Classroom Ideas

Why Invented Spelling Matters

I’m a literacy specialist and the mother of a kindergartener. Therefore, I pay close attention to my daughter’s writing development. In less than a year’s time, I’ve noticed my daughter has evolved from telling a story in pictures to telling a story with pictures and words. As a result, she uses invented spelling with many words when she writes.

The mom in me wants my child to spell words correctly. However, the educator in me realizes she’s taking what she hears in speech and representing it in print. My daughter demonstrates what she knows about letter sounds and phonemic awareness when she invents the spelling of words. While she uses a word wall to help spell the “everywhere words” her class has learned, she makes her best attempt to represent the sounds she hears when she’s spelling everything else on paper.

invented spelling examples 1

Invented spelling is an analytical process.

In the early 1970s, a researcher named Charles Read asserted that young children’s attempts at spelling words were not displays of ignorance. Rather, they were windows into each child’s word knowledge. Read coined the term “invented spelling,” which refers to the way a child spells words that aren’t stored in his/her memory phonetically. Earlier this year, Gene Oulette and Monique Sénéchal published a study on invented spelling. In it they state that “Allowing children to engage in the analytical process of invented spelling, followed by appropriate feedback, has been found to facilitate learning to read and spell, not hamper the process.” That’s right, we help students’ future success as readers by giving them the freedom to invent their own spellings when they write.

invented spelling examples 2

We need to encourage risk-taking in our young writers.

Encouraging invented spelling allows children to take risks. We must praise emerging writers for their spelling attempts rather than punish them for not getting it right. Remember, invented spelling isn’t an “anything goes” approach. Conversely, it’s a necessary stage to develop the proficiency as a competent and confident writer.

As kids move on through the primary grades, it’s important to teach them the difference between sloppy spelling (i.e., misspelling words they already know) and taking risks to try to spell new or less frequently used words. One way we can do this is by emphasizing using the most accurate spelling possible at all stages of the writing process rather than saving the fixing of spelling errors until they are polishing a piece for publication.

For a short while, invented spelling can be an appropriate strategy.

There is a point at which an invented spelling becomes a permanent misspelling. As children advance in school, we need to be observant about frequently misspelled words in children’s writing. Diane Snowball and Faye Bolton state: “If a child is beyond the phonetic stage of spelling and consistently spells went as whent or they as thay, you probably need to step in, particularly if it is high-frequency words that are being misspelled.” It will take practice and time to master the correct spelling of the word. But eventually, the correct spelling will become automatic.

In The Art of Teaching Writing, 2nd Edition, Lucy Calkins posits that “Our students need to realize that it’s okay to make editorial errors as they write; all of us do, and then we correct them as we edit. Although it’s important to teach our students to edit, probably the single most important thing we can do for their syntax, spelling, penmanship, and use of mechanics is to help them write often and with confidence.”

invented spelling examples 3

Let’s give our youngest writers the space they need to write with confidence.

Instead of worrying about conventional spelling, let’s praise children for their spelling attempts. There will be plenty of time for them to master conventional spelling in the years to come. For now, let’s put students on a path to success. Allow them to show us what they know about alphabetic knowledge and phonological awareness. Give them the freedom to invent their own spellings.


Teacher Life

8 Best Meal Delivery Services for Busy Teachers

Who has time to meal plan, grocery shop, put it all away, chop it all up, and cook it up after a long day at school? Not teachers! Here are the best meal delivery services and online grocers to save you time and keep you away from the drive-through.

Just a heads up, WeAreTeachers may collect a share of sales from the links on this page. We only recommend products our team has tried and enjoyed!

1. Blue Apron

You can feed your family a completely nutritious, delicious, and sustainably-farmed supper with Blue Apron’s meal boxes. Everything you need to cook foodie-fabulous dinners is included in your fresh deliveries—from the proteins, produce, and spices to step-by-step instructions. Get $30 off your first order!

best meal delivery services blue apron teacher deal


2. Home Bistro

Home Bistro meals are all pre-prepared and flash frozen, so all you have to do is heat up and enjoy. They set themselves apart by keeping their dinners all natural, packed with superfoods, and at or below 700 calories and 800 mg of sodium.

3. Meal Gifts

Want to bring a friend who just had a baby or is ill a meal, but don’t have the time? Or maybe you live in a different state? Send them a meal through Meal Gifts. You select the meal you would like to send and the serving size. Then Meal Gifts prepares and beautifully delivers the meal with a heartfelt note you write.

4. Thrive Market

This organic grocery delivery service makes healthy living easy and affordable. Thrive features all our favorite organic and non-GMO brands, priced at up to 50 percent off their regular retail grocery sticker price. But the best part is getting those groceries delivered to your front door—fast and free. WeAreTeachers readers can exclusively save an extra 25 percent off, plus free shipping, on their first order!

best meal delivery services thrive market teacher deal


5. Veestro

Vegetarians are the focus of plant-based meal service, Veestro. Shop a la carte, meal packs, weight-loss options, or juice cleanses. There’s a protein meal pack for those trying to increase their plant-based protein. Or you can choose a meatless Monday option to ease into more vegan meals.

6. Hello Fresh

Hello Fresh promises “delicious ingredients you’ll love to eat and simple recipes you’ll live to cook.” We especially like the family meal plan for its kid-friendly yet healthy meals and accessible price point.

7. Home Chef

Meal ingredient and recipe delivery service Home Chef sets itself apart by inviting customers to pick the chef-inspired meals they would like to try. There is an array of choices each time you order. Each meal kit is perfectly measured so you can skip the grocery store and reduce waste. Just go straight to cooking a delicious meal. Get three free meals with Home Chef!

best meal delivery services home apron teacher deal


8. Plated

Seasonally inspired menus and budding master chef recipes that take your culinary techniques to the next level are the focus of Plated’s fresh ingredient and recipe boxes. Try this service if you would like your dinners planned plus not-too-intense self-guided cooking instruction.

Have you tried one of these services? What has your experience been like? Please share in the comments!

Teacher Life

6 People That Need to Be on Every Middle School Teaching Team

Middle school teachers hear a lot about consistency—how every member of the middle school teaching team needs to be on the same page about every potential issue. I’ve never seen that actually happen, and I’m not sure it should. Different kids respond differently to adults. Some need more structure, while some need more freedom. Some need tough love, and some need a shoulder to cry on.

A successful middle school teaching team is like a good hors d’oeuvres table; a blend of delicious components that are very different but work well together. Here are six different types of people that I believe are essential to any middle school teaching team:

1. The Stickler 

She’s the veggie tray of your spread. Nobody really wants to bring the veggie tray, but everyone needs a palate-cleansing cherry tomato now and again. The stickler is the one who cares about the rules. She will make sure the kids are in dress code, keep them in line in the hall, and keep your team in good standing with the administration. It’s a pretty thankless job, but somebody has to turn in the bus request for the field trip and play bad cop when it comes to volume in the cafeteria. You should give the stickler continuous free access to your candy drawer because it’s a tough job without a lot of glamour.

2. The Overachiever

She’s your cheese board. One kind of fancy cheese might have sufficed, but she’s brought four and an assortment of crackers. The overachiever actually remembers to make the kids enter all those essay and art contests. She chaperones weekend events and overnight field trips. She plans performances for all the special school events. The overachiever goes way beyond the call of duty to give your kids opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have.

3. The Softie

Chocolate-covered strawberries, anyone? The softie fills in the gap for the perpetually overworked and understaffed counseling office. He’s the one the kids approach to talk about their breakups or a fight with parents or the general angst of being in middle school. You know why you need the softie? Because he is the one who can gently and sensitively provide the stinky kid with a stick of deodorant and explain why it’s important without hurting any feelings.

4. The Drill Sergeant

Like an assortment of gourmet olives, he is strong and no-nonsense. Providing the perfect balance to the softie, the drill sergeant is where your kids get tough love. After the softie provides counseling, the drill sergeant gets the students back to work on math problems and tells them they better shape up and make something of their lives.

5. The Pollyanna

Mmm, that plate of cookies at the end of the table. Sweet, welcoming, calling my name … the Pollyanna always sees the best in the kids. She is the one who in the weekly meeting, says something like, “OK, I know Andrew is failing every class and never does homework and mooned the teachers’ lounge last week and also climbed out a window during math class, but have you seen his beautiful drawings of birds?” This teacher tirelessly advocates for the kids and provides an important perspective when it comes to dealing with infuriating, exhausting, crazy-making middle schoolers.

6. The Innovator

This is the hors d’oeuvre you approach with a little trepidation, like deep-fried grasshoppers or anything with squid ink. Why try that when Brie en croûte is sitting right there looking perfectly delightful? Well, because everybody needs a change and it might be the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted. The innovator is constantly coming up with new ideas and is convincing enough to get the rest of the team to go along. New system of tracking kids? Why not! Test prep Olympics with actual medal ceremonies? Sounds good! This teacher is creative, organized, persuasive, and a crucial component of the ideal middle school teaching team.

If your middle school teaching team has less than six members, don’t worry—there is plenty of room for overlap. I’m a Pollyanna-Softie-Innovator, which drives the Stickler a little crazy but works well with both the Drill Sergeant and the Overachiever (who are often the same person).

Yes, it’s smart to be consistent on the important stuff, but kids also benefit from the chance to work with a variety of personalities and styles. Building a balanced middle school teaching team makes learning ever more digestible. Also, I am now extremely hungry and about to eat all the cheese.

Are there any other personality styles that you would add to the list? Please share in the comments.

Classroom Ideas

23 Classroom Yoga Photos That Will Inspire You to Stretch It Out

Classroom yoga can be a great way to calm down and focus … for grown-ups AND for kids. That’s why we love these photos of teachers and their students making time for yoga. Crowded schedules and crowded classrooms can’t get in their way!

1. Just a little brain break. NBD.


2. A headstand before class because, why not?


3. Love these chilled out kids …

T E A C H E R S – I love the feeling of coming back from spring break. You and your students are rested, rejuvenated, and ready to put your best foot forward. There’s a renewed sense of energy and focus in the classroom. Wouldn’t it be nice if this feeling could come more often? I asked myself the same question as a teacher and then I found the answer in a daily #mindfulness practice in my classroom. Every day, a couple minutes of being present with our thoughts, with our breath, with ourselves and with each other gave us new found energy (yes, US. The students AND myself, the teacher). What I experienced in my classroom when I implemented a daily mindfulness practice blew my mind and I’ve made it my life’s mission to share these practices with more teachers and more schools. I am passionate about sharing this life changing practice with you and your students so that you can all benefit from more focus, less stress and anxiety, more calm, more joy and more empathy. Meditation is a scientifically proven method for improving learning and it actually rewires your brain to be programmed for more calm and less stress. It’s everything you’ve been searching for in classroom management and staying sane through all the many and various demands of the teacher life. I would LOVE to come to your school to teach these methods to you and your students in a fun, engaging and highly educational way. I am currently booking half and full day school workshops in April, May and June. If you are interested, email me at I would love to create a day of wellness and happy brains for you at your school! If you think mindfulness matters, please help me to spread the word so I can get these practices into the hands of the next generation, tag your teacher friends, parents, or share this post. ❤️ Lots of love, Kailey

A post shared by Kailey Lefko (@stillcoveyoga) on


4. … and these kiddos mastering sukasana.


5. Yoga instead of PD, anyone?


6. Peacocking off students’ desks. 😱


7. Bow pose for life.


8. Streeeeetchh …


9. Just a teacher catching up on her reading …


10. … and enjoying her morning coffee.


11. The best way to start the day …


12. … and the best way to end it.


13. Teamwork is everything.


14. First grade lions. Roar! 🦁


15. This is how you prep for centers too, right?


16. When you just have to stop, drop, and yoga.


17. Field trip yoga!


18. That picture-perfect moment when your yoga gear matches your bulletin board. 📸


19. Storytime yoga.


20. The new version of circle time.


21. Happy little cobras. 🐍


22. When you’re 18 weeks pregnant and still rocking classroom yoga.


23. When it’s Friday and you just have to celebrate.

Happy Friday! I made it through the first week of school!!!! WOHOO ooh!!!!

A post shared by Sara (@scowgrams) on

Have you tried classroom yoga? Please share in the comments.

Classroom Ideas

How to Get Started With Zentangle Patterns in the Classroom

Zentangle patterns are unplanned, abstract, black-and-white art made up of beautiful patterns. According to the trademarked Zentangle Method, true Zentangles are always created on 3.5-inch (8.9 cm) square tiles and are always done in black ink on white paper. The process of creating a Zentangle is considered a form of “artistic meditation.” Its creation is celebratory.

Like meditation, the Zentangle Method is meant to feel freeing and healing. Students don’t need special tools or technology because Zentangle patterns are considered timeless, simply putting pen to paper. The Zentangle Method was invented by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas. The two discovered that the act of drawing abstract patterns with a few basic rules was a meditative art form.

Why Try Zentangle Patterns in the Classroom?

  • They are relaxing.
  • They work for nonverbal journaling.
  • They can help with behavior modification and anger management.
  • They nurture and develop creative abilities.
  • They improve eye/hand coordination.
  • They increase attention span and ability to concentrate.
  • They foster problem-solving skills.

A Simple Starter Activity for Zentangle Patterns

What you need:

What to do:

  1. Give each student the printable provided and a thin, black Flair pen. Then have students draw a string—“A light curved line or squiggle that will lend structure to your design.” The line should divide the snake into sections in which students will next create patterns.
  2. Create tangles. A tangle is a pattern drawn in pen along the contours of a string in one of the open spaces. Your students can draw a different pattern in each available space.

Once students are finished creating, showcase their beautiful Zentangle patterns in your classroom or hallway! Zentangle art is perfect to integrate into your classroom during downtime. Students can relax while building critical thinking skills. I invite you to try the Zentangle Method in your classroom!

Your Career

The 5 Biggest Reasons Why Teachers Quit the Profession

Recently on our Facebook page, WeAreTeachers posted an infographic from the Learning Policy Institute which addressed many of the frustrations and issues teachers are dealing with in today’s education culture. The infographic illustrated the top reasons cited as to why teachers quit the profession.

The topic definitely struck a chord with our readers. We received an overwhelming amount of feedback to the post, with teachers sounding off on issues from challenging physical and emotional work conditions to health and personal reasons.

While these won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s worked in a classroom, here are some of the top reasons why teachers say they quit the jobs they once loved.

1. Challenging work conditions

Cassandra M. tells us, “Educators are bombarded with paperwork, ridiculous curriculum, and lack of time along with unrealistic expectations.”

Joan F. agrees, citing a laundry list of complaints, among them, “Unmanageable class size, lack of materials, crappy building conditions, working 10-15 hour days and weekends, ineffective administrators, frivolous meetings and regulations, no support for discipline problems, etc.”

Being a new teacher can be especially overwhelming and without the proper support, it’s tough to make a go of it. Charissa S. quit her first teaching job after just two months blaming the “inadequate preparation by administration and school board for the school year, the challenging working conditions and unrealistic expectations for first-year teachers.”

Another newcomer, Christine M., found herself frustrated working on contract year to year and credited her departure to “difficulty securing permanent employment.”

2. Not enough support, not enough respect

Many teachers feel the negative effects of what they perceive as a lack of respect. “There seems to be little or no old-fashioned respect for teachers today,” Ann D. tells us. Whether the perceived lack of respect comes from students, parents, or administrators, it takes a toll. “Stress, lack of respect, and support,” says Erin T., “It’s tough, even after 16 years.” Georgianne H. suggests, “How about nerves gone to bits as a reason why teachers are leaving?”

Many teachers report feeling micro-managed by administrators and parents. “Admin just doesn’t respect teachers,” Rosanne O. claims. “We have little to NO say.” Carole R. is frustrated by “lawnmower parents, who expect their child to get an ‘A’ when they are only doing ‘C’ work.”

3. Testing and data collection

The demands teachers are feeling as a result of high-stakes standardized testing and the emphasis on data collection is definitely a hot button issue among teachers who are leaving. Bonnie L. vehemently sums it up with just two words, “Data collection!” and Kevin P. tells us he hates being part of what he characterizes as a “punitive and abusive test-and-punish system.”

Amy L. quit after just three years because of what she calls the “teach to the test” mentality. “My first year, my principal called me into his office and told me to only teach to the standards, not teach anything outside them, and to not tell my students I was trying to prepare them for the real world or college. I started looking for a way out right then.”

4. No longer looking out for kids’ best interests

Bonnie D. left after 30 years of teaching because she felt the system was no longer acting in the best interest of all students. “Everything became all about passing the ‘almighty test,'” she says, “and decisions were made by the administrators to concentrate only on those students who could perform well. Call me old fashioned, but I always did my best to reach and teach every student in my room, not simply the ones who had the best chance of passing a test.”

In addition, many teachers worry about the effect high-stakes testing has on kids. “Sometimes tests coincide with a bad day,” Michelle S. tells us, “or a day when a student is just not feeling it. That is an incredible amount of stress on kids—especially those classified as ‘bubble kids.'”

5. In the end, family takes priority

Teachers are a particularly tenacious lot, but some teachers are leaving because they just can’t fight the system anymore and have decided to invest their energy closer to home. “After eight years of teaching and 20 years of dreaming about teaching, I have left the profession,” says Cedar R., “Due to an overall lack of support, I found it very difficult to balance teaching and raising my two children.”

Heather A. expresses her disappointment this way, “I realized that the school system is broken beyond repair. Years and years of spackle and duct tape just can’t hold it together anymore. When you realize that the system you work for isn’t even an environment you would send your own children to … you quit and homeschool them!”

What do you say, teachers? What issues do you see pushing your colleagues to leave the profession? 

Classroom Ideas

How to Start a Makerspace for Less Than $20 in Your School

Makerspaces are becoming a hot button draw in schools, as they should! A makerspace allows for students to take risks and be creative. But the price tags of elaborate 3D printers, coding robots, circuit sets, and coding systems can make a makerspace seem unattainable. With budgets being squeezed to the last penny and wanting to bring this mindset to my district, I figured out how to start a makerspace for less than $20 in my school. Here’s how you can do it, too. 

How to start a makerspace for your school

How to Start a Makerspace in Your School

STEP 1: Upcycle!

Check with your school’s maintenance department. The odds are that there is a closet or room where “equipment” goes to die. Look for:

  • Desks
  • Filing cabinets
  • Shelving
  • Peg boards

For my makerspace, I used an old teacher’s desk and a filing cabinet. You can find some really creative filing cabinet ideas out there, including ones that have been covered and painted.

I was also able to find an old bookcase to add to my makerspace. It was just the bottom part, but it works for my needs and is great for shelving. You might also want to look for old bookcases that you can back with peg boards. This makes for a very easy way to store and display tools. How to start a makerspace tools for school

STEP 2: Find Deals! 

Think extreme couponing … makerspace style! For storage, keep an eye out for open boxes or clear containers. You can look at stores with dollar sections for inexpensive storage options. I used some $1 fabric pop-up containers and printed labels for them. I believe one of the key parts of a successful makerspace is to use LOTS of labels. 

Hardware stores are always good places to find deals, and they often give out weekly coupons for toolkits, batteries, lights, and more for free with purchase or completely free. Maximize on these opportunities. I even sent out email blasts to parents asking them to use the coupon and pick up an item if they were in the area.

Also, ask these stores if they have safety glasses. Go ahead and play the “teacher card,” because you might even get some for free.

Even if you have a big purchase to make, don’t get discouraged by price. I had my eye on a big multi-drawer station, which has been amazing for my makerspace. I purchased mine at a national arts and chain craft store with a major discount coupon plus my teacher discount. This made it really affordable! how to start a makerspace school organization

STEP 3: Beg, Borrow, Shop 

Before you go shopping, send out emails and letters to your colleagues and parents. You might be surprised what will get donated! Sometimes providing a list of what you are looking for will help spark ideas and donations. Here is a sample letter for inspiration

Once I see what has been donated, I then stock the space with other essentials that are common in the school. Anything that’s not available in school can usually be purchased at the dollar store. Here are some of the items that are critical to a makerspace: 

  • Tape like Scotch, masking, clear, packing
  • Scissors
  • Stapler
  • Glue sticks
  • Construction paper
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Pony beads
  • Pom poms
  • Duct tape
  • Hot glue guns and glue
  • Embroidery thread
  • Foam stickers (shapes, letters, animals)


STEP 4: Make and Create!

Now that you have your makerspace, it’s time to make and create! And be sure to share—I had a makerspace open house in my classroom, which was a great way for parents to see it in person. 

So what will your class create? And how will you use your makerspace in your curriculum? Makerspaces should not always have an actual product in mind, the thinking and creative process are what the makerspace is all about. Putting together this makerspace in your classroom will allow for students to explore and discover.

Makerspaces make creativity a win-win—a win for the act of creation and a win for using creative thinking to adapt a creation to the world.

makerspaces in schools on budget


Teacher Life

5 Senior Graduation Gifts Teachers Can DIY

There’s something special about teaching students who are preparing to head out into the real world. High school students are at times hilarious and at other times trying, but at the end of the year, seeing their diplomas in hand is a wonderful feeling. Many teachers want to celebrate their students’ accomplishments with senior graduation gifts. However, graduation coincides with some of the busiest moments of the school year. Standardized testing, end-of-year activities, finals, and more can interfere with your well-intended plans to create a meaningful send-off.

I teach seniors and recently searched the internet for some of the best and most unique senior graduation gifts teachers can DIY in limited time. I’m sharing my research to save you one extra step and hope this list inspires you as it did me. This list can also help teachers of younger students who are sending their classes off to middle or high school.

1. A Way to Remember Their Graduating Class

Tracee Orman suggests getting a list of all the names in this year’s senior class from the front office and creating a word cloud of them with Tagxedo or Wordle. For extra personalization, you can emphasize the name of the recipient on each individual word cloud. While set up for these senior graduation gifts might take a bit of time, the resulting keepsake is worthwhile.

senior graduation gifts word cloud

2. Something That Inspires 

Mary Beth of Brainwaves Instruction also has a DIY, affordable idea for senior graduation gifts. She prints inspirational quotes on bright, business card sized (3.5 x 2 inches) cardstock. Then she attaches self-adhesive magnets to the back so students can display their inspiration on their college fridge or freshman locker (for teachers graduating middle schoolers to high school).

senior graduation gifts quotes

3. A Boost of Confidence 

Cult of Pedagogy blogger Jennifer Gonzalez suggests “The Compliments Project” which went viral in teacher Stephanie MacArthur’s classroom. One at a time, students sit with their back to the whiteboard while their classmates write kind messages, memories, and compliments about them on the board. MacArthur filmed each student’s reaction to their messages. By doing the same for your seniors, you can create a way for them to take positive thoughts with them wherever they go!

senior graduation gifts compliments project

4. A Funny Way to Remember Your Time Together

Molly from Lessons with Laughter suggests pairing novelty sunglasses with a punny note such as, “My future’s so bright, I have to wear shades.” Seniors will love a little bit of cheese that reminds them to relax during this important time. To make these senior graduation gifts even more memorable, you can give the sunglasses out a few days before the end of the year and get all the students together to take a class photo. Then print out copies for each of your students as a surprise bonus gift on your last day together.

senior graduation gifts DIY

5. A Place to Keep Their Thoughts

With a bit of searching, you can find small journals for very affordable prices. Keep your eye out in the Target dollar section or at the dollar store and buy enough for each of your students. While journals and pens make lovely senior graduation gifts on their own during this important transitional period, you can personalize them even more by writing a message to each student on the inside cover. You can also make your own journals. We love these from The Creative Place.

senior graduation gifts journals

Are you giving senior graduation gifts? How else do you celebrate your students’ transition from school to the “real world?”

Classroom Ideas

9 Tips for Teaching Emotional Regulation—and Improving Kids’ Behavior as a Result

It’s test day and emotions are running high in the classroom. Joe hasn’t stopped fidgeting all morning. He notices that his teacher is about to pass out the test and panics. He hops out of his seat, runs around the classroom and pushes pencils off the desks of his peers.

As a teacher, what would you do? Yell at him to sit down? Remove him from the classroom? It’s likely that your instinct is to punish Joe. But it’s clearly the test that is fueling his anxiety—so is that a reason to punish?

According to Educational and Licensed School Psychologist Lori Jackson, MS, CAGS, the answer is a resounding “no.” Jackson, along with Severe Special Needs Teacher Steven Peck, M.Ed, co-founded The Connections Model, where they develop technologies and teaching strategies to assist students in learning about and managing their emotions. This includes the KidConnect app, which helps students identify and manage their emotions as they’re occurring.

While most adults manage their feelings throughout the day by taking a walk or deep breaths, many kids don’t have those coping skills. “That management, known as emotional regulation, takes place deep inside the emotional center of your brain. When it’s working, you can go smoothly from one event to another, managing the different emotions that arise,” explains Jackson.

“When you can’t manage your emotions, each event or activity can bring difficulties and challenges. That’s called emotional dysregulation. For kids, dysregulation makes life challenging, friendships difficult and most significantly, it can make learning impossible.” To curb that, emotion regulation needs to be taught in the classroom so kids can realize that they’re in control of their feelings and subsequent actions. Here’s how to make those skills a staple in your classroom.

1. Ask questions that make the connection between emotions and behavior.

Talking about emotions in the classroom hasn’t really become mainstream. It can feel uncomfortable to awkwardly ask students, “How do you feel?” Instead, we need to be asking how an event—such as a looming test—makes the child feel and how that subsequent emotion makes them behave.

“Teaching emotions and how emotions drive behavior is a positive approach,” explains Jackson. “You need students to connect emotions to behavior. Making these connections is critical, and it needs to be done frequently and consistently as this is a main driver to change the way kids think.”

Teacher: “Hey everyone, we have a test today! Who is anxious? Excited? Nervous?”

Joe: “I’m anxious.”

Teacher: “Joe, when you have a test, you tell me you feel anxious. That’s great to know. What do you do when you feel anxious?”

Joe: “I run around the classroom pushing people’s pencils off the desks.”

Teacher: “OK, thank you, Joe. So Joe, do you see that when you’re feeling anxious about a test, you do something that isn’t part of our classroom rules? I understand that you’re feeling anxious and that being anxious makes you feel you need to run around. Instead of running and pushing pencils off the desks, what if you went and ran around the gym once or got a drink of water?”

Joe: “I can try that if you will let me. I hate tests.”

2. Be patient.

The kids who have the most difficulty managing their behavior are often the ones who are falling behind or have gaps in their academic knowledge.

“Most of the time, the negative behavior patterns are ingrained in them due to years of behaviors fueled by their emotions,” explains Jackson. “No one has ever gotten to the bottom of their issues. No one has helped them to learn how to manage their emotions, and as a result, in addition to the environment, these kids have self-reinforced their negative behaviors.”

So, not only is it important to get to the core of the issues by teaching emotions, but doing so with patience is key. “It will take time to reorient, but the good news is that the brain can be repaired. New neural pathways can be developed, with time and consistency,” says Jackson.

3. Set the tone first thing in the morning.

Begin the school day by asking your students about things that might be bothering them. “Ask your students about their homework or what they ate for breakfast. Ask if anyone fought with their brother or sister,” suggests Jackson. “The idea is to discuss any event that likely elicited a feeling and have everyone share. This sets the tone for the day, giving you the heads up on who might have a tough day and why.”

Some kids, particularly the ones with regulation issues, perseverate on things. If the event is still playing in the student’s head, it’s likely the emotion is still festering. You can also go over the day’s schedule and tie it to emotions. “If you know that Billy has difficulty with math, let’s help Billy identify the emotion tied to math, and then pre-identify a strategy to use when Billy feels it during math time,” suggests Jackson.

4. Help students understand emotions in real time.

The big goal is getting kids to a place where they’re able to recognize their emotions as they’re happening. And that’s where the KidConnect app comes in. “Teachers open KidConnect and hand the iPad to a student immediately following an incident. The student then completes a short route on the iPad,” explains Jackson.

“Because it’s used in the moment, kids are able to make immediate connections between events, emotions and their behavior. The outcome is behavior change, but the process is learning to regulate their emotions.”

Teacher Caroline Burkard saw the difference KidConnect made after unsuccessfully trying several different behavior and incentive plans with one student who was severely hurting himself. “Now when he gets angry or frustrated, he takes deep breaths instead of hurting himself. He knows that if he gets angry, he has to calm down and reflect on what the real problem is,” she explains. “This has not only benefited the classroom, it has truly benefited my student’s well-being.”

5. Check in all day long.

It’s beneficial to stop throughout the day for quick regulation checks. This way kids can vocalize if there are any lingering emotions from an activity that’s already been completed.

“We also suggest a minute of mindfulness. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, just a minute of quiet, breathing—‘clear the head and clear the brain time,’” says Jackson. You can alternate with movement breaks for those students who do better by burning off some energy.

6. Build a “word wall.”

Build your students’ emotional vocabulary by giving them direct access to those words and feelings. Lauren Ross, LCSW and school social worker for the Cherry Creek School District in Denver, Colorado, suggests creating a “word wall” filled with “feelings” words or hanging a poster in the room with “feelings” faces.

7. Designate a “calm-down spot.”

As teachers, you have the power to create an emotionally safe classroom in which all feelings are OK, and it’s reinforced that taking care of yourself is normalized and respected. “A ‘calm-down spot’ in the classroom is a great way to do that,” says Ross.

“I usually recommend a pillow or beanbag, feelings poster, a couple of calm-down strategies such as a stress ball or Theraputty to squeeze, books about emotions, and a timer.” Once it’s set up, make your kids aware of what it’s for and how to use it.

8. Take the pressure off academic success.

You can give students tons of extra academic support, but if they’re not taught the skills needed to regulate their emotions, you’re not likely to see improvement.

“I’ve seen it so often. Teachers say, ‘Sally gets so much extra help but she still isn’t really making steady progress. We don’t know what to do to help her. She seems so unhappy, so sad …,’” says Peck. “Stop cramming the academics until you’ve taught them emotional regulation. Rebalance the students’ tasks until they’ve learned some strategies to manage their emotions. Then go back to academics.”

Teaching kids how to manage their emotions will result in increased attention, which transforms them into students who are ready to learn!

9. Share your own feelings.

Don’t be afraid to share your own emotions as they occur throughout the day. You’re not superhuman, so of course a crazy day when the printer jams, your students have asked the same question 15 different ways and you forgot about a mandatory faculty meeting after school will rattle you.

Share your feelings with your students—it’s a surefire way to help them understand the connection between feelings and behavior. “Teachers are the absolute best examples of emotional regulation,” says Jackson.

“When these situations occur, ask yourself what your emotion was in the situation and what you did to manage it. Then share that with your kids.”

Your Career

Don’t Miss It! Free Seminar on Integrating Financial Literacy in the Classroom

Teachers in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.! You’re invited to a special half-day professional development session, sponsored by the PwC Charitable Foundation, dedicated to teaching financial literacy in grades 3–12.

You’ll learn not only about the importance of financial literacy, but also how to use the free and fun Earn Your Future Digital Lab® in your classroom. Through the Digital Lab, students engage with financial literacy concepts through innovative self-paced modules featuring custom videos, animations, and interactive activities.

Plus, the first 50 teachers who register and attend the full half-day seminar will receive a gift at the end of the event.

Earn Your Future® Digital Lab: Transforming financial literacy in the classroom:

  • When: Saturday, May 6 from 9am­–2pm
  • Where: 1730 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C.
  • Who: Educators in grades 3-12 from DC/MD/VA area schools
  • What to bring: Yourself and a personal laptop or tablet. Lunch will be provided.

Click to Register and Attend!

*Educators who attend the entire seminar will receive a certificate of completion. Participants will then need to contact their state Departments of Education and/or school districts to receive credit approval. The PwC Charitable Foundation will not be responsible for following up on professional-development accreditation.