.

Math Fables: Lessons That Count Place Value Books
Math Fables: Lessons That Count

Math Fables:  Lessons That Count

Math Fables: Lessons That Count by Greg Tang is an amazing resource for teaching children their math skills, in particular place value!  Through these “fables” about concepts that are relevant to the very youngest math learners, including sharing, teamwork, etc., Tang encourages children to see the basics of addition and subtraction in entirely new ways. Fresh, fun, and most of all, inspiring, this title is perfect for launching young readers on the road to math success!

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Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover!

Other Place Value Titles on my Personal Wish List

Place Value by David A. Adler (Popular Author)- This is a newly released book!

You had better not monkey around when it comes to place value. The monkeys in this book can tell you why! As they bake the biggest banana cupcake ever, they need to get the amounts in the recipe correct. There’s a big difference between 216 eggs and 621 eggs. Place value is the key to keeping the numbers straight. Using humorous art, easy-to-follow charts and clear explanations, this book presents the basic facts about place value while inserting some amusing monkey business.

Join Sir Cumference and the gang for more wordplay, puns, and problem solving in the clever math adventure about place-value and counting by tens. Sir Cumference and Lady Di planned a surprise birthday party for King Arthur, but they didn’t expect so many guests to show up. How many lunches will they need? And with more guests arriving by the minute, what about dinner? Sir Cumference and Lady Di count guests by tens, hundreds, and even thousands to help young readers learn place-value. Fans will love this new installment of the Sir Cumference series that makes math fun and accessible for all.

A Million Dots by Andrew Clements

It's a long way to 
a million, right?
Of course it is.
But do you really know 
what a million looks like? 

If you'd like to see -- actually see, right now, with your own eyes -- what a million looks like, just open this book. 

Be prepared to learn some interesting things along the way. Like how many shoe boxes it would take to make a stack to Mount Everest. And be prepared to do some number wondering of your own. But, most of all, be prepared to be amazed. Because a million is a LOT of dots.

I hope this post inspires you to use picture books as you teach place value.

What are some of the math picture books you use in your classroom?

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The Best Books for Teaching Place Value by Down River Resources

Have you ever had the privilege of making a home visit and seeing one of your students interact with their family? It's quite a fascinating experience! As a lifelong learner and constant observer, I often find ways that help me understand the "whole child" of which I am responsible for teaching. Teaching social skills is one of many skill sets that should be taught to our students, but is often overlooked due to time constraints and the growing demand of teaching content standards. I have found that you can incorporate social skills into your regular classroom day by using a quick and effective method. This method can be used to teach one of the most essential social skills in the classroom, using the appropriate voice tone.

Three Steps to Using the Appropriate Voice Tone

Teaching How to Use the Appropriate Voice Tone Now

Think about your home growing up. I came from a home where the voice tone got a little loud, especially on Friday nights when the entire family would gather around the large round table to enjoy a fiesta of tacos and burritos. It might be an amusing sight, especially since I am of Eastern European decent, but surely a product of growing up along the United States-Mexican border! 'Ole! 

Students usually bring the voice tone that they are accustomed to into the classroom. While I had to learn how to adjust my voice tone when speaking with a small group, some students live in a soft-spoken home. Students that come from this type of environment have to learn to use their speaker voice when addressing the class. These types of adjustments are necessary and teaching this social skill explicitly can save you a lot of time throughout the school year.

The Importance of Social Skills 

Social skills are sets of behaviors that help individuals interact with one another in ways that are socially acceptable and beneficial. Teaching children that there are new ways of thinking, new ways to feeling good, and new ways of behaving are reasons we teach social skills.

Social skills can be broken down in a step-by-step manner. By breaking down these skills, we identify the behaviors that need to be included to get the desired result. Making sure that each step is observable, we can instantly know if students are meeting the expectations. 

Three Masterful Steps to Using Appropriate Voice Tone

1. Listen to the level of the voices around you.

2. Change your voice tone to match.

3. Watch and listen for visual or verbal cues and adjust your voice as needed.

Three Masterful Steps to Using Appropriate Voice Tone

Supporting Students Visually with a Voice Level Chart

Standardizing a few simple volume levels for your classroom can prove helpful, especially as we encourage learning in a variety of settings.

We can use these volume levels as we directly teach using appropriate voice tone. Model these volumes before having small groups practice these voice tones. 

Once you have these voice levels established in your classroom, you can clarify for each activity which level is most appropriate. 

For example, before releasing your students to work with their small group on a math problem, you might say simply, “We are working at a voice level two.”

Once using this system, students become accustomed to the appropriate voice tone. When it becomes a regular routine, you do not need to spend any time on noting the voice tone for the activity unless needed.

This classroom voice level chart can be used to display the appropriate voice tone in the classroom during a specific activity.

Supporting Students Who Struggling Using Appropriate Voice Tone

Visual Cue

You can simply point to the voice level chart displayed in the room or hold up the corresponding voice level using your fingers.

Create a personal voice levels chart that students can keep on their desks. Add a colorful or seasonal clothespin that students can adjust based on the activity they are working on. Having this support on their desk helps students remember that they are to work using a certain voice tone.

Students can keep a personal voice level chart at their desk. This can be used as an additional visual support for students. Add a colorful clothespin to keep students focused on a particular voice level for a specified activity.

Corrective Prompt

You can quickly refer to the visual voice level chart along with a corrective prompt. 

As you smile, and in a positive voice, say: "Hey Josh, where's level 3?"

Coupling Statement

You can also use a coupling statement where you briefly describe the inappropriate behavior while offering the more appropriate alternative behavior. Say: "Josh, you walked into class using a Level 3 voice. Try coming in again using a Level 0."

Teachers Need to Explicitly Teach Social Skills

After reflecting on my own teaching practice, I was curious how other teachers handle social skills. I reached out to my audience on Instagram and inquired:

Do you explicitly teach using the appropriate voice tone to your class?

Sixty percent of respondents stated that they had not taught this social skill. 

If you want your students to use the appropriate voice tone in your classroom, you can to teach the process step-by step. 

I hope this post inspires you to teach this essential skill and if you'd like to use my voice level charts to help you along this process, you can find them in my TpT shop.

What are some of the other social skills you are thinking about teaching explicitly to your classroom this school year?

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Planning for the new school year can be hectic, if not overwhelming! Everyone is worried about finding the latest and greatest school supplies and teacher resources. If you are currently facing this dilemma, I'd love to keep you afloat. I recommend pencils and a calendar as being the top two teacher tools you need this back to school season. Everything you think will happen, usually changes. The pencil will help you keep track of these many changes. If you have a calendar, you can map out where you want to take your students in the coming year! Yet again, the pencil will surely help you in this endeavor. Everything you plan, usually changes. Notice a pattern here! If you are ready to plan out the best school year ever and learn the secrets of creating a dynamic pacing guide, this blog post is for you!

Curriculum pacing guides are essential tools for examining and organizing the curriculum taught over the course of the school year.

Creating a Curriculum Plan for the New School Year

Before you begin this process you will need a few items:

  • writing tools (pencils, pens, highlighters, etc.)
  • blank calendar (monthly calendars work best)
  • district and/or campus calendars
  • standards and scope and sequence documents (if you possess any)

You can create your own curriculum pacing guide which will help you examine and organize the curriculum taught over the course of the school year.
Prepare for creating a curriculum plan by gathering  materials first. 

1. Start with a vision or end goal. To read more about this subject before beginning this process, click here. {It will surely help you plan the best school year ever!}

2. Grab a copy of your district and campus calendars and some writing tools. {I usually have access to the district calendar when starting this process, but not the campus calendar... that's okay!}

3. Use a calendar (you can print a simple monthly calendar for the school months off of the Internet or use a calendar from a Dollar store) to mark all of the holidays and special days in the school year that your students will NOT receive instruction. These dates will impact your teaching time, so it essential to account for how much time you will actually have this school year!

  • You can use a highlighter to mark out non-instructional days or cross them off.
  • I usually put a diagonal line through days that are half-days, commonly called "early release days." This gives me a visual cue that my instructional day will be reduced. {In my experiences, the focus for half-days are solely reserved for reading and math instruction. Some administrators just ask teachers to completely compress the day, so that every subject is still taught, but for a reduced amount of time.} 
  • Make sure you pencil in all of the end of the reporting or grading periods and semesters. This will help you stay on track with your pacing as you plan out your school year.

It is essential to account for all of the teaching time you will have when creating a curriculum pacing guide.
Account for all of your instructional time per month.

4. Once you mark up the calendar, you may want to count the number of instructional days for each subject area and/or grading period. {This will help you know how many days to divide a certain number of standards by as we work to map out the school year!}

5. Take the standards and/or scope and sequence documents for each individual subject. Working through this process takes time and attention. Start with one subject area. 

Since I focus on math, I will provide an example for math.

Using the state standards for math, I know that in kindergarten I need to work through the numbers 0 through 20. In order to promote mastery, I need to break up those numbers in groups. I will not teach all of the numbers in September, but focus solely on numbers 0 to 5. Now, looking at the calendar, I know that I have 18.5 days in this month to teach my students how to represent numbers 0 to 5, generate sets with numbers 0 to 5, and compose and decompose numbers 0 to 5.

As a novice, you will rely on basic division to give you the pacing for this month. You will probably not know what topics will give your students the most difficulty, but you can plan in time to help remediate students. 

For example, 18.5 days divided by three topics is about five. I can spend five days for each of the topics. Then, I will have four days for review, assessment, and remediation. 

As an experienced teacher, you might plan out this month of math like this:

If I have three focus topics (based on the standards) that need to be covered and 18.5 days to cover them (based on the instructional days on the calendar), I could spend five days on each topic and have four days of built-in time for assessment and re-teaching. These days can be called "flex days" on your calendar. The flex days can be used if a topic needs more than five days devoted to it, or if you need to re-teach a portion of the students in the classroom. As an experienced teacher in this grade level, I know that composing and decomposing numbers will be most difficult, so I anticipating using at least one of the "flex days" for intervention on this topic. 

Curriculum pacing guides are helpful for organizing each subject area based on the instructional time you have over the course of a school year.
Color code your curriculum calendar based on subject areas.

6. In order to create the most effective plan take into consideration the following things:

  • collaborative work with colleagues in the same grade level (horizontal planning)
  • collaborative work with colleagues across grade levels (vertical planning)
  • school curriculum: What resources do you have access to? Is there anything you are required to use to teach a particular subject?
  • school learning philosophies: Is your campus implementing a particular approach to teaching?
  • students' needs
  • past experiences

Many of these topics will be taken into consideration as you build your daily and weekly lesson plans, but I would be amiss without mentioning these!

7. Repeat the process for the entire school year, for each individual subject. 

Personally, I like to work through one subject at a time. It helps me to stay in the same mindset while planning out the subject area. I tend to work in chunks of time devoted to each subject area and find that, for me, it is beneficial and the most efficient use of my time.

Some teachers prefer to work through each subject within a grading period. Then, they move to the next grading period. Whatever strategy helps you, commit to it and use it!

Regardless of your method, I recommend completing this task for the entire school year, before the school year begins. You can alter your plan during the school year, but it is harder to make time for this practice and it is not as effective building your big picture plan as you go.

Implications for Creating a Plan for the New School Year

This process will help you create a significant planning tool for your classroom or grade-level.

This procedure allows to you examine and organize your school year.

It allows you, as the educator, to determine how the content, skills, and assessments will unfold over the course of the year.

There are many implications for creating a plan for the new school year!

Frequently Asked Question about Pacing

I am in a grade level that takes a state assessment, prior to the end of the school year. How do I plan for this?

You want to plan out all of your tested standards so that you cover them before the testing window. I like to plan to have everything taught at least two weeks in advance of the testing window. If I can teach everything before this time, this allows me two solid weeks of review. This review time is critical for students to recall older information and set the tone for testing!

What if I do not have any direction on curriculum pacing?

Use the standards as your guide. If you have 36 standards to cover in a particular subject, cover one standard per week. If you have 36 standards to cover and need to cover them before a testing window, count up your instructional days BEFORE the assessment, and teach all of the standards prior to your testing window!

What if I already have a pacing guide?

If you already have a pacing guide, you are one step ahead in this process! I still recommend working on your calendar and breaking up the units or topics into the specific days accounting for all of the instructional time that you will have based on the calendar you created in step three above.

What if I own a Down River Resources' TEKS pacing guide?

I did a lot of the pacing for you! I have already broke all of the standards into groups based on months of the year. If you are in a grade level that takes the state assessment, I took this into consideration while mapping out the standards by month. Using the prepared pacing guide effectively still requires you to break down the recommended standards by month into instructional days based on the calendar you created in step three above.

Because student groups and instructional calendars vary from district to district, it is impossible for me to have a universal guide for this!
I hope this post inspires you to create a plan for your best year ever and if you'd like to use my TEKS pacing guides to help you along this process, you can find them in my TpT shop.

What resources are available to you to create your plan for the new school year?

Make sure to pin and save this post for future reference.

Creating a solid instructional plan for the coming school year will help you in creating the best school year ever!

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