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Teacher Helpline

Hi, I’m Ruth Manna, a teacher for over 20 years, and now a Director of Curriculum. I’ve spent over five years answering questions on the Teacher Helpline and hope to answer yours. This year, I'll join other teacher advisors on the Top Teaching blog.
Administrator: Ruth Manna Created: 02/22/2010 Last Activity: 11/20/2010

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Please bring your questions, situations, and problems and collaborate with one another and with me.
  • Profile
    Re: In need of help
    Hannah Seabrooks
    Start with M, S, T, and P. Those sounds are distinct enough for them to hear.
  • R_manna_011
    Re: In need of help
    Ruth Manna
    Our teachers use the Lively Letters program: http://readingwithtlc.com/live... There is no one way to teach the alphabet. One way is to teach a few consonants and a first so that you can make simple C-V-C words.
  • Local_kayak
    Re: In need of help
    marbar
    My best friend who teaches K and has won many awards suggests this... We start by teaching one letter a day as an intro to the whole alphabet. We recognize one as the beginning in each persons name. We read many many alphabet books. It takes 26 days to do that and then we focus on one letter a week: smrtbnhvcapgflidzxowyeju we identify it in the beginning and then we start blending sounds using the vowels taught and simultaneously teach word families as the vowel is taught.
  • Profile
    New Teacher Starting over a month into the School Year!!! - Help
    odugurl03
    Hello all!! I will be teaching elementary for the first time. I will be teaching 2nd grade. The school had to wait 20 days after school started before they could add on any new teachers. So...here I am..I need advice on everything from behavior management technics that are battle tested. I have been given individual desks with cubby inserts, I need help with the layout and arrangement...any suggestions. So far I have them grouped in fours throughout the room. Unsure about having students back to the board...Next..is there anywhere that I can get free or inexpensive books for class library as I have zero..I also would like suggestions on making centers more interactive as opposed to only literacy based. I think I will stop now...so much to do so little time. Thanks in advance : )
  • R_manna_011
    Re: New Teacher Starting over a month into the School Year!!! - Help
    Ruth Manna
    Book Clubs are a great way to get inexpensive and complimentary books. You can also try garage/tag sales. In my town we have a swap shop at the town dump and I've gotten books there. You could make a wish list of books, and maybe parents will give you books from your wish list. The PTO may have funds for books. Ask friends and relatives for books their children have outgrown. A school committee member recently gave one of our schools 5 boxes of books his children had enjoyed. They were well-loved books so we decided to give them to students to take home, but we could have added them to a classroom library. For seating arrangements, there are so many different ways to arrange a classroom. Two arrangements I like are a big U shape so everyone can see the board and front of the room. I put an area rug in the open center which makes a great place for Morning Meetings and mini-lessons. I also like students sitting in pairs, both facing forward. Everyone has a partner to work with, help with directions, etc. I look to have most of the furniture, like bookcases and cabinets around the perimeter of the classroom, to leave plenty of room for movement. Also I want to be able to see what's happening at all times so I like to have bookcases against the wall. If you write back with more specific questions, I'll help you.
  • Local_kayak
    Re: New Teacher Starting over a month into the School Year!!! - Help
    marbar
    Here’s a link to sign up for being alerted to warehouse sales: http://www.scholastic.com/book... Obviously book clubs is a key way to get started on building up your classroom library if you have a group that can buy personal books and get you some points to use on your library. Always look at the Teacher Store to see what specials they are running. http://shop.scholastic.com/tea...
  • Local_kayak
    Re: New Teacher Starting over a month into the School Year!!! - Help
    marbar
    Hi there, First of all you have a wonderful age group to teach. Lucky you! How many students will you have? You can usually position all of your students to face the board, but some rooms are a challenge if you have a large class. Don't forget you can have a rug area for instruction, so you don't need to have your students sitting at their desks. Scholastic.com has an entire area for new teachers...http://www.scholastic.com/teac.... This would be an excellent place to start. There is also a mentor for 2nd grade, Michelle, who has covered some of your concern in her blogs this September. You can find her ideas at http://blogs.scholastic.com/cl... What tools, resources do you have in your room now, computers, interactive white board, games from previous teacher? Don't try to do everything at once. You and your students need to build slowly into a working community. Ruth Manna will be adding a lot more to what I have written, and I'll continue to add more also. Have a great year!
  • Teacher_1_scholastic
    How to get students intrested in health.
    Lilly Walsh
    I'm teaching health this year because I think it's a very important class that teaches life skills that are needed out in the real world. But how can I get my students to feel that way? I feel they take it as a big joke. How can I get them to take it seriously but still make it fun?
  • R_manna_011
    Re: How to get students intrested in health.
    Ruth Manna
    What interests your students? Are there topics relating to health that might be relevant? I don't know your students but teen pregnancy, diet and exercise, Anorexia, depression, and STDs seem relevant. Bullying and its consequences are relevant. Maybe your students would help you come up with topics to study.
  • Teacher_1_scholastic
    Re: How to get students intrested in health.
    Lilly Walsh
    Oh sorry about that. I teach high schoolers. Grades 9-12. And they come to my classroom.
  • R_manna_011
    Re: How to get students intrested in health.
    Ruth Manna
    You want to make sure you have control of the classes before you plan to do fun activities. Students need rules and you'll need to follow through consistently. You'll need a list of about 5 rules. Maybe students can help you write rules so everyone is safe, comfortable, and respected.
  • R_manna_011
    Re: How to get students intrested in health.
    Ruth Manna
    How old are your students? Knowing their ages would help me. Do you go into classrooms or do students come to you? Ask the classroom teachers for their support. You might consider adding activities to your program to make it more engaging and hands-on. If you teach about nutrition maybe students could make a healthful snack like raw veggies and hummus or salsa.
  • Profile
    Classroom management
    casey.kopac
    I recently began my fist year 5th grade science at a middle school. I had never even heard of 5th grade being in a middle school before this, but that's the way it is. My students are very interested in science but after a day of limited student interactions, when I get my last class, they are bouncing off the walls and falling very behind. Do you have any suggestions to keep them focused even at the end of the day? Thank you!
  • R_manna_011
    Re: Classroom management
    Ruth Manna
    Fifth graders probably want to get up and move, especially at the end of the day. They are young to be in a departmentalized setting and are likely transitioning from self-contained classrooms. It may take them a while to adapt. Meanwhile plan experiments and activities that will allow them to get up and move. Maybe offer them a group reward like a nature walk or science scavenger hunt if you have a good week. Group rewards will work at this age and there's social pressure to conform. Other ideas: Rearrange your classroom and move desks around. Change your seating plan and try to separate students who are causing problems so they don't have eye contact with one another. Try rewards and look for improvement in about 3 weeks. If you need more help, just write back.
  • Profile
    Need recommendation for headsets
    Linda Kirkdorffer
    The headsets with microphones I use with my middle school students (Read 180) are not holding up for even a year. Students don't seem to be misusing them, but wires get loose or earphones and/or microphones don't keep working. Any suggestions for brands or sources that seem durable?
  • R_manna_011
    Re: Need recommendation for headsets
    Ruth Manna
    Hi, Here is a relatively inexpensive ($55) wireless headset with microphone. http://www.amazon.com/Plantron... I wonder if a wireless headset would last longer.
  • Profile
    What to do after kids finish a book!
    danielledandrea
    Hi Ruth! In my school, once a student finishes a book, they need to do some time of reading response form to "prove" that they actually read the book. I've looked at other teachers' responses, but they're just not what I'm looking for. Since we need to do this, I'm looking for something where kids will summarize the book (summary is a skill 3rd graders have to work on) and do some sort of personal response too. Do you have any ideas for this? AND do you have any ideas of what should/could replace this? This way I can bring it up in one of my next meeting with the administration. Thanks!!! :)
  • R_manna_011
    Re: What to do after kids finish a book!
    Ruth Manna
    Write a list of questions that require more thought. You'll want a broad selection of higher level thinking questions that will appeal to a range of students. Questions like, "What other book that you've read does this book remind you of? How are these 2 books alike? How are they different?" Or, "What questions do you have for the main character? Write a letter or list of questions for this character."Or, "Was the ending of this book satisfying? Was the problem completely resolved? Explain using evidence from the book." Third graders are able to write about theme. The theme of a book will likely relate to something in a student's real life, or another book or maybe TV show or film the student has read/seen. Once you have a list of about 24 questions, copy the questions and ask students to glue them into their reading journals. What will make your reading journals effective and engaging are the questions you write. Maybe students can add thinking questions to the question bank. Another idea: I asked my fifth graders to write me a one page letter each week about what they were reading. I answered them with a one page letter. This took a lot of time but I wrote a few letters each evening so it was do-able. It was wonderful for their writing and we really got to know one another. I'd write about books I was reading and comment on the books they were reading. It helped that I had read many of the books they were reading.
  • Meandshana2
    Classroom management
    onefoofoo
    I need help with my 5th grade classroom. The students seem bored with the assignments. When I put them in groups they got really loud and tried to talk over the other groups. I have 27 students with two tables and the others in desks. Our room is too small for true centers. I teach reading, social studies, language arts, writing, and spelling. Thank you!
  • R_manna_011
    Re: Classroom management
    Ruth Manna
    Can you replace the tables with desks? If all the students were sitting at desks, and the desks were facing the front of the room that might help. Do you have rules? Are they posted? Have you tried a reward system? Get The First Days of School by Harry Wong and Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov and read them this weekend. They are full of ideas. Whatever changes you decide to make, you want to make them NOW because the tone and climate that is established in a classroom at the beginning of the year tends to persist over time. You'll want to be consistent with the way you follow-through with classroom management and student behavior. With regard to students being bored and disengaged, think about what you'd like to do if you were a student in this class. Students like opportunities to get up and move, some like competition, games, and contests and others like music and art. Try to vary assignments and activities and ways for students to show you what they know. Do you have a Smartboard or overhead? Computers? Use them. If you need more ideas, write back.
  • Profile
    Getting Started
    Mays18
    Hi, I am a homeschool mom and I am a member of a large group of Christian homeschoolers. There are about 189 families total with about 500 kids. Another person in the group has done this in the past and handed it over to me. I signed up but I need to know how other home school families can order under me? Thanks and Blessngs, Michelle
  • R_manna_011
    Re: Getting Started
    Ruth Manna
    Here is Customer Service phone number: 1-800-724-6527 Or you can search here for help: http://www.scholastic.com/cust...
  • Profile
    HOW TO SET UP ONLINE ORDERING
    kastickney
    How do I set up online ordering for my parents to access my account?
  • R_manna_011
    Re: HOW TO SET UP ONLINE ORDERING
    Ruth Manna
  • Profile
    Computer literacy curriculum for early elementary
    Irumansari
    Thank you so much for the great ideas and tips for media! I have one more concern.Can you please help me find the right book/curriculum for teaching basic computer skills to children K-2? I'm looking for a resource...
  • R_manna_011
    Re: Computer literacy curriculum for early elementary
    Ruth Manna
    Here are 2 books you might want to own: Web Literacy for Educators, by Alan November and Teaching with Author Web Sites K-8, edited by Rose Reissman and Mark Gura. These are teacher resource books that will help you get started. Another way to start is with one Web site or program for literacy and one for math plus a kid-friendly program for teaching keyboarding. Keyboarding will work for students in grades 2 or 3 and up. Hands and fingers have to be big enough to reach all the keys. If you need additional, specific suggestions, just write back.
  • Profile
    Class activation code?
    Bonnie Wills
    Does anyone know how to look up the Class activation code for online ordering?
  • Img_3690
    Re: Class activation code?
    KEITH BOWLES
    If you already have a Scholastic User Name and Password, you can log into Clubs Ordering Online and in the left hand column on the ordering homepage, you will see a box that says "Let Parents Order Online" and in the lower right corner of the box is your activation code in orange characters.
  • R_manna_011
    Re: Class activation code?
    Ruth Manna
    Your best bet is to contact Customer Service. Go here first: http://www.scholastic.com/cust... If you can't find an appropriate category, click on Contact Us on the left. Customer Service reps. are very prompt with their replies.
  • Profile
    Language Arts Teacher - passionate, but ill-prepared!
    tomasina74
    Hi Ruth, I am not new to teaching (this is my third year), but I seem to be having the same problem over and over again. I plan and write my lessons and most of the time they are fantastic, but I usually encounter the handful of students who finish early and have nothing to do. What kinds of activities can I add on to ALL of my lessons that will keep my students engaged until the end of each period? Thank you!
  • R_manna_011
    Re: Language Arts Teacher - passionate, but ill-prepared!
    Ruth Manna
    I hear you. We all want students to have meningful activities for their free time. It's a good idea to have on-going work students can do. For example, a reading journal, writing folder, or list of vocabulary or spelling words they can always work on independently. A well-organized classroom library with leveled books helps students find books they can really read. Reading is always an option. There are variations on reading like partner reading, whisper reading, independent, silent reading, etc. Create a prioritized list of agreed-upon activities with your class at the beginning of the school year. Talk through each option and model how to engage in activities appropriately. If you have centers like writing center, listening center, or science center, those activities may also be on your list. You might call your list, "What do I do NOW?" A large list on chart paper will give students a visual reminder and you'll be able to redirect them nonverbally just by pointing to the list. For other ideas, look for this book: The Daily Cafe.
  • Profile
    New Teacher: Help!
    shap9571
    Hello, I was just hired as a 9th grade special education teacher at a high school in Queens, New York. Unfortunately, I have no experience teaching 9th grade. I am only certified up until 6th grade. Since it is in the NYC school districts, it is okay that I am not certified up until 9th, because I am certified to teach special education. Since I have no experience teaching upper grades, I have no idea where to begin as far as classroom arrangement, behavior modification ideas, reward ideas, welcome activities and general classroom activities. I don't want my classroom environment to seem too young for my 9th grade students. However, I do want to still appear to be a fun, and enthusiastic teacher, while still having age level appropriate activities and arrangement. I am so lost, it's scary. Please help!
  • R_manna_011
    Re: New Teacher: Help!
    Ruth Manna
    I have empathy for you and your situation. As an elementary teacher, I'd be concerned too. Find out as much as you can about your students. Do they have severe special needs? Do they need a substantially separate program or are they going to be mainstreamed for part of their day? Is this a self-contained classroom? Do students just need tutoring and someone to keep them on task? Are any of these students ELL students? How many students will you have at any one time? And how many in all? Knowing the answers to these questions will help me assist you with planning and organizing for the upcoming school year. You're going to want to assess these students as soon as you can. You'll also want to see any SPED records, IEPs, test scores, report cards, etc., from last spring. Set up your room with desks in rows and students separated, facing you and the front of the room. If you have a Smartboard or overhead, use it right from the beginning. Students will look toward the light, especially if you turn off the ceiling lights. Create a set of rules, ideally with the help of your students. Have a quiet activity for them to start on as soon as they enter the room. If possible, have a student or assistant handle the attendance and other clerical tasks so your attention can be on the students at all times. Greet them at the door and call them by name, because calling them by name will help establish you as their leader. Use name tags if needed. Break assigments into chunks and give students lots of modeling and practice. Make sure students write down their assignments in agenda notebooks. If they don't have notebooks, maybe the school can purchase them for the students. Many of the classroom management techniques you already know will work with ninth graders. Keep the room simple and plain in the beginning. You'll be able to add bulletin boards, posters, etc. later. If you haven't read Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov, get this book!
  • Profile
    Job of the Media Specialist
    Irumansari
    Hello, I just got hired as a media specialist in a private school. There is a lot that needs to be done in terms of discarding the older books and energizing the media center and its programs. The students have lost interest in the library because of lack of new and updated material and fun activities by the former librarians. Please help me with where should I start from? Everything is very new for me.
  • R_manna_011
    Re: Job of the Media Specialist
    Ruth Manna
    Other ideas: Find out ways to assist teachers by providing web sites, help with research, etc. Set up a schedule for story hours for younger students. Select newer, colorful picture books, even if that means checking out books from your local public library. You're right that students are not interested in old, faded materials. Find out if you have a budget for new purchases. Is there a PTO or parent organization that would have a fund raiser, donate funds, organize a book fair, etc.? Some books have puppets or plush toys that go with the books. Buy puppet/plush and book combos and feature them. Help students start a list of recommendations on chart paper. The heading might say "I recommend _________ to __________ because..." When students recommend books to one another that's a way to keep them in circulation. Get faculty members to recommend their favorite books and set up a shelf with their recommendations, kind of like Barnes and Noble does with staff recommendations. Start a literature circle for 3rd and 4th graders that meets after school or at lunch. There's so much you can do. Need more ideas? Write back!
  • R_manna_011
    Re: Job of the Media Specialist
    Ruth Manna
    What an exciting job! a media specialist has such a special role in a school, an ambassador for reading and technology! I don't know how much time you have before school starts, but start going through your collection, a shelf or two a day. Remove the books and materials that are old, worn-out, or out-of-date. Make thematic displays on the tops of bookcases, maybe featuring books about friendship and back-to-school, books teachers and students could read together to refresh social skills. You might also go around your building and find out what science and social studies units teachers will be teaching in Sept. Then set up displays with selected books to tie-in with their units, for example, butterflies, magnets, or American Colonial times. Students are more interested in books that are facing forward,so they can see the covers. Do you have books and tapes or books and CDs? You might set them up in a prominent place. Maybe you'd write a note to parents, introducing yourself and letting them know they are welcome to bring their children to the library right after school. If you are looking for volunteers, say so in your letter. What you want to do is draw in parents as well as students. Best wishes!
  • Local_kayak
    Re: Job of the Media Specialist
    marbar
    One beginning step would be to use Book Wizard to level the books you want to keep. bookwizard.scholastic.com
  • Profile
    New teacher
    123mountain
    This is my first year in the classroom. I am a AE teacher teaching grade 12 . Where can i find lesson plans that help with classroom rules? i would like some print outs.How much time should be spent on rules the first day?
  • R_manna_011
    Re: New teacher
    Ruth Manna
    Here's an article with lots of information for you from NEA: http://www.nea.org/tools/estab...
  • R_manna_011
    Re: New teacher
    Ruth Manna
    You will want to spend about 20 min. discussing rules. You'll want to make rules about classroom expectations and homework completion very clear. It might help to make a powerpoint, use an overhead projector, and/or later make a poster with rules to post. Give students copies of the rules. Check with your colleagues to see what rules they have. Think through the kinds of things you may be dealing with as you come up with rules. You may want to generate the rules with your students so they will have ownership of them. Check to find out if there is a dress code, rules about hats, chewing gum, or offensive language. Even though the rest of the school may not have consistent rules, think about your level of comfort and what behaviors you can reasonably tolerate. Negotiate a list of about 5 rules. That's about the maximum you'll be able to enforce consistently. Being consistent in enforcing rules is as important as the rules themselves. You'll want to follow-through with your rules 100% of the time. Otherwise you'll undermine your own authority.
  • Local_kayak
    Re: New teacher
    marbar
    Here is one lesson plan from scholastic.com on building community at the high school level. Teaching rules isn't a one day lesson, constant work on rules is a must. http://www2.scholastic.com/bro...
  • Profile
    Student doesn't complete required reading homework
    marminio
    This year I will be teaching 7th grade reading. The push in my district is for the students to do more reading of class novels at home rather then in school. I'm looking for suggestions on how to handle the student who comes to class the next day without completing the assigned reading.
  • R_manna_011
    Re: Student doesn't complete required reading homework
    Ruth Manna
    Is this just one or two students, or is this a problem for many students? Have students completed homework in the past? Is it just one class? Assuming it's just an isolated case, give this student a warning the first time it happens and repeat your expectations. The second time arrange for the student to stay after school to conference with you and to complete his/her reading at school. If this continues, ask parents/guardians to come in for a conference with the student present. At the conference, propose a system, like having parents sign off on the reading on a nightly basis, student tracks min. of reading in a reading journal, and you check every day to confirm student is reading nightly. In the beginning your follow-up and check-ins will be very important in assuring compliance. The system you establish is less important than your willingness to follow up on a daily basis. If the student responds positively to the new system, then gradually release responsibility to the student. If not, then you need to ask whether there's time during the school day for this student to catch up on nightly reading, for example, during study hall.
  • Profile
    Need help finding a book
    llhiscock
    Hi, this is my first year as a teacher, although I have subbed for six years. I am trying to remember the name of a book I read once as a sub so I can use it as a read aloud. It was about a child whose sibling had died and whose organs had been donated. The child was trying to track down one of the organ recipients. Does this ring a bell with anyone?
  • R_manna_011
    Re: Need help finding a book
    Ruth Manna
    I think the book you're looking for is In a Heartbeat by Loretta Ellsworth. Other related books include: Cold Hands, Warm Heart by Jill Wolfson, My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult, and Never Let Me Go by Kazu Ishiguro.
  • Profile
    Behavior Management
    txmsgray
    As the beginning of school begins, I was thinking about a new student behavior plan for my fourth graders. I've used tickets in the past to reward for things such as homework and positive behavior but hated counting them out at the end of the month. I was thinking of switching to a a punch card of sorts. I also want to get away from toy rewards and move on to things such as getting to take their shoes off, time on the carpet, free computer time, etc. Anyone have any ideas?
  • R_manna_011
    Re: Behavior Management
    Ruth Manna
    There are lots of ways to reward students that they'll find fun and don't include trinkets, prizes, or food. One way is to establish certain goals students will work toward for the week and a target range of points to achieve the goal. For example, a goal might be staying seated (2 pts. in AM and 2 pts. in PM) and a target goal of 14 points the first week. You may wawnt to divide the day at first so students who mess up in the morning can redeem themselves in the afternoon. All those who achieve the goal by noon on Friday will participate in a group activity, like extra time in a computer lab playing educational games, extra time on the playground or gym playing a group game like kickball, extra time to play board games, etc. You decide on the reward together. Anyone who doesn't earn the reward, will need to stay behind in the office or supervised in the classroom. Student will then complete a graphic organizer explaining why she/he didn't get the reward and what she/he will need to do differently next time to earn the reward. Another way of setting up a system is to use marbles and glass jar, adding marbles to the jar to reward positive group behavior. When the class has filled the marble jar, everyone earns a group reward like one of those mentioned above. When you set up a system it's important to make the goal reachable so everyone or almost everyone makes the goal the first week. You want students to earn the reward, so gradually raise your expectations and make the goal more difficult to achieve over time.
  • Profile
    using graphic novels
    priscilla.peterson
    Can you please suggest graphic novels I can use with my strategic reading classes. My students are 7th and 8th grade struggling readers. Most students are reading at 1-2 years below grade level. Thanks for any help you can provide!
  • Profile
    Re: using graphic novels
    priscilla.peterson
    Thank you, Ruth! I can't wait to read through this article and check out these titles.
  • R_manna_011
    Re: using graphic novels
    Ruth Manna
    I found an interesting article for you here on scholastic.com with a list of resources to help you find novels for your students. http://www2.scholastic.com/bro...
  1. Ideas to Promote Active Engagement in Your Students
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    All teachers struggle with keeping students engaged throughout the school day. Attached are some ideas that have been successful in my classroom.
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  2. Report card comments
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    Summary:
    Superb tool to help teachers write their end of year reports
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