5 Tips for Remembering Students’ Names

5 Tips to Remember Students NamesWhile some teachers can have everyone’s name down pat by the end of the first period, others need a little more help. If you are struggling to remember your students’ names, here are 4 time tested tips and 1 new, fun project idea to get you going:

  1. Create a seating chart right away. Seating charts will help you quickly connect names and faces during attendance and when calling on students. If you keep the seating chart on the podium in the front of your room or on a clip board, you can covertly glance down at names when needed so students won’t be the wiser! I suggest marking the seating chart with students’ preferred names to avoid confusion (e.g. Chris instead of Christopher).
  2. Greet students at the door. I like to stand at the door and casually greet students as they come in. I’ve had collogues who effectively and joyfully shake hands with every student as they walk in. I take a less formal approach, smiling and saying good morning, using names whenever possible to reinforce them in my brain. I also make quick chit chat with them because knowing a little about them helps me solidify a relationship, not to mention remember names.
  3. Make name cards. If the seating chart doesn’t help or you choose not to use one, paper tent name cards can also help. You can ask students to tuck them in their books and reuse them all week until you have a better grasp on their names.


  1. Say their names when you call on them. It may sound weird at first, but it is a networking trick in the business world and beyond. The adage says that saying a name 3 times when you meet a person will help you remember. You may be hard pressed to use every student’s name 3 times in a class period, especially if your numbers are creeping up to 35+ like they are in my area. However, after a few days of diligence, you can sure get in your fair share of naming and remembering.
  2. Make a fun selfie project! Why not harness the incredible technology so readily available to today’s teens? Sample directions: Take a selfie with something important to you. All photos must be school appropriate. Include your name and period number in the picture. Students could turn them in to you via google docs, celly, email, schoology, evernote, or any other technology that you are comfortable with. Then you can easily study their pictures with names attached and as an added bonus you have great conversation starters built in for getting to know students. Here are to samples of a teacher and a student:


The student is posing with a piece of his art from sculpture class and I am posing with my new baby Willa!  Both of these could be great memory devices and conversation starters!

What helps you remember students’ names? How long does it usually take you to know them all?

These are a Few of My Favorite (Back to School) Things:

sound of back to schoolMove over Von Trapps, it’s time for the sound of school:

New sharpened pencils and fresh ink in pens
Bright stadium lights and warm woolen letterman’s
Brown paper lunch bags tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite back to school things

With all of the stress, busyness, and seemingly endless meetings that greet teachers at the beginning of each school year, I thought that today would be a good day to reflect on some of my favorite parts of the back to school season.  Feel free to share yours in the comment section below!

1. Shopping for supplies: I absolutely LOVE going shopping for school supplies (even if I do have to foot the bill myself).  I like freshly sharpened pencils, white board markers that write brightly, and pens that still have matching caps.  I like tape rolls that are new and easy to use and fresh butcher block paper that is just calling out to be used for mind mapping and student presentations.  Hands down, my favorite thing to shop for is a new academic planer to fill with to do lists, which quickly transform to lists of accomplishments and proud moments. I also always splurge on fun post-it notes like the ones shaped like arrows or apples. What are your favorite supplies to purchase or receive?

2. Setting up the space: Decorating and creating functional spaces for learning is another exciting part of the back to school season.  I can get lost for hours in the sea of amazing ideas on pinterest (<- click to follow us)! And there is something beautiful about a room all freshly set up to expand the minds of today’s youth.  For some ideas, here are links to a literature based classroom decoration and a grammar bulletin board idea that I have shared in the past.

3. Trying out new tech: Although new tech can be added during any point in the school year, the new year gives me the guts to try out new apps, software, and hardware. Here are some of my favorite classroom technology posts: Google DriveGrammarlyCollaborize ClassroomQuizlet, and more!  (Click on the tag “technology” in the right hand margin of this page for a full list). I can’t wait to try out some new things this year and share them here.  If you have suggestions for cool tech tools I need to try out, please leave them in the comment section.  ;)

4. Getting back into a routine: As much as I enjoy sleeping in, using the bathroom whenever I want, and losing track of which day it is, my body always appreciates getting back into the structure of a new school year. Even with the craziness of my teaching schedule, I find that I eat healthier, sleep more soundly, and drink more water when the school bell rules my day.

5. Starting fresh relationships: Every new school year is an opportunity to reset relationships, raise expectations, and let go of frustrations. I frequently have some of the same students during their freshmen and junior years, but even then conscious effort can allow us to find new appreciation for each other and our collective growth since our last classroom experience.

What are your favorite things about back to school?  We wish you the very best school year yet! Don’t forget to stock up on great resources at simplynovel.com.

5 Things I Won’t Be Doing On The First Day Of School

first dayJuly is almost gone and so it is officially time to start (or continue) thinking about going back to school. For a long time, the first day of school was one of my most dreaded days. It isn’t just the students who have the nightmares about forgetting their pants and their locker combos! I worried and stressed about making a perfect impression, coming up with the perfect activity and forgetting to cover all the procedures that would set us up for a perfect school year. I also felt some pressure from the administration over the years to enforce and reinforce school rules on the first day.  Luckily, over the years the first day has gotten easier and I have learned what doesn’t work for me.  I am sharing my list below and I’d love to hear what you will or will not be doing on the first day of school!  Leave a comment in the comment section below. ;)

On the first day of school, I will not be: 

1. reading my syllabus. I give a pretty detailed syllabus and I really want the students to appreciate all the hard work that I put into creating it; however, I have to realize 3 things about said syllabus.

  • Reading this detailed document is boring and sometimes insulting to their intelligence. I do not want either sentiment to be my first impression.
  • Referring to the syllabus continually over the semester is a much more practical and effective way to teach students about the value of a syllabus in a long-term way that will help them succeed in my class and beyond.  I can also fall back here on the old adage about college professors expecting students to read and understand the syllabus on their own, but I do plan to discuss it at length through small conversations throughout the semester since they are not in college yet.
  • The highlight reel is plenty for the first day of school.  I can spend a maximum of 5 minutes enthusiastically going through the overview of the semester’s content and most engaging projects to whet their appetite without overwhelming them or causing them to tune out.

2. going through every rule. I used to think that if I didn’t outline the rules specifically, I would have no control and things would spiral out from there.  As it turns out, students know the basic rules about being on time, being prepared for class, and being respectful.  5 minutes about the most important things followed by a general air of high expectations can go a long way.  The other rules and procedures can be discussed over the coming weeks.

3. spending the whole period on non-subject related icebreakers. I enjoy the process of getting to know my students.  I like to know their stories, their hobbies, and their motivations. These authentic relationships develop over time. There is also a pretty good chance that they are doing icebreakers in multiple classes, which can leave them feeling like it was a throw away day.  Instead, I think it is a better plan to jump into a high interest, high participation lesson that is content specific and will leave students with a sense that their time was well-spent in meaningful curriculum.

4. talking a lot about myself. I want the students to know and respect me, and I LOVE to tell a humorous story when the moment is right, but I also don’t want to distract from the real reason we are gathered together, which is to discover the beauty of Fitzgerald, argumentation, MLA, and so much more. I’m ashamed to say that not talking about myself is one of the most difficult lessons I have learned over the years.

5. doing all the back to school set up. Yes, books must be passed out, seating charts must be made, other work must be done, but it does not all have to happen on the first day. I will not let the first day be overtaken with all that busy work!  I will prioritize it and spread it out with real curriculum!

What will you be doing or not doing on the first day of school?

Tips for Creating Emergency Lesson Plans


Every year in September, teachers at my school are required to submit emergency lesson plans, which are to be used in case we are absent and unable to complete regular sub plans.  In 10 years, I have only used my emergency lesson plans once, but on that day, boy was I glad they were there!  Whether emergency lesson plans are a school requirement or if you are just making them for your own piece of mind, today I want to share a couple of tips for making the most out of emergency lesson plans.

1. Keep it simple. Remember that this emergency plan can be used at anytime during the school year so it is usually best not tie it to a particular unit so you don’t have to update it during the year.  I also think it is best to avoid a lesson that includes a lot of photocopying because you don’t want to waste paper if the lesson never gets used and it is not likely that an emergency sub will have time to copy on the morning of said emergency. Finally, remember that you will not be there to give lengthy explanations, so keep all directions clear for both sub and students.  It is also helpful if you include a seating chart and roster for attendance/notes.  Seating charts should be updated monthly, quarterly, or semesterly if they change.

2. Think about things you wish you had time for.  With all of the standards and areas of focus in our classes, we run out of time for some of the fun stuff.  This can be an opportunity to bring that in.

  • Poetry: You can give students the characteristics of a sonnet, haiku, villanelle, or other type of poetry along with a couple of examples and then ask students to write their own poetry following the models.
  • Articles from The New Yorker, Time, or other interesting source: You can make a class set, half set for partners, or have the sub read the article out loud to the class. Then leave a few thought provoking questions to be answered by students or groups.
  • A fun grammar, vocabulary, or frequently made mistakes activity: Remember that cute idea or handout that you pinned on Pinterest, but you never have time for?  Here’s the time!
  • A short story, poem, or informational text in your textbook that you don’t have time for usually.  Students can read the selection and answer the questions at the end individually or in pairs.  This is as simple as possible with no copies needed!

3. Consider meaningful test prep. I teach mostly juniors so SAT and ACT test prep is ever present in our minds. For other grades and situations, you can substitute other kinds of appropriate test prep.  I have tons of SAT/ACT multiple choice test practice booklets that show up in my school mail box every year and so I used to use those.  Now, we are moving to a one to one iPad school so I can make use of the SAT prep site number2.com.  I also leave an SAT/ACT essay prompt and give students half the period to brainstorm ideas and half the period to write.

4. Know your sub pool.  Think about the people who are likely to sub for you in an emergency situation.  If you work for a large school or district, you probably don’t know the subs as well as I do in my small school situation.  You want the plans to be clear and easy to execute for any sub that opens your door.  Be careful of overusing technology or content specific instructions if your subs are not equipped with the necessary skills, passwords, or jargon.  In my case, one of my fellow teachers on his or her prep period will probably get roped into covering me.  Because I know how stressful that can be, I leave a little thank you note and a $5 Starbucks card in my emergency sub plan folder as a sign of good will.

5. Post prominently. If your emergency sub plans are in the third drawer in the fourth file cabinet, they are not likely to be utilized in a sticky situation so post them where the sub/admin will see them. You may also have a buddy teacher who can point them out if the sub is having trouble finding them.   I have mine behind my desk labeled in big, bold letters (see image above).

What questions, suggestions, or tips do you have for leaving emergency lesson plans? We’d love to hear from you!

Tips for Planning the Upcoming School Year

Planning for the School Year

In 10 years, I’ve learned that long-term planning is the #1 way to manage the crazy stress and overwhelming to do list faced by teachers. I’m sharing my process for planning below.  If you are reading this as a new teacher, I cannot stress enough the need to come up with some system for organizing your long-term goals and curriculum.  If you are a fellow veteran, I’d love to hear your process.  Either way, join the discussion in the comment section below!

Start with Goals and the Big Picture by Quarter, Trimester, or Semester: For each grading period include required literature, major projects, and other must do items. Tip: Add district and state assessments also!   Here’s an example:

  • Quarter 1:
    • Summer Reading
    • Short Story Unit (list specific stories here)
    • Vocabulary: lessons 1-5
    • Grammar: Verbs- transitive, intransitive, linking, basic sentence patterns (lessons 1-5)
    • Writing: Intro to MLA and 5 paragraph essay + 1 process essay
  • Quarter 2:
    • To Kill a Mockingbird
    • Vocabulary: lessons 6-10
    • Grammar: Parts of Speech
    • Writing: 2 process essays
    • Video Project
  • Quarter 3:
    • The Odyssey
    • Nonfiction Unit (list specific selections here)
    • Vocabulary: lessons 11-15
    • Grammar: Phrases and Clauses
    • Writing: Research paper
  • Quarter 4:
    • Poetry Unit (list specific poems here)
    • Vocabulary: lessons 16-20
    • Grammar: Sentence types
    • Writing: Infographic project

Move to a Broad Weekly View: This step is primarily meant to double check that you will have enough time to fit in everything from step one.  For example:

  • Quarter 1:
    • Week 1: Summer Reading (with vocab lesson 1 and grammar lesson 1)
    • Week 2: Intro to MLA and 5 paragraph essay: Writing Architect  (with vocab lesson 2 and grammar lesson 2)
    • Week 3: Elements of Short Story + “Short Story 1”  (with vocab lesson 3 and grammar lesson 3)
    • Week 4-5: Freytag’s Pyramid + “Short Story 2 and 3”  (with vocab lesson 4 and grammar lesson 4)
    • Week 6-7: Conflict and Characterization + “Short Story 4 and 5”  (with vocab lesson 5 and grammar lesson 5)
    • Week 8-9: “Final Short Story” + Essay (incorporate vocab and grammar from the quarter)

Pencil in a Monthly Calendar: You can buy one or print it out/save it from this website.  I love technology, but for some reason, it makes it feel some much less overwhelming to literally use a pencil on the printed calendar. You can just as easily type into the calendar template.

Work with Lesson Plans on a Weekly Basis: I have a couple of co-workers who stick to the long-term plan exactly as written, but I usually need to reassess weekly based on formative assessment and flukes in school schedules.  When I have done the long-term planning outlined above, my weekly lesson plans only take a fraction of the time.  I also feel like I’m going to meet my benchmarks without forgetting any of the many strands of my class!

Are you drowning in weekly lesson plans?  You are not alone!  Do you have ideas for managing long-term and short term plans? We’d love to hear from everyone in the comment section below!

Back to School Sale on TPT!


It’s that time of year – and we’ve got some great deals for you!  Check out the Super Secondary Yearbook to get a glimpse of the amazing Secondary teacher-sellers on TPT!  Save up to 28% August 4th and 5th with promo code BTS14.

We’ve got our entire store 28% off…so NOW is the time to grab all those wishlisted items you’ve been wanting! Visit Secondary Solutions TPT Store now!

Also, don’t forget to check out the Secondary TPT class of 2014-2015 and their great deals August 4th and 5th, 2014!

2 Peas and a Dog 

21st Century Math Projects


A Space to Create

Addie Williams

All Things Algebra 

Charlene Tess 


Created by Mr. Hughes

Danielle Knight

Darlene Anne 

FisherReyna Education

For the Love of Teaching Math

James Whitaker

Juggling ELA 

Kate’s Classroom Café

Live. Love. Math

Liz’s Lessons

Making it as a Middle School Teacher

Margaret Whisnant

Michele Luck’s Social Studies

Miss Math Dork

Mrs. S

Pamela Kranz

Science Stuff

Secondary Solutions

Teaching FSL

Teaching High School Math

Teaching Math by Hart

The Career Ready Teacher

The Classroom Sparrow

The Creative Classroom

The SuperHERO Teacher

The Tutor House

Tracee Orman

Where to Spend $5 to Get Tough Tasks Off Your Teacher To Do List

How to Spend $5 to Finish that Teacher To Do List
How to Spend $5 to Finish that Teacher To Do List

It seems like everywhere I turn these days I see a new resource to help students take short cuts around the valuable work we do in our classrooms.  When I was working on a side project recently, I came across fiverr.com, which is a global marketplace offering a variety of services, or gigs, starting at $5 each.  I was disheartened to see sellers offering to do homework or analyze a book, but it did get me thinking about how I could switch the dynamic around to give teachers some much needed shortcuts.  Here are the $5 gigs I found that can take tough tasks off of our teacher to do lists, so we can focus on other important classroom priorities:

1. Custom Songs: Many fiverr sellers will take your lyrics and make them into a song with your choice of genre (reggae, rap, country, pop, etc).  I have these little chants I do to help MLA rules stick and I always hear my students singing little ditties to remember long math formulas.  We could take that idea to the next level with a custom song for our classroom!

2. Custom Voice Overs:  This gig could bring interest factor to a prezi, flipped classroom video, or other in class project.  Sellers will do a range of professional and cartoon/impression voices.

3. Convert Powerpoint to HD Video: This is a great gig for  teachers who are flipping their classrooms and running out of time. It could be combined with the custom voice-overs in a pinch.

4. Website installation or help: There is a lot of pressure on teachers today to incorporate edtech into our classrooms including classroom blogs and wikis.  If we can’t afford a full service website technician, there are hundreds of fiverr gigs ranging from installing word press to trouble shooting that widget you are trying to install and everything in between.  Personally, $5 is worth my sanity in the IT department, especially when it can be done quickly and efficiently by someone else while I am grading that last stack of papers!

5. Custom Social Media Art: Most teachers I know are starting or maintaining a classroom Facebook/twitter/instagram/google+/edmodo/schoology/etc.  For $5 you can have someone create cute or creative custom cover art to give your classroom social media that polished look without a lot of effort on your part.

6. Design materials: If you have a great idea for a poster or infographic for your classroom wall, a custom stamp or any other simple graphic design project, there are designers waiting to make it happen for only $5.


Like other online marketplaces, there is a feedback and communication system so that you can make sure that your job is done correctly, but we should still exercise caution when purchasing gigs.  What do you think? Would you take advantage of fiverr to get one of those tasks off your to do list? Let us know in the comment section below.


What Your Kid’s English Teacher Really Wants: 10 Great Gift Ideas Straight From The Source

Let’s just get one thing out of the way: teachers do not sign up for this gig for the gifts! That being said, we really appreciate any act of generosity from parents and students and judging by my Pinterest feed, parents are inspired to treat teachers to a little something here and there.  I decided to write this blog post because my Pinterest feed has been chock full of the most adorable back to school teacher gifts interspersed with this popular ecard:


I do not want to come off as ungrateful, but I think we can find a happy medium here. We would love the crayon wreath, but if crafting is not your thing, below are 10 gift suggestions humbly suggested by this high school English teacher:

1. Support: This is a cheat gift, but very cheap and incredibly valuable to teachers.  Having our back is the best gift a parent can give when the time comes to battle the homework, deadlines, book choices, classroom management, etc.

2. These Amazing Mugs: Click here for a link to buy the mugs from amazon.  Trust me, this will be an instant favorite with every English teacher!

pPBS3-15580627reg pPBS3-15580643reg


<——–First Lines Literature Mug $12.95


                 Shakespearean Insult Mug $12.95  ——–>



3. Target Gift Cards: Chances are, we are going to put the money back into our classroom, so help us offset our school expenses with a gift card of any size.  Every little bit counts and we totally understand that you may be buying small gifts for several teachers.

4. Coffee Gift Cards: I cannot count the number of late nights I’ve spent slaving over student essays/research papers with the comfort of a good cup of joe.  I love my job and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but this English teacher still needs her caffeine and I suspect the same is true for most of us!


5. Secondary Solutions Gift Certificates: The best way to help a teacher save time is to help buy quality products.  This one also goes directly to a quality education for your student, so it is a win-win.

6. The Really Cool Office Supplies: There are some supplies that we just can’t justify on our back to school shopping list, but we would love them.  Get us the good stuff.  Here’s my list:

  • Pretty Post-Its: We can usually get our hands on the square ones, but I think we all secretly love (and can’t afford) the ones shaped like arrows, apples, stars, etc.
  • Washi Tape: There are entire Pinterest boards dedicated to beautiful washi tape classroom ideas. Click here for an example if you are not familiar with this little beauty.
  • Sharpies: I drool every time I pass by the giant sharpie packs at Costco, but with a cart full of other school essentials, I can’t always justify $20 on permanent markers…even if they are amazing! I especially like the fine tip ones, which are perfect for poetry annotation.
  • The cute baskets and organizers: With 100-175 students filling in and out of our rooms, organization is a survival strategy.

7. iTunes Gift Cards: There are so many amazing edtech apps and iTunes books out there; I am sure this one would be a hit with almost any teacher!

8. A Stapler: Maybe this is a personal problem, but my classes run through staplers like they are going out of style. I’ve spent hours trying to fix them and yet inevitably on essay due dates I’m down to one erratic stapler and a chaotic collection process.  As crazy as it sounds, I could really use 1 new, quality stapler each year so that I consistently have a couple working staplers and an efficient classroom.

9. Awesome Stamps: With all of the feedback that we give student papers, stamps can be a fun way to save time.  Click on each image below to see the etsy store it comes from:








10. Teacher Gadgets: We love cool gadgets.  I mean who doesn’t want these? Click on each for more info.









Teachers and parents, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!