Teaching To Kill a Mockingbird



Recently a neighboring school system placed a ban on two books: To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It made local and national news, and I was hardly surprised (fortunately the books have been reinstated). In fact, I had just finished a unit in which my students read To Kill a Mockingbird. I taught with the knowledge that it is one of the most challenged books in America and I shared this information with my students from the start of the unit.

Coincidentally, before we even started our reading of To Kill a Mockingbird, I assigned my students reading from an article about a college professor who had written a censored version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Many students were surprised that anyone would challenge a book, but when they read the article they had a better understanding of the controversial language.  We discussed why the professor, Alan Gribben, wrote the new version and I asked my students for their opinions of his updated novel. After our discussion, they shared their ideas for how to handle the reading of the racial slurs in To Kill a Mockingbird in our class. First they partnered with classmates, and then we tackled the issue in whole-class discussion where we made a decision not to read the words aloud so that we wouldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

I try to ensure sensitivity when we read the novel. Over the years, a couple of students have shared compelling sentiments with me. One African American boy said he didn’t like the book because even though Atticus bravely defended Tom Robinson, ultimately Robinson died. His honesty made me realize that even though I think the novel teaches valuable lessons, my minority students may find the novel disheartening and difficult to read.

With that in mind, I have a few tips for making the teaching of the novel more successful:
1. Teach it in high school even though the Lexile score of 790 puts it in a reading comprehension range for sixth grade (it’s often taught in grades 6 - 8). In the Common Core State Standards Appendix B, the book is listed as an exemplar text for grades 9 - 10. It requires a maturity that most middle school students do not have. In addition to the controversial language, the book includes an accusation of rape and several violent scenes.

2. Respect students. If possible, let them choose the reading in a class vote. Give them two - three book choices and provide short summaries of each selected book. Choice creates more buy-in and if an individual student still does not want to read it, give him or her another suitable option. Additionally, be available to talk to students who may feel upset during their reading or when tense discussions arise.

3. 
Prepare students for the reading. Use anticipation activities to introduce some of the sensitive issues. Depending on my students’ needs, I vary activities, including an anticipation guide, a close-reading activity, or this digital book talk. 

4. 
Teach some of the history from the time period or coordinate instruction with a social studies teacher. Students can research topics including the Jim Crow South, the Emmett Till Trial, the Scottsboro Boys trial, Plessey vs Ferguson, the Stock Market Crash of 1929, the Woman’s Suffragist movement and the history of capital punishment in the United States. There are innumerable topics and you can find more  ideas here.

5. Make sure that students understand the novel. Provide time for close reading of selected excerpts. For instance, I have lessons which focus on chapter 15 (when the mob comes to the jail for Tom Robinson) and for the chapters with the trial. This year I had students act as members of the jury in Tom Robinson’s trial. They noted important testimony and evidence as they determined whether Robinson should be acquitted or convicted.

6. Finish the unit with meaningful activities. This year I borrowed a journal idea from B'sBookLove and MudandInkTeaching. My students wrote “goodbye letters” to the novel. In these letters, many articulated the life lessons they had learned from their reading.
I also make the end of the unit fun by hosting a tea party In this lesson, students write character analysis essays and participate in a drama activity. With the help of costumes and props, they “become” their characters and engage in role-play, joining the rest of their classmates who are also citizens of Maycomb.

At the party, the students interview one another and use their reading of the novel to infer one another’s characters.  Finally, after everyone’s character has been “discovered,” the students enjoy drinking tea and eating baked goods such as muffins and scones.



Even though it has challenges, I enjoy teaching the book and think it is meaningful for students. I know many others teach it, too, and may have had rewarding and/or difficult experiences with it.Do you have great lessons for making it a wonderful teaching experience?  Please share below.
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Laughing All The Way with Classroom Celebrations

No doubt, my students will be the first to claim that I ask them to work hard in English class. I assign 30 minutes of reading and vocabulary homework each night, including weekends! I expect time in class to be used for learning, so there is very little “down” time in our 90-minute class periods. However, along with the expectations to be sedulous and studious, I think it’s appropriate to have fun on occasion. Thanks to hosts, the Language Arts Classroom and Julie Faulkner, read on to find out about fun activities from my class and other creative bloggers, and don’t forget to enter the Rafflecopter at the end of this blog post.

Learning should be engaging and joyful; that’s what makes it memorable. I especially enjoy creating activities and events which celebrate the end of long units, or after standardized testing and around the holidays. Here are two celebrations that I love!

1. For several years, when I taught middle school and
younger high school students, I organized a “Read-a-Latte CafĂ©” celebration. For the read-in, guest speakers joined my students in reading aloud from favorite books/poems/etc. and discussing the importance of reading in their work and personal lives. Some of our guests included Sherman the Shorebird (the mascot from our local Minor League Baseball team), the local mayor, a deputy sheriff, and a fire captain. Of course, parents and school staff participated, too, including the principal and varsity football coach. To make it extra fun, we decorated the classroom to create a coffeehouse atmosphere and served hot chocolate, tea, and pastries (food always makes school more fun). This activity works well for any holiday season or Read Across America Day.

2. I also like to celebrate the end of our reading of classic novels such as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby. For To Kill a Mockingbird, I host a tea party (read about it here) and when I teach The Great Gatsby, we create a Roaring 20’s Party (really, this assignment could be adapted to almost any novel). Besides being fun, these lessons incorporate essay assignments that require narrative and literary analysis writing. Students write from the viewpoints of characters and connect their characters to novel themes.
My drama students love this, too, because with the help of costumes and props, they “become” their characters and engage in role-play, joining the rest of their classmates who are also characters from the books. At the parties, students interview one another and use their reading of the novel to infer one another’s characters. They can also evaluate one another’s abilities to portray characters, judging whether each student has used dialect, dialogue, facial expressions, or body language fitting the assigned character. I also expect students to contribute to the party, and many display their baking and crafting talents. They can bring hor d'oeuvres and desserts, research appropriate music, or make invitations and decorations. We also engage the rest of our school community, inviting other teachers, school staff, and administrators.

In addition to celebrating our learning, the holiday season is a perfect time to encourage compassion. A fun Instagram activity gets students researching about people who are inspirational, have made personal sacrifices, or have demonstrated other #actsofkindness. Now, more than ever, it's important for students to research historical figures, local heroes, and others who exemplify kindness, tolerance, and generosity. You can download this free activity to use in your classroom also!




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Liven Up Reading Discussions

Boring Discussion

Do you struggle to get students engaged in their reading discussion? Back when I went to school, class discussion was often boring.  We were expected to read our books at home and answer comprehension questions on handouts or in whole-class discussion.  During those classes, we rarely left our seats, worked in groups, or looked closely at a text. That's why I try to use creative activities to liven up reading discussion in my classroom and make it more meaningful.  Depending on my students, my objectives, and my text, I have a toolkit of discussion strategies to use in class.

Furthermore, my students read during Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) at least twice a week.  Even though some of our administrators have encouraged students not to read in class (they think it’s a waste of time),  I base my professional decisions on my learning from experts such as Donalyn Miller  and Kelly Gallagher.  I’ve also benefited from multiple professional learning communities, including participating in twitter chat discussions with #2ndaryela and #aplitchat.
 
With these experiences in mind, I’m sharing some of my
secondary ela
favorite reading discussion activities:

Anticipation Activities

In my experience, hooking students before they read is a key strategy.  Two ways to do this include using traditional anticipation guides and inquiry with text evidence. In a recent anticipation guide for Mark Twain’s, “The War Prayer,” students reported their level of agreement for the following statements:

A.  It’s unpatriotic if you do not support your country’s war efforts.
B.  Humor can be used to hurt others.

Not only do students share their opinions of these ideas, but they provide specific reasons to justify their thoughts.  The resulting discussions give students background for important topics and themes that arise in the text.

In the inquiry activity, students act like detectives and look closely at text.  In these text evidence anticipation activities, I prepare strips of sentences from an upcoming reading, cut them out, and laminate them (for future use).  

Then I give each student at least one line of text.  They write their lines on the handout and get out of their seats to gather lines from one another.  Once they’ve read and written a number of sentences, they analyze the text, draw conclusions, and make predictions about their upcoming reading. 

Numbered Heads

This is an easy discussion activity that involves cooperative learning.  Additionally, once students are familiar with the format, it can be used repeatedly.  Essentially, students review a text selection and answer several questions that are scaffolded, leading to multiple answers. 

To begin, students are arranged into heterogeneous groups of 3 – 5, and they work together to answer the questions.
Even though they work together, they’re all held accountable during “numbered heads.”  Students are randomly assigned numbers and when their numbers are called, they stand and share answers.  The trick, though, is to make it unpredictable by ensuring their numbers do not correlate with question numbers.  For instance, I may ask my numbers “ones” to stand and answer question number “four.”  Each student who is standing shares a part of the answer so that all standing students are able to participate. 

Close Reading Scenarios

I’ve expanded upon this idea from a student teacher with my own twist. The discussion handout revolves around an event from a novel and requires students to work together to investigate the text.  Recently, I completed this with Myrtle’s death in chapter 7 of The Great Gatsby.  After forming groups, each student selected a role such as the medical examiner, police investigator, witness, etc., to determine what actually happened in the accident. 

After completing the close reading, students read informational text about the laws, crimes, and punishments for driving while intoxicated in our state.  Next, they reviewed the “evidence” they gathered and determined which characters should be charged with crimes.  Finally, they provided a rationale for the criminal charges they would file.

I've also created another close reading scenario for To Kill a Mockingbird where students gather evidence from Tom Robinson's trial and become jurors who must determine a verdict.

Boxing

I tease students at the beginning of these discussions and tell them we will be “boxing” in class.  It’s corny but always gets a laugh.  Then I pass out sheets of printer paper, and students fold their papers into four “boxes”.  In each box, they complete a reading task for the pages we are reviewing.  These tasks often include drawing illustrations of important ideas and events, determining the meanings of words, identifying literary techniques and author’s purpose, and responding personally to the text.  After they work individually, they share in partners, small groups, or whole-class discussion. This is a simple strategy which involves minimal preparation and can also be used repeatedly! 

Written Conversation

Here is another great idea that I received from a student teacher.  In this activity, students have a conversation through their writing.  I give them a prompt related to the reading and after responding, they pass their papers to partners, who respond to the original writers.  In the response, the partner may evaluate, elaborate, or modify what the original writer shared.  This conversation continues back and forth with additional questions.  At the end of the silent (but written) conversation, we can discuss ideas together as a class.

Digital Task Cards

I’m using task cards to have students review their reading in Google Drive.  My school is slowly moving to a 1:1 environment.  Our ninth and tenth grade students have been given laptops, but my 11th and 12th graders still use a laptop lab in class when I sign up to use them.  As I prepare for my students to be 1:1 next school year, I’ve developed activities for them to try in class. With these digital task cards, I use Common Core Reading Anchor Standards to create prompts, and let students select from several questions for their responses. 

I hope my activities can be used in your classes, too.  What ideas do you have for reading discussions?  Please share in the comments below.

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"Best of the Best" Secondary ELA Blog Hop

Best Ways to Teach Argument

Today I'm joining Secondary Sara and other fantastic teacher bloggers to share one of my best resources for teaching argument.  Ever since the move to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), I’ve incorporated more practice with argumentative writing and the analysis of arguments.  These standards demand critical thinking skills from students and require frequent practice. Notably, as I've worked with the CCSS over the years, I've learned that there is a difference between teaching students to write traditional argumentative research papers and preparing them to analyze the effectiveness of an author’s argument, so they can write analytical essays about the author’s choices. With this in mind, here is how I organize my instruction.

The Traditional Argumentative Research Paper

Several years ago, I taught English 101 at the local community college as an adjunct instructor; this gave me experience teaching the argumentative essay, a major assignment in the college curriculum. My fellow instructors encouraged me not to assign essays about clichĂ© topics such as school uniforms, legalization of marijuana, or gun control. While these topics are fine to use, students often have opportunities to write about them in other classes and rarely have new ideas to bring to their writing. Thus, I needed a way for students to choose appropriate topics that would  be current, compelling, and interesting to read.

A useful tool for finding topics was The New York Times Room for Debate website. On a weekly basis, The New York Times invites experts to contribute short editorials with their opinions on timely issues. In fact, a recent visit to the website shows the following engaging topics:


What’s behind the spreading creepy clown hysteria?
Should every young athlete get a trophy?
Can a meme be a hate symbol?


Typically, four - six contributors provide insight with their positions on the topics. These are short articles that provide quick introductions, and students can use their reading as a starting point for more in-depth research with scholarly articles. 

Quick Practice with Argumentative Writing Prompts

There isn’t always time for my students to write longer argumentative essays, and I don’t have the time to grade several of these research papers in one semester. Consequently, I’ve developed shorter activities to give students practice with argumentative writing. One of my favorites, my best-selling Argument Bell Ringers, can be used in a variety of ways and gives students repeated practice on a myriad of issues. In this resource, which is on sale today, there are thirty engaging topics for teenagers including some of the following: distracted driving, electronics in class, the high school dropout age, employment restrictions for teens, cyber bullying, college entrance exam requirements, public displays of affection, tanning bed age restrictions, and over-prescription of ADHD medications.

These prompts present claims and students must brainstorm evidence, counterarguments, and refutation for the claims. They make useful bell ringers in my ninety-minute class periods but can be used as other activities or for different purposes in shorter classes. For instance, each bell ringer activity can be split over a three-day period, as students complete one section at the beginning of class for each day. These can also be used for cooperative learning; students can work in small groups to brainstorm ideas together.  Or, if preferred, a teacher can use them with learning stations.

Analyzing Author’s Craft
In my experience with PARCC, our state’s standardized literacy assessment, students don’t actually write traditional argumentative essays. Rather, they are expected to read texts and analyze the arguments presented by the writers. These texts are often primary and secondary sources from history such as "The Speech to the Second Virginia Convention," "Ain’t I a Woman?" and "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

To give students practice with this skill, I teach them to identify and evaluate the rhetorical appeals and structure of the arguments in these texts. An easy activity uses my free argument taskcards. These task cards are used after students have become familiar with the following terms: claim, reason (justification), evidence, counterclaim, and refutation. By using task cards, I can differentiate my instruction and make it more hands-on than giving a typical worksheet.

How do you teach argument?  What makes it interesting in your classroom?  I'm always interested in new ideas, so please share in the comments below.

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Secondary ELA Seasonal Blog Hop: A Spooky Story Three Ways



In high school we don’t dress up for Halloween or have class parties, but we can still make connections to the season and have fun.  This week I’m joining The Creative Classroom and other fabulous secondary teachers in a seasonal blog hop to share how I teach my favorite spooky story. 

Since my primary prep is American Literature, Washington Irving's story, "The Devil and Tom Walker," is a relevant classic to incorporate into my instruction.  The reading level is accessible to most students and Irving builds supsense to keep them interested in the story. 

In the story, the greedy Tom Walker makes a deal with the devil for money.  Even though the story is set in 1727, the theme about the desire for material wealth is certainly applicable today.  It’s also an excellent story for teaching literary elements including characterization, foreshadowing, irony, and allusion.

This year, I’m using the story to give my students practice with narrative writing and prepare them for their upcoming PARCC assessment.  For years, I’ve neglected creative writing in my instruction, but the narrative writing prompt gives me a new opportunity to let students use their imaginations.  In two weeks, my students will read the story and write a new ending in which they will tell what happens to Walker after he’s taken by the devil.  This prompt, of course, could lead to some wildly fantastic tales, so I’ve developed some tools to guide students in the right direction.  You can access this free resource here.



In the past, I have used the story to make interdisciplinaryconnections and surprised students with math activities in their English class! Since Tom Walker is a “usurer,” I’ve used the story to help teach students about interest rates on student and car loans, and credit cards.  My high school students appreciate the application to “real life.” 


In another lesson, I’ve made nonfiction connections to the story with an article from The New York Times which explores the culture of greed on Wall Street.  This lesson guides students through close readings of the texts and ends with students choosing from a variety of nine activities for their final assessment.  Activities range from researching topics such as the financial crisis of 2008 or the Faustian legend, to interviewing family about how they handle their finances and budgets, to writing a diary entry from an imaginary person living during the era of the The Great Depression.

Do you teach scary stories?  Tell us about them in the comments below.

Find other great blog posts for Halloween in secondary ELA below.

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Active Learning


Why do so many teachers expect students to sit and listen to lectures when the research shows the strong connection between physical activity and learning? In fact, Eric Jensen, author of the book Teachingwith the Brain in Mind, says, “When we keep students active, we keep their energy levels up and provide their brains with the oxygen-rich blood needed for highest performance. Teachers who insist that students remain seated during the entire class period are not promoting optimal conditions for learning.”

Maybe teachers are reluctant because they think it will require more time to prepare lessons that involve movement, or perhaps they are worried student behavior will get out-of-control.  However, in my experience students are often more engaged and well-behaved when they are allowed to get out of their seats in my English classroom.  Whether it’s getting students to rotate around the room for a carousel activity, moving to corners of the room for a debate, or walking around to interview one another, students appreciate the opportunity to get out of their seats.

Games are another way to get students moving. I often use Trashketball games because they motivate students with their love of sports. Additionally, the games encourage friendly competition because the teacher arranges the class into teams.   This team approach is an excellent way to meet the needs of all students, especially when they are arranged in heterogeneous groups. The rules to these games also encourage students to work together on their teams to solve the answers; they can keep trying to find correct answers even after they have made a mistake. The games don’t require many materials and they’re easy to play.

I provide power point Trashketball games that include detailed rules and explanations for both the students and the teacher.  Furthermore, each game provides a brief review of its topic and includes several rounds of practice exercises. Even in middle school and high school, holiday themed games can make learning more fun.


How do you get students out of their seats?  What grammar concepts do you teach?  Share your ideas in the comments below.
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Hooked on Books


Do you have reluctant readers in your classes?  With access to so much technology today, including social media, it can be hard to HOOK your students on books.  Even though it’s challenging sometimes, it is one of the most rewarding aspects of being an English teacher.

Ever since Mrs. McClure, my 5th grade teacher, enticed me to read Taran Wanderer from Lloyd Alexander’s series, The Chronicles of Prydain, I have been a reader.  I know that if I can do the same for some of my students, I will give them much better chances for success in college and life.  In fact, research shows that reading can contribute to success in many facets of life such as health, general knowledge, community involvement, and cultural awareness.  But to me, the real benefit of reading books is the ability to escape the tedium and difficulty of real life at times.

With this in mind, I’ve put together a list of ways teachers can hook students on books:

1.  Capitalize on the upcoming campaigns for Banned Books Week  and Teen Read Week.  Teens often have a natural desire to be rebellious, so “teasing” them with books that have been challenged in schools and local libraries is a sure bet to get them interested in a book.  Lure them to read with the unanswered question such as “What’s in this book that people are afraid of?” and “Why don’t people want you to read this book?”  Even many classics have been challenged, so this may be a perfect opening into a “boring” classic. 

2.  Give students choices in their reading! In the past, I started with a whole class reading of novels such as To Kill a Mockingbird or The Great Gatsby, but that often shuts down my struggling readers right away.  Now, I start my school year by taking the students to the library within the first few days and use this lesson to guide students toward effective book choices. 

I immediately start Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) at the beginning of class and reinforce their book choices by asking them to show their books for Preferred Activity Time (PAT).  Additionally, I model by reading in front of them.  And to help manage their reading, I have students write the titles and authors of the books selected, so I can keep track of their choices.  This is useful information when talking with parents and school staff.  Finally, I assess their reading with weekly reading logs, which gives them practice with the selection of meaningful sentences and literary analysis. 

3.  Always be a role model.  Talk about the books that you read and enjoy.  During the summer, I am a voracious reader.  Most of the books I read are for my own pleasure but I also make sure to include at least one young adult novel.  And since my students are juniors in high school, many are interested in the same books that I read.  This summer two of my favorites included Mudbound by Hilary Jordan and All the Light We Cannot See Anthony Doerr. I also read Red Queen (thanks to a suggestion by The Literary Maven) and asked my librarian to order the series.  I already have several students reading some of these books.

I hope you like some of these ideas and can put them to use in your own classroom.  Do you have more ideas for getting students engaged with reading?  Please share in the comments below.
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Best First Week Ever


Well, the first week of school is finished, and except for a sinus infection (just my luck), it went great! Here's a review of some highlights from the week:

back to school activity
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Partner, Practice & Participate: Creating a Positive Classroom Culture

In a recent post, I wrote about using TED talks to create a positive classroom culture. However, creating an inclusive learning environment takes multiple activities, and establishing student comfort for participation is one of the most important things a teacher can do.


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Gift Card Giveaway!


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School's Out Blog Blowout


Hurray!  Summer is the time to savor activities and interests that most of us don’t have time for during the school year.  First on my list- joining Kovescence of the Mind and other teacher bloggers in a School’s Out Blog Blowout.  Find out how I plan to enjoy summer and enter to win a $100 TpT gift card below!


My Summer Bucket List


Eastern Shore Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute
I participated in the summer institute in 2006 and loved the collegiality.  Since then, I’ve worked as a teacher consultant, attending conferences and writing scrambles, teaching young writers, and presenting professional development.  Currently, I am interning as a facilitator by coaching writing groups and supporting teachers as they create lessons to support writing instruction in their schools.


  Annual TpT Conference in Orlando 
In July, my husband and I will drive from Maryland to Orlando, so I can attend the annual Teachers Pay Teachers conference.  Along the way we will visit friends in Charleston, SC, and Charlotte, NC.  This will be my second TpT conference and last year I loved it!  The conference helped me improve my resources and network with other amazing teacher authors.


Read for Pleasure
I couldn’t wait to start my summer reading, so I’m already on my fourth book.  I’ve been gathering recommendations and have already read the following titles:  All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Mudbound by Hillary Jordan, The Round House by Louise Erdrich, and The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard.  My favorite has been Mudbound, and now I have several friends reading it, too.



Gardening and Cooking
Although I don’t have much gardening experience, I’ve started a small garden with tomatoes, peppers and herbs.  It’s so rewarding to make fresh salsa, salads, and soups.


  


     
Visits with family & friends 
During the school year, time is scarce, so I spend my summer days reconnecting with family and friends. Since we live in a popular vacation spot, we will have visits from both sides of the family.  No doubt, I’ll be cleaning my house a lot to keep up with all of the company!





A Book On My Summer PD Reading List

I’ve just ordered Writing with Mentors: How to Reach Every Writer in the Room Using Current, Engaging Mentor Texts by Allison Marchetti.  Each additional year of teaching experience shows me that using mentor texts is essential for improving student writing.

For instance, I use “The Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln as a mentor text in my American Literature class.  In this popular lesson, students analyze Lincoln’s use of parallelism and then use the technique in their own speeches.  First, they brainstorm people or events that are worthy of a memorial, and then they write speeches dedicating the memorials that they have designed. 

Would you like to try this lesson in your class? It’s available for free this week only!

Want more freebies?  Read more summer bucket lists from other teacher bloggers below.

Enter to win a $100 TpT gift card in the contest here:



School's Out Blog Blowout
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Calming the Year End Chaos Tips for Success


As the school year winds down for many teachers and students, I've enjoyed reading suggestions posted on blogs and social media for getting through the final countdown. And I've been GREEN WITH ENVY, too, because I won't be out of school until June 17!  I know that there are a few others who won't be out of school for awhile either.  With that in mind, I'm offering some additional ideas to make the last days go smoothly.


Keep restless students engaged by getting them out of their seats! Carousel activities require students to walk around the room and brainstorm or answer questions on poster paper attached to different areas around the room.
Here is a poster my students used to prepare for their upcoming reading of The Great Gatsby (this could also be completed for post-reading review).



Have students write letters using their persuasive skills. Students use rhetorical appeals to reflect on their performance in your class.  In the past, students have revealed hardships that I may have been unaware of throughout the semester and that I wanted to take into consideration when grading them.  Click here for the FREE resource.


In our school, teachers are required to pack up their entire classrooms, including all of their electronic equipment. This is because our building services workers remove all furniture from the classroom to clean the floors.  In the rush to finish the school year, I've been known to quickly pack without forethought.  Last year, though, I borrowed an idea from a coworker and labeled all of my electrical cords so it would be easier to set up my computer, printer, document camera, etc. It makes set up quicker after hazy summer days at the beach. 




 
More End of the Year Survival Tips



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