Back To School!

August 2015 Newsletter

From the Desks of Kelly Harmon and Randi Anderson

Dear Educator,

Welcome back to school! Here's to a best-ever year of learning! As you begin preparing your classroom and school for students to arrive later this month, we are busy creating and sharing resources and ideas for you to use in your first couple of weeks.

We want to help you start the year off with fun ways to connect with your students and build strong relationships. We also know that you must establish structure and routines with and for your learners. We hope you will love the ideas we've shared.

We are praying for many blessings and success for you this new year. Happy teaching!

-Kelly Harmon & Randi Anderson


It's back-to-school this month for so many! The beginning of the year is my favorite time for so many reasons, with the most important being that it is a time to focus on routines and relationships. I am a firm believer that you must build your class routines and the relationships with your students starting day one! This will provide for a smooth and successful year ahead.


Not much learning happens without a relationship between the learner, the content, and a mentor. It is crucial to build relationships with your students starting the moment they walk through the door. Students must feel safe and be able to trust you. In an effort to build lasting relationships, schedule time during the first day or two to talk individually with each student. Create an informal or formal interview that will help you get to know each of your students interests, family, past experiences, and attitudes. Show students that you care about them and their story. We all need to be acknowledged in some way. Acknowledge each student on week one and build your lessons based off of their interests. It's a win-win for everyone! Click here to access our reading and math interview downloads.


One of my favorite pieces of advice I ever received at a seminar was "You have to go slow at first, so you can go fast later." That couldn't ring more true! In the beginning of the year, take time to show students exactly what you expect of them. Publish your schedule, expectations, and provide time to practice each routine. Engage students in determining and creating explicit processes and rules! This way, students take ownership. By mid-year, students will quickly become more independent because they know what to expect and know how to complete the routines put in place.

Best wishes this school year!

-Randi Anderson

5 Back-To-School Activities

Keeping with the theme of building relationships at the first of the year, here are five activities to do with your students to get to know them!

1. Bio Poem

Create a bio poem using Read, Write, Think's Diamante poem creator. Students type their name and the topic of the poem will be "me". Students are prompted to brainstorm words that describe themselves and give the class a deeper picture of who they are. The website gives the option of printing, sharing, and saving final poems. Click here to check out this digital tool!

2. Student Selfies

Lets take a selfie! Have students create a self-portrait to post on a classroom “Wall of Fame.” Students will use hashtags to give information about themselves to the audience. Click here to get a student selfie activity!

3. Student Memes

Help students start off positive by creating memes about positive actions to share. Publish student memes on a bulletin board or social media outlet! Click here to get the lesson guide and positive meme ideas!

4. Social Media Profile

Students will create a social media profile page to illustrate and write about themselves. Display the pages on a bulletin board or wall in your classroom. Students will love viewing other student's profiles and getting to know their new classmates. Download a FREE blank Facebook page template here!

5. Class Photo Album

Create a class photo album at the beginning of the year to allow students to tell their stories. Students will love getting to read about themselves and their classmates. Use our FREE class album activity from Teachers Pay Teachers!

4 ways to Increase Writing in Your Classroom This Year!

Providing students with non-threatening writing opportunities will build writing fluency and confidence in your students. Start the year off putting research-based writing routines in place. Here are 4 ways to increase writing in your classroom this year!

1. Journal Everyday

Allow students time to jot down their thoughts or "drite" (draw and write) in a daily journal. This can be at the midpoint of your lesson, or at the beginning or end of the day. Students should have the freedom to write about anything that is on their mind and no grade should be taken. Think of this as an opportunity to teach students to journal freely and enjoy writing.

2. Change Oral Tasks to Written

Not all task have to be one where the student raises their hand and gives the answer. In fact, raising hands to give oral responses only guarantees one student is engaged. Instead, provide students with time to write down (or draw) a sentence or more about what they are thinking or a response to the question or problem. This will allow students to practice using academic language and internalize the content being explored.

3. Quick Jots

Quick jots are "very brief, informal opportunities to think and record a few thoughts or notes about classroom happenings or anything under study." Quick jots should be a classroom routine. Use them for students to write down thoughts, notes, quick answers, lists, main ideas, opinions, and more! They should only last 2-3 minutes and should be shared with others. (Information from Janiel Wagstaff)

4. Media Commenting

Nothing connects students to the real world more than using social media. Students can comment on the question of the day or a class problem on the class Facebook or Instagram page. Also, class blogs are a great place for students to share their thinking. Our favorite student blog sites are Edmodo and KidBlog.

Using YouTube in the Classroom

YouTube recently celebrated its 10th anniversary! This social media site is a powerful tool for the classroom. You can create your own YouTube channel and create playlists. Visit my channel and look at the reading and writing playlists.

Have you ever thought of using YouTube videos as texts in your classroom?

Choose a brief video for students to practice using critical thinking skills such as making inferences or questioning the text. One of my favorites is Bulldog Teamwork. We treat the video just like a text. Starting out with a video instead of a text, engages the learner and sets them up for successful use of the target procedural knowledge. Ask questions like:

  • What genre is this video?
  • What message is the author trying to convey?
  • What is the author's purpose?
  • What can the view tell from the video?
  • What evidence do you have to support your claims?

If you are concerned about using YouTube due to the sometimes sketchy ads or suggested related videos, consider using You copy the link from YouTube and paste the link on the site. The video will play ad free. Using videos from YouTube is a great way to engage your students and get them using metacognition skills.

Fall 2015 Seminars

On-Site Training

Our mission is to assist educators, school districts, private and charter schools, child-care providers, parents, and students in meeting the instructional needs of all learners. We do this by providing quality and customized seminars based on best practices for instruction and scientifically research-based strategies for achievement. Visit our website for more information.

Kelly Harmon & Associates, LLC

KHA provide educational consulting specializing in providing literacy-based staff development, coaching, and curriculum planning for campuses and districts. We provide professional learning opportunities on a variety of topics and can customize workshops and seminars based on your campus goals and needs. Be sure to stay in touch through our