Sunday, September 28, 2014

FALL IS HERE! (and I've never been happier)

Before I start I just want to apologize for my month long hiatus from my blog. This first month of teaching a new classroom has been crazy, but crazy in the best way possible! As you know I have a self-contained K-1 Autism classroom. Every day gets better than the day before! I love my kiddos so much and am so happy in my new place. Things are finally starting to come together! I'm hoping now that were into a routine I'll have some more time to focus on my blog :) 

Now onto the good stuff! Normally when fall comes I go into a slight depression. My gorgeous summer weather is out the window, the nights get longer, the weather gets colder (and of course we are back to work ;). Usually it takes me a while to warm up (no pun intended) to the idea of fall, but this year I'm embracing it both in and out of the classroom!!! 

Last week our theme was the four seasons since it was the first day of fall! We did some really fun activities that I wanted to share with you!

We started off the week with a two day group lesson! Our group activities usually last 20-30 minutes with short tasks to keep students focused and engaged. So we took Monday and Tuesday to do an awesome read aloud and create season wheels! 
We read the story "Old Bear" and made Season Wheels. On the second day we had the students change the arrow from summer to fall because it was the first day of fall! 

Since it was a short week and our Wednesday was really our fake friday we did a super fun sensory activity: Autumn themed sensory bottles! The kids loved these!! (almost as much as me) and we had a blast making them!

Empty Poland Springs Water Bottles
Red/Yellow/Orange Tissue Paper (cut up)
Unpopped Popcorn Seeds
Leaves (from outside)
(any other autumn themed materials)
Food Coloring (yellow/orange)
Duct Tape 

The lesson will begin by reviewing the information from the day before using the season wheels that the students created! We will turn our season arrows to the month of fall and discuss that September 23 (yesterday) was the first day of fall. We will look at the pictures of fall on our season wheel and review that in the fall the leaves fall off the trees, the colors of the leaves change and the colors of fall: red, orange, gold, yellow, ect, and the temperature gets a little cooler in the fall.
We will then be making fall themed sensory bottles using fall materials. First the students will place leaves into their water bottles to signify the leaves falling off the trees. Then they will put in seeds to talk about the different crops (pumpkin, corn, ect.) that grow in the fall. Then they will put in fall colored tissue paper and gold glitter to signify the colors of fall. Lastly they will blow air into their water bottles to signify wind! 

The teacher(s) will then fill up the bottles, put in autumn colored food coloring and duct tape them shut! TADA!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

"Night Before School" Jitters

As teachers, we've all had the "night before the first day of school" jitters. A new class with new personalities can be very nerve wracking. But as scary as it is for us, for our kids it can be 10x worse, especially those with special needs that have increased anxiety levels. Here is a cute way to relieve those first day jitters. Thanks Jan Nelson for the inspiration!


I wish I could say I came up with the template, but unfortunately I did not. You can download it from Kinderland Collaborative by clicking here! 

Once you have printed out your templates grab some treat bags ($6.99 at Michael's) and fill them with any kind of glitter or confetti you like. I chose to fill mine with confetti so that my kiddo's parents don't hate me before school even starts! *($2.99 at Michael's). 

Next hole punch a hole in the corner and fasten the bag (fastener can be found in Michael's treat bag set) to the hole punch! Lastly get your student's addresses and send them in the mail before the first day of school so they can put the glitter under their pillow! 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


If you haven't heard or seen the hashtag #JusticeforAaron yet, it represents justice for the brutal assault of 16 year old Aaron, a child with Autism. If you haven't seen the video you can watch it here (but just know its disgusting I had to stop half way through). Many of my friends and family, knowing my passion for working with students with Autism, asked me my thoughts on the situation. My heart goes out to that poor boy. He has probably been the target of these ignorant high schoolers for a long time without ever knowing it. And, although I wish it didn't happen, it raises awareness to an important question........How often is this happening to these students? 

Many people with autism have trouble recognizing social cues, which can sometimes make them awkward around others. They also often engage in repetitive behaviors and tend to be hypersensitive to environmental stimuli. They can also sometimes become easily anxious or frustrated. These unique tendencies make them easy targets for school bullying. Research shows that bullies target:
  • Anyone who looks or acts different.
  • Small in size 
  • Those that don't participate in popular extra curricular activities
  • Individuals that are often anxious or shy. 
Students with Autism tend to display many if not all of these characteristics and as a result are easy targets for bullies. So how often is this happening to students like Aaron?  Research says that 46% of autistic children in middle and high school told their parents they were victimized at school within the previous year, compared with just over 10% of children in the general population. 

So how do we stop this?............................


  • Always be aware of whats going on with your students in and out of the classroom
  • Create a safe and supportive environment for students that encourages supportive and friendly behavior. (aka make being a good friend the "cool" thing to do)
  • Reward students with preferred items/activities/events for being a good/kind friend.
  • STOP bullying on the spot! If you are a witness, don't wait to report it. Provide immediate consequences to the student with clear explanation of what they did that was considered bullying and why it was wrong. DO NOT ignore any (even early signs of bullying) 
  • Teach students problem solving skills using a calm voice, rationale, and good communication (this can be an extremely challenging area for students with Autism so practice practice practice!) 
  • Educate ourselves on Autism and teach our children to tolerate and appreciate uniqueness in individuals! 
Aaron, thank you for being brave sharing your heartbreaking story with us and raising awareness.  I hope you know that so many people love you and are praying for you and hope you NEVER go through anything like this again. <3 

I encourage you all to like his Facebook Page 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Writing Strategies for Students with Autism

Writing can be very challenging for students with Autism. "Poor communication between key areas of the brain has a dramatic impact on a student’s ability to write. In order to write effectively, a person must activate the areas of the brain that govern motor control and planning, language skills, sensory feedback, problem solving, imitation skills, memory, organization, and proprioception" (Autism Digest, 2014) These students struggle with deficits that affect their ability to generate ideas, organize thoughts, and structure sentences correctly. I used to find teaching writing to be one of the most challenging parts of my day. However, through much trial and error over the course of the last few years, I have found some strategies that have really worked to help these students improve their writing skills. 
  • Before students can learn to write effectively there are some prerequisite skills I recommend they have mastered. They should be able to effectively answer "Who", "What", "When", "Where", "Why" and "How" questions. 
  • Students should have experience with and mastered using pronouns
  • Students should also be able to successfully build and structure a sentence.
Once your students have mastered these prerequisite skills, you can start tackling some writing! I want my kids to have experiences with all different types of writing (expository, narrative, imaginative, ect.) so here are some of the tools I use! 

Narrative/Journal Writing
Journal writing can be a great tool used for a variety of different reasons. First and foremost it gives students (especially those struggling with language/social skills) an outlet.Daily writing in a more relaxed format provides a way for a child to communicate and explore different thoughts and feelings in a non-threatening way. Students with Autism have language deficits that may impede their ability to generate original ideas. However, with the write support and prompt-fading system, these students can become successful narrative writers! Sentence Strips are a great tool to use for journal writing. Take a look at mine
I created these sentence strips as a prompt for my students to use while journal writing. You can start as simple as having a student pick ONE prompt from the pink "at school" jar, fill in the blank, then write the complete sentence. As the students get more and more comfortable you can add more sentences to the paragraph. To add "rigor" to the activity have the students choose several random statements about what they did at school, and then conclude with a statement about what they will be doing after school. Currently I have my students picking three random "at school" statements and 1 "after school" statement to create a short journal paragraph!

You can download my sentence strips for free by clicking this link

Expository Writing
Expository writing is a type of writing that is used to explain, describe, give information, or inform. I wanted the expository writing to be functional as well as engaging so heres what I did! I always ask parents in the beginning of the year to send in pictures when students participate in activities they like or go to events they enjoy! I laminated the pictures first and then created a PDF template (you can download below) that has the students answer who/what/where/when/ and why questions about the pictures. We use the same template and repetition to maintain consistency and establish a pattern of writing. This template worked WONDERS for my kids. Eventually the questions are faded out and the students are writing 4-5 sentence paragraphs about relevant information (who, what, where, when, ext. questions). 

I would also recommend using DIY sentence structure cards (index cards/post its pictured below) with this activity for students who struggle with sentence building.

Descriptive Writing

The primary purpose of descriptive writing is to describe a person, place or thing in such a way that a picture is formed in the reader's mind. Descriptive writing can be hard for individuals with disabilities, especially Autism, because of language barriers that affect a students ability to organize complex thoughts. I have found the best way to teach students about descriptive words and how to use them is through mystery boxes! They are an engaging and meaningful tool and so easy to make. I wrapped a shoebox in construction paper and decorated it with stuff lying around the classroom/my house. I punched a whole in the top and masked it with white paper so students couldn't see inside. I then created a worksheet that goes along with the activity that you can download on my scribe account. Check it out below! 

The Autism Helper also has some really great ideas and strategies for writing centers! I'd LOVE to hear what you guys do to improve writing in your classroom! Please comment below! 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Creating a Classroom Library

I can't believe its August already! As the summer is beginning to come to an end, teachers are starting to set up their classrooms. Setting up the classroom library can prove to be especially challenging for new teachers. How do you create a classroom library that is both organized and works for your specific readers? I did so using a combination of labeling books by topic and level. I have a classroom of 6 students that have a variety of different needs. So using just one organizational method wasn't going to work for my kids. Heres how I did it: 

First separate your leveled readers out from your other books. I entered into a new classroom so I had some leveled readers that I brought with me and some were left from the old classroom. Once you have all your leveled readers ready, develop a labeling system that is quick and easy. Mine was colored smiley face sticker system: 

Red: Beginning Readers
Yellow: Beginner- Low Middle
Green: Middle – High
Blue: High (independent reading) 

Once you are done labeling your leveled readers, place them into a bin starting with reds in the front then yellows, greens, ect. Label the front of your bin with the label above so teachers and assistants have easy access to levels. Once you know your students abilities, create and laminate a cheat sheet of each child's current level so assistants (and students if you wish) know which books meet each child's individualized needs. 

Now after the leveled readers have been placed into a colored bin. Sort the rest of your books by topic. 

I sorted them based on the books I had in my classroom so you will have to do the same. If you want some ideas for topics to sort into here is a list of mine: 

  • Leveled Readers
  • Letters/Numbers/Colors/Shapes
  • Storytime Books
  • Lesson Plans (books used to teach lessons) 
  • Scholastic Readers
  • Nickelodeon/Nick Jr. 
  • Disney Books
  • Dr. Seuss
  • Trains/Trucks
  • Pair it Books (Instructor reads 1 page/child reads 1 page)
  • Seasonal/Holiday Books
  • Animals
  • Feelings/Life Skills 
  • Chapter Books
  • Workbooks/Coloring Books 

You can download my labels HERE! Enjoy :D

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Before you throw those old magazines away....

...think of how you can use them in your classroom! Because the workload is so intense for teachers during the school year, summer is a great time to work on independent activities for students like file folders, centers, and crafts. But those months off mean tight budgets so spending money on these types of activities is not really an option. I've been working on some classroom activities that are made from old magazines. Magazines are a great tool to use to show students real life images and promote generalization (a skill thats so important to students with special needs) So before you throw them away check for the following:

  • Clothing Pieces: Flip through the pages to see if you can find full pieces of clothing. Pages like this you can find in some magazines. Also check out any clothing catalogues you get sent in the mail. Those are great for clothing pieces!
  • Food Pictures: Flip through the pages to see if you can find ANY sort of foods. You'll be able to find all sorts of different food pictures to use for a variety of different activities. I love creating different food file folders. 
  • Cool Wording: Cut out any cool words or letters you may see in a magazine. You can cut out individual letters from words to mix and match to spell your own words. 
Once you have collected all you need. You can use the pictures to makes some cool classroom activities. You can have students make "all about me" picture collages, center activities like a non-identical clothing file folder or healthy vs. unhealthy food sort, or a classroom wreath from the scraps! Check them out below! 

I love making activities like this! You can get so creative with it plus its all FREE! I'd love to see what you can come up with! Share/comment below! 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Classroom Organization: Labels, Labels, and more Labels.

So I was really starting to relax and enjoy my summer when I got a call from my principal that the furniture in my room was ready to be moved in. I met with two lovely and very handy men who helped me move all my furniture. Once everything was in place, instead of feeling accomplished I felt overwhelmed. I am an organizational freak and my classroom was/still is far from organized in its current state. My first step was to come up with some labels and decide where everything was going to go. When I ventured onto pinterest to look up some classroom organizational tips I found so many great classroom labels! Unfortunately once I clicked on them I was taken to their Teachers Pay Teachers page for $7.00 or more. Listen I'm all about labels but I'm really more about FREE labels. So I designed my own: check them out below (Shoutout to my amazing boyfriend Zach Tweddell for the template!)

You can download my entire set which includes labels with and without pictures, rewards, and daily schedules for FREE by clicking here