Author: Erica R.

Common Core State Standards: Accessible Correlations and Free Checklists

Free Downloadable Common Core Checklists

This past year I have been involved in correlating some of our existing series to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). So far, we’ve correlated more than 100 titles, including all of our Daily Warm-Ups books. You can see which series have been correlated by going here:

In addition, all of our new books will be supported or correlated to the CCSS.

To help teachers implement the CCSS in their classrooms, we’ve created Common Core checklists for grades K–6. These checklists are free and can be downloaded at Just select your grade and then download and print out the checklists you wish to use in your classroom.

You’ll notice that there are areas to write in dates, as well as a section for notes. In this space, you can write the materials used or any problems encountered while teaching the standard (credit lopez here). The checklist is in the landscape format so that it can be easily hole-punched and inserted in a class notebook. Consider sharing this part of your notebook with parents who are interested in learning more about these standards.


A Lion, a Python, and 33 Second-Graders, Oh My! A Lesson Learned From Storytelling

“Thank you, Mrs. Russsssimah!” You gotta love it when kids shout out your name, even if it is pronounced incorrectly. It’s been days, and I still mentally revisit my Friday afternoon and smile. And who wouldn’t when that Friday includes reading a story to a thoughtful, energetic, keep-you-on-your-toes batch of giggly second-graders?

I had the absolute pleasure of being a guest reader for Mrs. F’s class at Robert C. Fisler School. If you’ve never heard of this school, do yourself a favor and Google it. It’s modern, tech-focused, diverse, and, well, beautiful.

Mrs. F is the kind of teacher we all wanted in second grade (or any grade, for that matter). She is bubbly, full of ideas, witty, and has passion for what she does. She creates Promethean flipcharts from which students learn lessons, she invites guests to her classroom to help with student art projects, and she plays games with her class.

On the particular day I was there, she played 20 questions with her students. The class can ask 20 questions in order to figure out who the mystery guest reader is. Once all the questions are asked, the reader can enter the room and the storytelling can commence!

The storytelling did commence—with Chris Van Allsburg’s Jumanji. Being a huge fan of Van Allsburg, I couldn’t help but pick one of his masterpieces. And lucky for me, they enjoyed the storyline, as well as the vivid, realistic pictures. Admittedly, Mrs. F and I were concerned that the reading level might be too advanced, but this wasn’t the case. Here and there, I defined or explained various words. And they, too, asked questions. Together, we “oohed” and “awed” over the game’s twists, turns, and characters, which include a fierce lion, a curious collection of monkeys, and a slithering python. One student asked, “Why does the python match the furniture?” And another student promptly piped up with, “He has camouflage!” Talk about insightfulness and intelligence—and, remember, these are second-graders!

We wrapped up the reading with some final questions: Why is it bad that the boys took the game? (They don’t read instructions.) What will happen as a result of them not reading the instructions? (They won’t know to finish the game.) So what will stay in the house? (The monkeys! The lion! The lost guide! The python! The rhinos! The rain!) It was great fun, to say the least.

But aside from the fun, laughs, and all-around surprise from this experience, I learned a very valuable lesson: Don’t ever underestimate students, not even for a second—because the moment you do, you’ll find yourself absolutely dumbfounded. Students are more thoughtful, perceptive, and clever than ever before.

As teachers, maybe this is something you’ve already learned. Maybe it’s an idea you mastered years ago and now consider it to be “the norm.” But for someone who is currently out of the classroom, it was quite a shocker. It was also a real moment of pride. To be able to witness excitement in students’ eyes and to be able to see the passion that drives a good teacher—well, it’s no wonder I had such an amazing day, now is it?

Renovations: Expect the Unexpected (and Then Expect More)

About two months ago, my husband and I bought a fixer-upper.  When we signed away, we knew we had our work ahead of us.  No one had lived on the property for over a year, and the lack of love and attention showed.  The appliances didn’t work, there was brown water coming out of every faucet, and the walls were infested with bugs.  But we had a plan.  We had a list!  We even had a budget.  We thought we were good to go.  Oh, how we thought wrong.

As soon as we closed escrow, we did what any average, new condo-owners would do:  we gutted the downstairs.  We tore out the cabinets, sink, countertop, and appliances in the kitchen; we stripped down the bathroom to nothing but pipes; and we ripped out the existing flooring.  (Needless to say, the bugs found a new home.)  Then we (we = I) cried.  The downstairs looked awful—it seemed like we’d never get it to look like a livable space again.

A few days later, our wood floors were installed throughout the downstairs.  They looked beautiful!  They stayed beautiful, too—until two weeks after the install when we had a terrible flood in the kitchen.  The flooring had to be gutted and re-laid.  The plumbing had to be fixed.  The wallet had to be emptied.

Yesterday, I discovered a leak coming from our outside patio into the interior track of the sliding glass door.  Rainwater had filled the track, and somehow sludge and earwigs had made their way in there, too.  All I could do was heave a deep sigh and then go grab some paper towels, a plastic bag, and my trusty bottle of Windex (my cleaner for everything).

So why am I sharing some[1] of my home-renovation woes with you?  That’s easy—I know you can relate!  As teachers, you renovate every day.  Whether it’s a dated lesson plan or a jaded student, you take something that needs work and turn it into something worth showing off.  You are constantly adjusting and improving the classroom experience for your students, much like I am restoring and redecorating my living environment.

How do you do it?  Or, better yet, how do you do it so gracefully?  And, more so, how do you do it every day of the week?  How do you not become overwhelmed by all the changes you want to make?

Like some of your renos, I presume, the plan we began with has been replaced with reality.  Our list grows longer every day, though we are crossing lines off.  And the budget my husband and I had set is now something we laugh about.  (Does money evaporate out of your wallet, too?)  But the good news is that our home is beginning to feel like a home.  At the end of the day, this is where we want to relax and, if needed, clean out sliding glass door tracks, or unclog tub drains, or install ceiling fans, or . . . Some renos are just worth it, don’t you think?

[1] In this case, a very small percentage

Music: The Soundtrack to Your Classroom

Think back to the last time you saw a movie. About halfway through, you realize the climax has come. How do you know? You hear the music change. Maybe you hear the gradual progression of piercing violins. Or perhaps you notice the piano, as it begins to punch through the silence. And all of a sudden, without even realizing it, you’re at the edge of your seat, nibbling on your nails, wondering what will happen next.

Music makes such a difference in a movie. It serves as a backdrop and reinforces the drama, humor, or romance of a particular moment. Without it, some scenes wouldn’t be as powerful, and some exchanges might be lost. When it comes to teaching and classrooms, music can function the same way. While your lesson will ring clear no matter what, with music, it will have more of an impact and lasting effect.

Music can liven up your classroom in so many ways. Researchers have proven that music does the following for students:

  • enhances concentration
  • increases attention
  • releases tension
  • improves memory
  • activates imagination
  • cultivates motivation
  • fosters collaboration
  • makes activities fun

One way that you can incorporate music in your classroom is at the beginning of class and/or after lunch and recess. One of my favorite teachers, Mr. Kutzner, used to welcome in our class, which was after lunch, with various Neil Young songs. We couldn’t stand them! And what was worse is that he would sing along with them—and his voice was truly terrible, even screechy! But it made us laugh, woke us up, and helped us focus after lunch. Adding music in this way allows you to have some fun with your students. You’re inviting them to see a playful side of yourself. So go ahead and play some of your favorite tunes. (Just be sure to listen to them ahead of time to make sure they’re classroom appropriate.)

One of my favorite artists is Jack Johnson. A few years ago he did the soundtrack for the movie, Curious George. The songs are lighthearted, and some of them are even educational and contain great lessons. If you’re interested in teaching your students about sharing or recycling, be sure to check out “The Sharing Song” and “The 3 R’s.” Although this particular album is intended for younger children, he has other albums that could be played for an older audience.

When teaching math or grammar, try playing music that will help your students focus. The melodies of Mozart, DeBussy, and Handel will enhance the skills being taught. Of course, if you feel like “throwing a curveball” during a money (math) lesson one day, try turning on Barenaked Ladies’ “If I Had $1,000,000.” This is sure to get all of your students smiling! And what teacher doesn’t want to do that?

History can be a tough subject for students to absorb because, let’s face it, from their perspective, it can be dense. However, you can jazz it up by including songs from different historical periods. I was lucky enough to have a professor in college who brought his guitar in each week and played a song or two from the time period we were studying. (Did you ever have a teacher like this?) I can still remember some of the facts he covered, and that was years ago! A terrific resource for songs from different centuries (17th – early 20th) is Here, you’ll find the history, lyrics, and midi files for over two hundred songs, from “Greensleeves” (17th century) to “The Drinking Gourd” (19th century).

For all you science teachers, you’re in luck! I have a couple suggestions for you, as well. Have you ever heard of “The Rainbow Connection”? Try using this song when you’re teaching your students about light or the light spectrum. Also, when teaching nutrition, put on Oliver!’s “Food, Glorious Food” in the background. Your students are sure to enjoy it!

As a side note, if you have an mp3 player (i.e., iPod®), you can set up playlists for each lesson or theme, making it easier for you to teach year after year. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel!

Ultimately, when you teach your students, you hope that a) they learn something, and b) they enjoy the experience. Music can help you achieve both of these goals. In the words of Neil Young, minus the terrible, screeching voice, “The lights turned on and the curtain fell down and when it was over it felt like a dream.” Offer up a dream to your students. Stimulate their minds with a little bit of drama, humor, or calming melody. Whether you’re welcoming in students after a break or teaching them a grammar lesson, students will be energized by music, and there’s a good chance they’ll enjoy the material being covered. There’s an equally good chance that you’ll enjoy it, too.