Amber from TGIF (Third Grade is Fun)
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Proven Strategies to Master Challenging Educational Concepts in Your Upper Elementary Classroom

When we first start teaching, we often think the curriculum books will provide everything we need to teach the difficult concepts, but as teachers we come to realize that even the best thought out lessons are often not enough for our students to master these challenging topics.  So, I am bringing you some of the best advice from veteran teachers!

Tips for Teaching Difficult Math Topics

As a third grade teacher, the first time I prepared to teach distributive property of multiplication, the teacher's manual provided a ONE DAY lesson over the topic.  So, I attempted to teach it in one day.  BIG MISTAKE!  The next year, I was better prepared and devised my own lesson over several days!  I learned that I would rather my students master a concept well rather than finish every single math topic during the year and not really have a good understanding of a lot of it.  

Here are some tips to follow when teaching a difficult math topic:

  • Slow down the pace. (make a one day lesson two days)
  • Find time for quick reviews over the next several days. (I would use 5 minutes at the beginning of a new math lesson to review.)
  • Make the lesson as hands-on as possible. (use tens blocks, two sided chips, dried beans, or even a dry erase board)
  • Break it into smaller chunks.  (In the case of distributive property, I started with drawing pictures of arrays and we broke them apart.  At this point, I didn't worry about writing out the equation using distributive property as I wanted them to understand the concept first.)
  • Make an anchor chart together for students to refer to later.
  • If it is something with several steps, make a dry erase template for them to practice again and again.
Read more tips for teaching math and 3rd Grade on Amber from TGIF's blog!

Make Reading Interactive with Text Mapping

When it comes to mastering difficult educational concepts,
Marissa from Creative Classroom Core loves incorporating text mapping strategies. Text mapping is one of Marissa's favorite ways to seamlessly infuse quick literacy practice into Social Studies or Science lessons. Text Mapping introduces an interactive method that effectively enhances reading comprehension, writing skills, study skills, and overall course content. Instead of traditional textbooks, Text Mapping takes shape on expansive paper scrolls. Students carefully piece together their assigned reading material, creating a scroll that spans across the floor. This hands-on approach provides students with a comprehensive perspective of the text, moving away from the conventional method of flipping through separate pages. The panoramic display of the entire text encourages connections throughout the entire lesson. By presenting the complete text in one continuous view, as opposed to the limited view of open book pages, students can grasp the information as a whole, allowing them to focus on the broader context rather than isolated fragments. Read more about text mapping, and ways you can incorporate it into your classroom instruction, on the Creative Classroom Core blog!

Learn How to Analyze Students' Reading 

No one enjoys seeing those lightbulb moments more than a child's teacher, and for some kids, it takes presenting tough concepts in lots of different ways. Carla from Comprehension Connection has spent years working as an interventionist, and in her experience, finding the right approach isn't easy. The first step is to look at assessments to see what the student has mastered, what seems to be in progress, and what he/she just isn't ready for yet. Using strengths to tackle challenges helps students break skills down to work toward mastery. In her post, Analyzing Reading Behaviors: A Must for Every Teacher of Reading she talks through the things to watch for as you are assessing students. She provides a checklist that teachers have found very helpful during conferences and for progress monitoring. In her masters program, one quote that stuck in her mind was, "A step back is a step forward."

Learn and Teach Practical Writing Strategies

As an upper elementary teacher, Vanessa helps her students tackle challenging writing concepts, such as crafting descriptive paragraphs in an essay. Recognizing that students often struggle with writing, she uses multiple hands-on writing activities to provide the necessary practice and feedback students need. In this blog post, Vanessa shares practical writing strategies, focusing on four activities aimed at helping students add detail to their writing. She shares different writing strategies, emphasizing the importance of defining various ways to elaborate and helping students familiarize themselves with the terms. One of her students’ favorite activities is practicing adding details with a partner, fostering creative variations in sentences. She suggests that the best way to get students to write at the beginning is to implement collaborative activities where students work together, taking turns incorporating different elaboration strategies into a shared essay. By incorporating these activities, upper elementary teachers can guide students toward becoming more skilled, confident, and detailed writers. You can explore additional writing strategies on her blog.

Help Students move from Concrete to Abstract

Starting with concrete, hands-on experiences is a great way to help students building their understanding before moving into abstract learning. Few things are as challenging to teach as
inferences. When it comes to teaching this abstract concept, Chrissy from Buzzing with Ms. B always starts with a hands-on, engaging activity to help students build their understanding from the concrete to abstract! She provides students with cards with different pictures on them, all related to one idea. Students discuss what they see on the pictures and try to infer what the topic is. From there, she guides them through a short text to help them apply their understanding of inferences to the text, pausing to ask guiding questions and thinking aloud to show students how the thought process works. It also helps to provide students short, focused practice on the specific skill that they're learning, so they can build their understanding without feeling overwhelmed! Task cards like these are a great way to do this, as well as a good check for understanding to see who needs additional help! Read more about how to teach inferences here or grab the complete unit here! You can also find all of the Reading Strategy Minipacks here, so you can teach abstract concepts in a hands-on, guided way!

Implement Guided Math

Mandy Neal from Teaching With Simplicity shares the value of implementing guided math groups in upper elementary classrooms. Mandy outlines five key benefits of this approach: increased student engagement, the opportunity for immediate feedback, differentiated instruction, encouraging students to discuss math, and a better understanding of students' math abilities. She also underlines the significance of tailored, hands-on math instruction via guided math groups. You can also find a collection of 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade math activities to get you started with guided math in your classroom!

Master Fractions with Number Sense

It’s no secret that fractions have a way of spreading confusion and uncertainty in upper elementary math classrooms. Thankfully, you can assuage your students’ fraction anxiety by breaking down this stressful math concept into bite-sized lessons that take advantage of number sense. Tammy from
The Owl Teacher leans into this idea by sharing several ways your students can master fractions. For instance, watching the language we use in the classroom as well as employing a variety of fraction models and connecting them to real-life concepts are just a few ways to break down fractions. In addition, using a number line for fractions is a great way to break them down to a hands-on level that’ll engage math students. Or, if your students are already on their way to tackling fractions with different denominators, try using visuals, manipulatives, or even activities such as the fraction caterpillars that you can find here, or even harness holiday excitement with a Valentine's Day Unlike Fractions Scavenger Hunt! Ultimately, the key is taking the time to instill a strong foundation of number sense so that your students have the tools they need to succeed when facing down fractions. Breaking down fractions now leads to lifelong success in arithmetic!

Teaching is never easy, but learning some tried and true strategies will help you teach effectively and with more ease. Try a strategy at a time, master it until you feel comfortable and then try a new strategy!

Survival Teaching Strategies You Need In December


Every teacher knows how amazing, yet exhausting teaching in December feels.  Between the excitement and fun activities, to all the crazy schedules and responsibilities during December, keeping your students engaged during this time can be WILD!  I have teamed up with an amazing group of educators to bring you a round up of some of our tried and true activities to keep your students on task and excited about learning (while having a lot of fun in the classroom too).

Check out these 7 amazing ways to keep your students engaged this December!

ENGAGING MATH CRAFTS THAT SHOW OFF STANDARDS, yet totally exhausting for teachers. Math crafts have been such a SANITY SAVER for me over the years. Here why I love them during the holidays....
  • Students love math crafts and enjoy working on the math and then coloring.
  • Students are invested in giving their best math work since it will go on display.
  • Students show their work with the models and strategies included on the crafts.
  • Teachers love the no prep crafts. Just copy and go!
  • Teachers appreciate the printable picture directions - perfect for sub days.
  • Teachers like students practicing math standards in a meaningful way.
  • Admin loves seeing that math standards are being met.
  • Everyone loves how the math crafts decorate the hallway or classroom.
Math crafts can be handmade by teachers by providing a template for students to trace and cut or teachers can copy them on the copy machine. Students can add their math to the inside of the craft and color it for display.

If you are short on time, these premade winter math crafts provide no prep practice on missing factors, beginning fractions, division strategies, place value, two digit addition strategies, two digit subtraction strategies and missing addends.


When a break is coming up, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to start the next thing on your curriculum map. Of course, you still want to keep things educational in a way that continues to help your students grow and retain the knowledge they’ve acquired so far this year. Tiffany from The Learning Effect likes using hands-on activities and collaborative learning to keep students engaged and learning. One way she does this is by having students create their own board games. Create Your Own Board Game is the perfect pre-break project for your students. It can be used with any subject and for review or as a way for students to show what they know. There are many different ways to use this project - as a final project after finishing a class novel, as enrichment for a specific math skill or science topic, or at the end of a unit of study to practice what was learned. The best part of the project is having a game playing day! After students create their games, they play each other’s and make their final tweaks based on their peer’s feedback. A project like this is fun, and students become fully invested in their work. It’s a great way for students to show what they know through writing questions and answers for their game and when playing others’ games. Plus, who doesn’t love a time filler that is educational but has complete student buy-in?


Keeping a schedule during December can be a challenge too. It seems there's always something on the daily schedule that interrupts your normal lesson routine such as assemblies and class parties. Carla from Comprehension Connection has had success with themed teaching. Even upper elementary students love themed weeks. She uses themes like reindeer week to introduce animal research, close reading about caribou, partner plays she's written, and of course, fiction and nonfiction literature. The themes are festive, yet inclusive too for those who may not celebrate Christmas.


Teaching upper elementary students in December can be an exciting but challenging endeavor. With all of the excitement that the holidays bring, it can be difficult to keep the kids focused and engaged. To help with this, Marissa from Creative Classroom Core likes to incorporate the holiday spirit into her ELA lessons be using short stories with themes related to December holidays or winter. With classic stories like "The Gift of the Magi" by O.Henry or "The Christmas Present" by Richmal Crompton, it is easy to find holiday themed stories that fit seemlessly into your existing curriculum. After reading, Marissa likes to encourage students to write about the characters, plot, or their own holiday experiences. This not only makes learning more enjoyable but also connects their personal experiences to the curriculum. Read more about incorporating holiday themed stories into your upper elementary curriculum on the Creative Classroom Core blog!


As the holiday season approaches, elementary school teachers are faced with the challenge of maintaining focus and engagement amidst the excitement in the air. Ronnie from A Teacher's Wonderland has some ideas for your December lesson plans and some tips to help you navigate this festive time of year. First and foremost, embrace the holiday spirit by incorporating themed activities into your lessons. Whether it's working on math centers (with winter themed games) , or helping a snowman escape from an awesome escape room, or exploring different cultural celebrations, infusing the season into your curriculum can excite your students and keep them motivated. Don't forget to prioritize self-care during this busy time. It's easy to get caught up in the whirlwind, but remember to carve out moments for relaxation and rejuvenation. After all, a well-rested and happy teacher is a happy teacher. So gear up, embrace the chaos, and enjoy the wild ride of teaching in December!


In December, it's crucial to maintain kids' enthusiasm for reading, and one way Vanessa from Longwing Learning does this is by challenging kids to read different types of books or genres and writing them down. Here's how she incorporates it during December in her classroom: First, she creates a bingo card with holiday-themed books using the Monthly Genre Book Logs. She challenges the kids to read these books during the month. As the month passes, she and her students read aloud the various holiday-themed books. When they finish reading a book from the bingo card, they get to mark a square on it. The goal is to complete a row, column, or diagonal, just like in the traditional bingo game. By incorporating these challenges in December, she keeps the joy of reading alive throughout the festive season.


The holidays are a busy time of the year and teaching isn't any easier during this time. The children are excited for all that's coming up, including their extended winter break. How could you possibly get through this tiring time while trying to educate the students even a little? Tammy from The Owl Teacher likes to add a little twist to December by exploring the science related to the holidays. By making science fun and seasonal, students will be engaged and likely to learn a thing or two! In Tammy's blog post Engage with Holiday Science, she walks you through all the different science activities you can do and provides you with a freebie to get started.


Sharing our Blessings with Teachers: A Thank You Giveaway

As I am nearing that "half-way to 100" milestone in my life, I have come to realize that we can focus on our hardships or find the blessings amongst them. 

Even though that "milestone birthday" has slowed my body a bit, I am so incredibly thankful to be reaching it.  As my children are in the young adult and teenager phase, they have needed me less and less, but it has allowed me time with my aging parents.  My husband retired this year after 31 years of factory labor, and it allowed my family and I TIME to take an extended camping trip out to the Black Hills National Forest and Yellowstone National Park.  

Sharing the Blessings with Teachers FREEBIE

I am so incredibly blessed, and I want to share some blessings with teachers.  TIME is something we cannot make more of and so today I am sharing the gift of time by sharing this craft for free to save you so time in the classroom since it is print and go!  Getting home to relax in the evening and enjoy life is a blessing all teachers deserve.  

While in the classroom, I so enjoyed creating math crafts with my students.  Not only do my students get critical math review, they have so much fun coloring the crafts and making them uniquely their own.  The bonus I get as teacher is that the math crafts not only showcase the standards that we are mastering, but they also decorate our classroom or hallway.   


Sharing the Blessings with Teachers GIFT CARD

I am also giving away a $25 TpT gift card.  Enter below!  The winner will be announced on Tuesday, November 21, 2023.  

a Rafflecopter giveaway


I have 15 other friends who are ALSO giving away free resources and $25 TpT gift cards.  Visit each one below by clicking on their logos!  You can enter ALL of the giveaways and pick up loads of freebies!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter
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5 Easy Thanksgiving Ideas and Activities in the Classroom

The school year always seems so rushed each year and by November we are ALL ready for some down time. Thanksgiving should not only be a time of giving and being grateful, but also a time just to slow down, relax a bit, and look for the blessings, including the classroom.

Giving thanks for our students and their hard work can look like:


    Many students have never tried eating pumpkin, so this is great opportunity for them to try! (Of course, make sure that your students have no allergy issues first.) Buying a bag of salted and roasted pumpkin seeds is super simple and easy to give each student a few to try. Or add some math skills by making Pumpkin Pie in a Bag. Check out this free recipe that is a great way to get some real life math measuring skills in!


    This doesn't have to be fancy! Show students how to trace their hand and let them color their own unique turkey. Or go outside and pick out some leaves to do some color rubbings. If you would like to incorporate some math and need some print and go resources, check out these cute 3-D turkeys!


I absolutely LOVE playing nature "fly-over" videos with calm relaxing music in the background while we complete tasks! The video I have linked below comes from Tim Janis' YouTube channel. It is so relaxing and helps my students focus!

I played these often while students were working on completing a worksheet, reading a book of their choosing or on those days where we needed it, COLORING! These November Multiplication Coloring Sheets are the perfect combination of practicing multiplication strategies and just relaxing and coloring. Bonus: They are differentiated!


    Some days we just need that (teachers and the students). We get so busy making sure the kids are educated, differentiated, accommodated, and all, that we forget that we ALL NEED SOME DOWN TIME! The day before a holiday break, a movie and popcorn was my go to! I used the time to connect with the kids a bit, straighten up the room, lay out some materials for after the break and if I could sneak it in, do a bit of lesson planning or grading.


    I'm not going to lie, this can be a bit bananas, but OH the MEMORIES you will make!!! I usually would have some of my games be educational games that we were already playing in class anyway (because I wouldn't have to review the rules), some card games (like Multiplication War - free directions or UNO) and some easy games like Candyland (it may seem babyish, but I guarantee they will still love it).

These are the moments your students will remember in your classroom. Slow down this Thanksgiving and allow the magic of memories to be created in your classroom.
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