How to Clear Your Mind from School Work

How to Clear Your Mind from School Work

by LaQuisha Hall

Did you come here looking for the answer to this question? I only have suggestions… I went to social media seeking the answer to this question. What I learned is that most educators are wired to always keep work at the top of their mind. We physically and mentally take work home after hours on week days and on weekends and some feel “teacher guilt” for doing things not related to work. 

Here is what I learned from other educators that might help:

  • Preschedule outings with friends and family (basically obligate yourself to other activities in advance)

  • Do mindless activities like watching TV or playing games on your phone

  • Choose only one of your 2 weekend days to lesson plan

  • Participate in physical activity, like exercise or yoga

  • Make a to do list and return to it when you go back to work — there will always be something to do!

  • Take school alerts/emails off of your phone!

  • Schedule specific hours to work on school work and strictly stick to those hours!

  • Don’t open the laptop — if it’s not there, you can’t work on it

  • Curl up with a non-school related book in bed

As an educator, entrepreneur and coach, I have also struggled with balancing home life and work life. It is hard to practice self-care, but it is essential. Otherwise, we are spending our lives working instead of living. I have also personally implemented 4 key practices to keep myself motivated and focused to continue to do this important work:

  • Journaling: Every morning, between 6:30-7:30 a.m., I rise to journal. I desire time to myself (no hubby yelling out my name, no cat meowing for food) so much that I have to create the time for it. I follow the same process daily: 

    • I find stickers to use to decorate the page. I love being creative in my journaling—it is a great motivation to write on the page.

    • I write an affirmation. I usually do a quick Google search and read through several affirmations until I find the one that stirs my soul.

    • I write a scripture. I am a faith-based believer and I don’t often have the time to sit and read faith-based books the way I desire, but at least I capture a piece of some encouraging words that will help drive my day. 

    • I write an inspiration quote. So many prolific leaders have shared words for us to live by. I want to keep them in front of me. Again, a Google search makes this possible. 

    • I write a gratitude list. We have so many reasons to be grateful—being alive during the pandemic is a great one. I make sure to write things, ideas and people who made the days a bit sweeter. 

    • I write what I am pondering. My thoughts matter. Sometimes my thoughts are negatively heavy, but I don’t record those. I write about a positive experience each day, whether it was happy mail, a sweet comment on social media or other. Looking back over my journal and reading over these positive experiences are so uplifting on heavy days. 

  • Reading: Teachers, especially literacy teachers, have piles and stacks of “to read” books. Carving out time to minimize those stacks is such a great mental escape.

  • Weekly Zoom: I meet a group of creatives every single week for 2 hours on the weekend. All we do is craft together. What a relief to have dedicated time to do what I love, fellowship with people I love and walk away from dedicated time feeling a sense of relief. 

  • Sit in silence: sounds hard? It is, but with practice, it is possible. Your mind may wander and you might suddenly remember things that you feel you need to write down. Keep pen and paper handy to jot those thoughts down and go back to just sitting in silence which we collectively do not do enough of. Also, try stretching on a yoga mat while listening to mediation music. 

  • Listen to music and dance: Why not get some movement in to songs we love? I love listening to my favorite songs loudly through headphones and dancing around the house. By the time I finish, you can’t tell me I am not Michael Jackson when I am done!

Ultimately, it seems as if we, educators, cannot escape working outside of school hours unless we are intentional. To be intentional means to be deliberate or do something on purpose. In this case, lets be intentional: let’s partake in activities we love on purpose for a purpose, to restore ourselves in these challenging times. Remove teacher guilt by acknowledging your hard work done thus and that there is more hard work ahead.
Have additional self-care suggestions? Share them in the comments!

Reading Interventions from Start to Finish Using i-Ready

Hi there! I'm Christi Moore from @moore_in_the_middle and I'm here to chat about reading interventions! Being an interventionist to students who were coming to me instead of going to Art or Music had its fair share of challenges. Once you add a program (i-Ready) that they haven’t seen since elementary school, that added a whole new set of challenges. 

They were frustrated. 

They were insulted. 

They were confused (“I can read just fine!”) 

...and I understood it all. 

Before teaching them- I knew that I had to connect with them. During the first week of school, I made it my mission to establish a warm and inviting environment where we could all make mistakes and grow together. Every class was different, but they all generally started out similarly.

Day ONE: #classroomexpectations

Students come in to work on a warm up. Usually, I have my 6th graders complete the ABCs About Me assignment, and my 7th and 8th graders complete the What’s In Your Head assignment for a few class periods. This helps me to get to know them as a reader, while also giving me something to put up in my classroom! The pictures that I hang up are phenomenal! 

Once the tardy bell rings and class starts, I always start off by telling them what respect looks like in my classroom. My job is to figure out where they are, and push them to be better. Both as a person AND a student. I use this time to establish that it might look different for each person and sometimes, it might feel like I don’t care. I encourage them to share when they feel I have pushed them to that point, because I never want them to feel as if I have given up on them. I talk about my spicy personality and how sometimes, I’m so focused on the goal that I miss their journey. Communication is key. I then give them an opportunity to anonymously (and respectfully)  tell me how they feel. I share these anonymous concerns with the class the next day. 

I also use this opportunity to send home packets to inform parents of my public Instagram (@moore_in_the_middle) that I use to connect with educators and gain and share ideas, ask for contact information and ask (from a parent perspective) how I can help their child in reading and reading comprehension. 

Students homework is to get these forms back to me at the end of the week for “Moore Bucks” (my classroom reward system separate from the school. I use to reward them electronically, which they turn in for pencils, pens and candy on Moore Bucks Monday every other week). 

Days TWO and THREE: #classroomrules #virtualclassroomrules

Usually, students at this point students have been in school for a few weeks, so rules are not their favorite. I start by asking students why rules exist, and why my rules might look different from PE or Science. This usually sets the tone for the rules we may have in our classroom and why. I explain where to find things and how and when to ask questions when needed. 

I then tell them to get in front of the SmartBoard for us to review rules. I ask someone to hit the lights, and I start with my Movie Rules (Option 1) (Option 2)😌

Ohhh how the tables turn when they see clips from Zootopia, Pocohantas, Remember the Titans and the Sandlot. I ask them what rules they could possibly gather from them. Sometimes this is fine individually, sometimes in groups and sometimes a mix. 

The conversations are always worth it, both on topic and off. I’m reminded how old I am and told how cool I am. Which in middle school- is a TOTAL win. I use this as an opportunity to remind them that class is what they make it. And how I’m glad they’re choosing to make the most of this class and opportunity they have. Sometimes this takes one class period, sometimes two. 

Days FOUR and FIVE: Regardless of how long, the week after we return, a review of my classroom rules and expectations are a must. 

Students can either create a 15 question classroom rules quiz, a classroom rules playlist of 5 songs (one per rule) with 5 sentence explanations explaining each, or a comic strip- all showing their understanding of the rules. 

As they create these, I pull students to conference with them and set up their classroom notebooks. These notebooks are nothing fancy; just a way for them to have all of their papers in one place. They typically never leave the classroom unless students ask for them to. It’s a great time for me to meet with students either one on one or in a small group setting while others are preoccupied with their assessment on classroom rules. 


i-Ready is SUCH a great tool that I used as a middle school interventionist for two years. That means, there has to be LOTS of buy in. 

At this point (week two) I briefly review rules and reward Moore Bucks. Students know to expect a Moore Bucks Monday the following week, and work to earn these bucks that some students feel they are too cool for. Since I award them digitally, it’s never obvious who gets money. Most appreciate this. 

I then tell all students that this is their week to show me their character. I explain the benefits of i-Ready, and how their Diagnostic has placed them on their pathway. I explain how 45 minutes can go by quickly and what my expectations are. They work for 30 and we read 15. An elementary teacher at heart, read alouds are my time to share my love of reading with them. It’s usually short lived, because students often enjoy reading to me after a few days. 

As students are all working on i-Ready, I use this opportunity to conference with students one-on-one on why they’re here with me for i-Ready reading (I have also created this for i-Ready math!). I pull out their i-Ready Diagnostic and have real conversations (also known as data chats) with them. I am careful not to pass judgement, and often use this time to find ways to connect with them. Most are honest and ask for a chance to retake it. Before I allow for that, I ask them to reflect on how this attempt will be different. They set goals on what areas they feel they can improve on and how they plan on making the most of this second opportunity. 

Some students realize that they don’t need to retake the entire Diagnostic, but instead that their pathway needs to be readjusted. I print their upcoming lessons and together, we set goals. Realistically, how many lessons can you complete with the time given in class. If they reach their goal, they get paid (Moore Bucks), have class time to work on class work for other classes, or to work on something reading related. Ironically, most ask to continue working on i-Ready and others take this time to work ReadTheory (with use of this tracker) or Dreamscape (free reading websites). 


The i-Ready Toolbox is a great paid resource for you to use and reach students. There, you can find information on how best to help students on almost all levels (enrichment, core or intervention). 

i-Ready has plenty of interventions within the program itself. The company is constantly asking for feedback and updating resources, which is one of the many reasons why I love it!

One resource that I really appreciate is the Tools for Scaffolding Comprehension. Currently, there are resources for third grade through eighth grade. It takes a standard, allows you to choose a level of the support, provides options on text complexity, and walks you through the entire lesson (model, before reading, during reading, practice, check for understanding, reflection- everything!)

On individual student diagnostic reports, I often rely on the Can Do & Next Steps. It takes where students placed in their domain, and shows you what skills students should be able to complete independently, and what your next steps and resources for instruction beyond that. Every lesson from the Ready North Carolina ELA Instruction book is there for you to use with the student. It’s AMAZING! 

In addition, I use Curriculum Associates Strategies to Achieve Reading Success (STARS) to tackle main concepts as a supplemental resource. Students like the repetition of the lesson format and I appreciate the self check on question numbers three and four. 

Lastly and sometimes, most importantly, my resources come from other teachers! i-Ready Central is a website where teachers share their ideas. I love looking at ways to motivate students individually, as a class or as a school.

If you have any questions about reading interventions or using i-Ready, please do not hesitate to reach out on Instagram at @moore_in_the_middle!

Thanks for reading,

Christi Moore

Teaching Academic Vocabulary in the Secondary ELA Classroom

Teaching Academic Vocabulary in the Secondary ELA Classroom

Vocabulary. It is one of the foundational building blocks to teaching English language arts. Yet, vocabulary is also frequently thought of as an afterthought as we plan our classes and units. And I get it. Each year, there is more content to teach and even less time to teach it. Or at least, that is how it feels some years. Even so, it is essential to dedicate class time to teaching vocabulary, especially academic vocabulary.

Academic vocabulary differs from traditional vocabulary words that might accompany novel studies or language-building skills. When teaching academic vocabulary, you focus specifically on teaching words that students traditionally find in an educational setting. These are words that students will frequently encounter in directions, textbooks, and general academic settings.

Teaching academic vocabulary in the classroom is so important because having a working knowledge of content-specific words and terms will help students succeed in all areas of the curriculum. A middle school ELA student will not be able to identify a claim in a nonfiction passage if they do not know what a claim is.

Ever since I started incorporating ELA-specific academic vocabulary in my instruction, I've seen so much student growth. Not only do students have a better understanding of basic ELA-focused concepts, but they also have more confidence in the class, which leads to higher achievement and more efficacy. Teaching academic vocabulary is a win-win scenario.

Here is how I implement a successful academic vocabulary teaching program into my secondary ELA classroom.

Teaching Academic Vocab Step 1: Stick with the Content

Teaching Academic Vocabulary in the Secondary ELA Classroom

When I first introduce academic vocabulary to my students, I make sure that I integrate it in conjunction with my current teaching unit. In doing so, not only will the vocabulary-specific work benefit students in the unit as a whole, but similarly, other unit activities and lessons help students with their vocabulary-specific work.

For example, I teach a short story unit at the beginning of the school year with my sophomores. As part of this unit, I integrate my Academic Vocabulary Volume #2: Words about Fiction and Narrative Writing into the unit to help my students build their knowledge about fiction and short stories. This unit has 25 words that are directly related to fiction and writing narratives, so this vocabulary unit seamlessly integrates into my short story unit, it helps students gain a deeper understanding of literary elements, and it helps prepare students for our novel study that happens later in the semester.

When I created these academic vocabulary teaching resources, I paired them with units in my secondary ELA curriculum to be beneficial for the students' learning. For example, when I am teaching argument writing, I also incorporate academic vocabulary words about informational text and argument writing. When it is time for my poetry unit in the spring, I have my students study poetry-related vocabulary words. At the end of the year, when it is time to complete the year-end research project, my students also learn academic vocabulary terms centered on research paper writing.

You can incorporate this academic vocabulary teaching strategy to brainstorm a list of content or skill-specific words for each unit you teach. Then, introduce those words to your students at the beginning of the unit. By the end of the unit, your students will have a solid understanding of these terms. Furthermore, by grouping academic vocabulary words with their respective units, students will authentically learn the words as they work through the skills and content in the curriculum.

Teaching Academic Vocab Step 2: Establish a Routine

Teaching Academic Vocabulary in the Secondary ELA Classroom

One of the easiest ways to truly implement a successful vocabulary routine into your curriculum is to make it a routine and stick to it. When I recently redesigned my Academic Vocabulary Units (the bundle includes all of the volumes in print and digital formats) I kept routine in mind, and I created a daily-activity component for each unit that follows the same structure.

Here is how I set up the routine. Each unit contains 25 words, and I focus on only five words a week. At the start of a new week, I give the students a quick 5-question pre-test that they self-grade to gauge their understanding of the terms. After students complete the pre-test, which should take no more than 5 minutes, we move onto the routine.

  • Monday: Students take a quick pre-test, score their responses, and write down the words and definitions. I try to keep this whole process to less than ten minutes. The more you complete the routine, the quicker it goes.
  • Tuesday: On Tuesdays, students create a drawing or visual representation for each of the words.
  • Wednesday: This day is Word Web Wednesday. Students create a word web for each term. The word web can be similar words, words that remind them of the word, or anything that will help students remember the word. One of the goals for Word Web Wednesday is to help students develop study habits that benefit them.
  • Thursday: On Thursdays, students write a brief reflection about the words. The reflection can be what they learned, how they've used the words, or how the words will help them grow as learners in the future.
  • Friday: To wrap up the academic vocabulary routine, students take a quiz on Fridays. They then write down words that they did not get correct to help them learn and remember these words.
This type of routine can work in several ways: you can choose to include your academic vocabulary work at the beginning of the class period as a bell-ringer activity, at the end of the class period as an exit ticket, as independent work, or as homework.

Teaching Academic Vocab Step 3: Focus on a Few Words at a Time

Teaching Academic Vocabulary in the Secondary ELA Classroom

t is so easy to completely overwhelm students with an entire list of vocabulary words at once. To avoid this, I try to focus on just a few words and have some focused and repeated practice with those few words throughout the week so that students have time to learn the words truly.

One of the best ways I've found to do this is by introducing just a few words each week. I like to introduce my students to no more than five new words a week. That way, the list is not overwhelming, and it seems more manageable for the students.

Another benefit of introducing just five words a week is that students will be less likely to mix up words because they focus on fewer words at a time. Keeping vocabulary lists short will help make the vocabulary words really stick. You can read more about helping students learn vocabulary words in this blog post.

Teaching Academic Vocab Step 4: Make Vocabulary Fun

Teaching Academic Vocabulary in the Secondary ELA Classroom

Do you remember learning vocabulary as a student back in the day? I sure do, and it was not fun. I remember vocabulary tests each week when my teacher would hand me a blank paper, and then I had to write down the words and definitions verbatim and in alphabetical order on the paper. If I didn't write the definition perfectly word-for-word, I would be marked wrong. It was terrible and anxiety-inducing.

However, working through academic vocabulary doesn't need to be daunting, boring, and anxiety-inducing. Here are several ways that I strive to make teaching and learning academic vocabulary fun in my classroom. (Activities marked with an asterisk are included in all of my academic vocabulary teaching resources).

  • *Table match: With this fun vocabulary activity, create a document with strips of paper. Some strips will have the definition, and others will have the word. Place all of the paper strips in a Manilla envelope and group students up into groups of 3-5 students. Then, have students empty the envelope's contents and work to match up the definitions and terms. To make this activity even more engaging, have students race to the end.
  • *BINGO: Playing BINGO in the classroom is a timeless activity. For academic vocabulary BINGO, pass out blank BINGO cards to students and have them write just the words on the squares. To add some challenge to this activity, only call out the definitions. This fun classroom activity will challenge students.
  • Pictionary: Who doesn't love Pictionary? To play vocabulary Pictionary, write all of the words on separate strips of paper, fold the strips up, and place them in a container (I use my pen caddy). Have students for 2-4 teams start the game. A student will draw a term from the container and draw it on the board. The team that first to guess the correct vocabulary term wins a point.
  • Charades: Use all of the Pictionary game steps, but have students act out the vocabulary words instead of drawing them.
  • Vocabulary Headbands: If you have the game Hedbanz, you can use the headband cardholders and play the game in your classroom. Have students create 3x5 inch notecards -one for each vocabulary term. Place students in small groups and have them all draw a notecard. Students will have to ask one another yes or no questions to guess their vocabulary terms.
These fun vocabulary activities add more than just fun and engagement to your classroom, though. By taking time for fun vocabulary games during instructional time, you are also dedicating class time for review, which benefits every student.

No matter how you include vocabulary and academic vocabulary in your classroom, it is essential to give your students that extra educational advantage of knowing content-specific academic vocabulary terms. If you still aren't convinced about why teaching vocabulary is so important, you can read this blog post about five reasons why you should include vocabulary in every unit.

Here are some other academic vocabulary activities to try:
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