Valentine’s Day Hope Chests

In my first year of teaching I instituted my favorite tradition of the school year- Valentine’s Day Hope Chests.  I first found out about “Holiday Hope Chests” on Beth Newingham’s Scholastic website. Each chest  is actually a decorated shoe box, filled with small toys, games,  and art supplies chosen especially for a girl or boy of a certain age. My students also make Valentines to enclose in each chest. The chest gives the receiving child a “treasure chest” in which to keep the items together. We donate our hope chests to a local children’s hospital, The Institute for Children with Cancer and Blood Disorders at Robert Wood Johnson.  

As a student at Rutgers, I participated in the Dance Marathon, a 36 hour event that raised money for the Institute.  Meeting the children at the Institute was a life-changing event and I wanted to stay involved when I started teaching.  The Hope Chests were a perfect way to do this.  During my first year of teaching I spoke with one of the child-life specialists at the Institute.  I explained to her what I wanted to do and she was thrilled.  We decided to donate the boxes for Valentine’s Day because it was a holiday that was frequently ignored when other people made donations to the hospital (unlike Christmas and Hanukkah, for example).

Our hope chests begin with a letter we send home to all 100 of our students and their parents.  Each student is asked to bring in a few items (new, unused) that will fit in the shoe boxes.  They are also asked to donate empty shoe boxes.  For two weeks we collect the toys, games, books, art supplies, and boxes.  This past Friday, we spent the morning organizing and decorating!

The students worked in groups, picking out items to fill their boxes with.  After filling the box and decorating it, they labeled the bottom- for example, “Girl 10-12” or “Boy 6-8”.  They also made valentines to place in each box.   

Watching the students carefully put the boxes together is a wonderful feeling.  They are so careful and selective, making sure each box is perfect.  They painstakingly decorate the inside and outside, making the hope chests absolutely perfect.  Their valentines were colored, decorated, and signed with love and care.  It was a beautiful sight and a wonderful morning.  

Immediately after-school, one of my teammates and I drove the Hope Chests to the Institute.  This year, we donated almost 60 Hope Chests, which were to be given out at the hospital’s Valentine’s Day party on Saturday.  🙂




OLW 2009

I can’t believe that I go back to school tomorrow!  I do love the new year, though, because it’s so much fun to reflect and look ahead with my students.  I first heard about Ali Edwards’  “One Little Word” last January and wanted to try it with my students.  However, I just never got around to it.  This year, I decided to make it a priority.  It is a great extension of the Hopes and Dreams my students wrote about back in September.


I spent the last few hours designing a 3 day assignment for my students to complete during writing workshop this week.  On Monday I will introduce One Little Word with examples from various blogs.  I came up with a 2 page list of possible words my students could use (to help those who get stuck) and my students will spend their independent writing time brainstorming a few possible ideas and why those words are important to them.  On Tuesday they will choose their final word and begin to design a square for our paper OLW quilt bulletin board.  They will look up their word in the dictionary and write a simple definition for their OLW as it applies to their life.  On Wednesday they will complete their squares, including 1-2 sentences about why they chose their particular OLW.

I am really looking forward to doing this with my class, as this year is such a huge one for them.  They will be finishing their time at our intermediate school in June and starting middle school across town in September.  It’s always a tough transition and I think that the OLW exercise will help them begin to sort out their goals for this year.  Hopefully it goes as well as planned!


Here are the finished products! My students loved their personalized bookmarks and were very excited to use them over vacation.


A few years ago I stumbled upon one of my favorite message boards- Scarlet Nation (Rutgers Sports).  I read the boards daily and feel like I have gotten to know John, the founder.  John is also a phenomenal teacher who blogs over at A Community of Learners.  He recently began a new venture that I suspect will become huge in he next few months.  As he describes it best, I will quote him:

There are dozens – perhaps hundreds – of books that discuss the basic principals behind the reading workshop and other programs that stress the importance of independent reading. There are also many groups and individuals who charge a hefty fee to share their knowledge of the program.

At the same time, there are thousands of teachers who are “in the trenches” with the reading workshop every day. Many have more practical knowledge than the authors who are writing texts and the staff developers who are delivering the high priced presentations. That is where comes in.Open Source Reading is an online community for anyone who teaches reading. The focus at this point are grades 3-8.

our philosophy: Children make the most progress when they spend large blocks of time reading “just right” books and sharing their texts with others.

our motto: Try it. Change it. Share it.

The motto is at the core of the site. Open source materials (units of study, conferring sheets, graphic organizers) are free for you to download, customize and distribute. Consider the materials on this site to be a starting ground. All that we ask is that, if you use a reproducible page, please support the site and its users by…
1) including a link to in the footer of any page that you use or customize
2) email a copy of all customized pages to John so that he may put them back on the site to share with others

Happy reading!

A Community of Learners


I’ve already signed up and explored the site.  It’s wonderful!  You should definitely check it out!

Where I’m From poems

Read this document on Scribd: Where I’m From poems

I absolutely love beginning the year with “Where I’m From” poems, a lesson inspired by George Ella Lyons. It’s not an easy assignment by any means but my students always rise to the occasion, with some prodding by me. I love these poems because learn so much about my students when reading their poems. You see what is important to them, what their families are like, and what makes them happy. They are a clear window into their lives.

Where I’m From poem template -Check it out!

Read this document on Scribd: Where I’m From poems

Last year, I developed a template for my students to follow, which helped their poems become much deeper. On Friday we started the poems with this year’s class and so far I am extremely impressed. We should finish them up next week, and I can’t wait to hang them up for Back to School Night!

Vista Print

For the last few weeks I have been having a lot of fun with Vista Print.  What is Vista Print?

With more than 13 million customers worldwide, VistaPrint is a leading online supplier of high-quality graphic design services and customized printed products to small businesses and consumers. We offer high-quality solution for graphic design and full-color printing in small quantities, without the premium price.

Vista Print is a godsend for teachers.  They have daily free items.  Yes, you read that right.  FREE.  All you have to pay is shipping and handling.  You can order up to 10 free items per order.  How awesome is that?  They carry almost any graphics product you can think of, from postcards to business cards to car door magnets.

If you are an office supply junkie like me, I guarantee Vista Print will become a vice, an addiction.  It’s crazy!  I have already placed 5 orders and received 3 of them.  The quality is top-notch and everything is perfect.  I can’t wait to start using everything.  Now if only school would start…

I put together a document with some of the items I have ordered so far.  I gleaned most of these ideas from all over the web, putting my own twist on them.  The best ideas have all been gathered on this great website, so be sure to explore it.  It seems that a lot of primary teachers use Vista Print, so I did a lot of tweaking to get items that were cool enough for 6th graders without being babyish.  Plus, I wanted each item to serve a purpose in my room, one that would help me stay organized

My Vista Print Ideas- Click to download!

Almost there…

I can not believe that we are already nearing the end of July.  I will be back at school in a month!  That just seems unbelievable.  Needless to say, I have been planning and preparing already.  Today I spent a lot of time on my new class website.

For the past few years I have bounced around between different services.  Last year I used the new service provided by the district but I wasn’t thrilled with it.  It wasn’t user-friendly, it was a pain to update, and parents had a hard time keeping up with it.  When I sat down to figure out what I wanted to do next year, I kept coming back to this blog.  I love the ease of of blog and the interactive aspects of it.  WordPress’ software allows me to design separate pages, upload handouts, offer subscription by email, and so much more.  But of course, I want to keep this blog separate from school.  That is when I discovered Edublogs.  I love this site!  I set up a blog a few days ago and have been playing with it ever since.   I have been writing welcome posts, designing pages, and otherwise tweaking it to my preferences.  The best part is, I know I haven’t even begun to touch on the capabilities of the blog as offered by Edublogs.  So if you are looking for a great place to keep your class website or blog, definitely check out Edublogs.