How I Use Brag Tags in My Resource Classroom

I want my students to be intrinsically motivated, and I hate the idea of bribing them to learn or behave (though we've all been there!). But, both learning and behaving can be hard for my students, and I want to acknowledge them when they reach their goals. I've used a data wall, but I ultimately found that to be too public. For the past year or so, I've used "brag tags" in my resource classroom. To the uninitiated, brag tags are small rectangle cards that can be earned and worn like dog tags or displayed in other ways. I actually don't call them brag tags in my own classroom- I don't really like the connotation of "bragging," but that's what they're commonly known as, so that's what I'll call them here. I've had a few questions about how I use them in my room, so here's everything you need to know!
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At the beginning of the year, I set up a designated "Swag Tags" piece of wall real estate. I printed off my banner (swag tags version here, brag tags version here) on colored paper, laminated, and strung up on the wall with string and command hooks. Underneath, I hung up a command hook for each student. With under 10 students in my resource group, this was easy to do. With more students, you might want to use a bulletin board with tacks to save on hooks. I ordered ball-and-chain necklaces from Amazon and made a front name tag for each student. You could also have students make their own front tag, but I color coded my classroom this year and wanted everyone to have the right color.

You're also going to want to print, laminate, and cut a whole bunch of tags to start. I use this toolbox to organize mine and makes it so much easier to see when I'm running low and find what I'm looking for.

What Do I Give Tags For?

Students earn tags for concrete academic accomplishments. In our class, that means mastering a Dolch sight word list or reaching a new reading level. Last year, I also gave out "homework club" tags, but this year students turn in their homework to their general education teachers. I also have a character education component. I use Sarah Plum's wonderful Clippin' for Character positive clip chart, and I track what positive character traits students clip on for throughout the week. The clip chart comes with brag tags for each trait. I also use additional brag tags to keep the kids excited, such as my cactus-themed growth mindset tags. My kids love emojis, so I've been mixing in some emoji brag tags linked to showing character and positive behavior.

Tracking & Distribution

I keep track of tags earned throughout the week on a clipboard by simply noting each day who clipped onto the chart and who reached certain goals. On Fridays, I consider any additional brag tags I want to give out (like the emojis) and make a note on my clipboard. First thing on Friday, I ask the kids to get their tags one at a time and I announce what they earned. I don't announce specific levels unless the student wants to share. This is generally a very positive time as students celebrate each others' accomplishments. They have the choice to wear their tag all day or to hang it back up on the wall. If they wear it, they're responsible for returning it to me or their general education teacher by the end of the day. Trust me, if those tags go home, they're not coming back.

I love that my students have a concrete way to celebrate their accomplishments and feel good about themselves. If you're looking to start using brag tags in your classroom, you can check out the ones available in my store here

Teacher Gift Guide 2016

Do you have any fellow teachers on your shopping list this year? Don't get stuck frantically wandering around Target this year-- check out some of my picks below and order online!

This post contains affiliate links.

1. Teachers Believe Black Lives Matter Sweatshirt
The original T-shirt design is now available as a sweatshirt! Perfect for your favorite socially conscious teacher to wear on casual Fridays. 

2. Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card
If you're a teacher yourself, you know how much time TPT can save you. Treat your teacher-friends to some extra time this holiday by gifting them some TPT cash!

3. Lush Bath Bombs
Help your teacher-friends indulge in some self care with some beautiful bath bombs. There are certainly a lot of other brands available, but I love that Lush is an ethical company!

4. Teacher Therapy Coloring Book
I love this fun coloring book from Kristin Edwards. Perfect for de-stressing after school! Don't forget to include colorful markers or colored pencils to complete the gift.

5. Flair Pens
I mean, you can't go wrong with these classics. They're everyone's favorites for a reason. They'd go great with a gift card if you want to give a physical gift and not just a card! 

7 Festive Finds From Amazon For Your Classroom

Want to make your classroom a little bit more festive this holiday season? If you don't want to stop sipping cocoa by the fire long enough to leave the house, check out these Amazon finds instead! 
This post contains affiliate links.

1. Gold Star Garland How pretty are these sparkly stars? These would great hanging from your door frame or classroom window.
2. Flashing Holiday Hat I am 100% that teacher who wears silly hats for each holiday. This beanie even flashes!
3. Balsam & Cedar Spray Bring that holiday scent into your classroom with this festive room spray.
4. Wintery Wall Hanging This wall hanging would be perfect for a holiday photo shoot or for your library.
5. LED Twinkle Lights These would be gorgeous pretty much anywhere in your classroom. 
6. Mittens Pillow So cute for a reading nook!
7. Holiday Erasers My Target is an eraser DESERT. If you can't find those cute little mini erasers at your local dollar spot, you can always snag them from Amazon!

Need a holiday bulletin board too? Check out my Season of Giving Bulletin Board Kit!

7 Socially Conscious Educators to Follow on Instagram

Things are getting real for us teachers. In some professions, you might be able to ignore the catastrophic current events, but in teaching, you just can't. Our kids are incredibly resilient, but that doesn't mean they're not absorbing what's being said about them by our president elect and his supporters. I know some people might not feel it's our place to comment on these things as teachers, but I deeply feel that teaching itself is a political act. I'm grateful to the teachers who are speaking out and I wanted to share some of my favorite socially conscious educators to follow on instagram!

Images from accounts below, clockwise from top left.

1. @instructandinspire
Gabby's feed is a mix of encouraging political posts and colorful school supplies.

2. @blackgirlsteach
This feed is inspiring for teachers and women of any race!

3. @love.tanesha
Tanesha's frequent use of the word unapologetic also perfectly describes her feed!

4. @theteacherspassport
Becca has the most beautiful feed and quotes!

5. @pedagogicstyle
Cute outfit posts + the best descriptions. Case in point: "I am currently collapsed on my couch and watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. My plan is to watch a dictator like and prejudiced evil wizard be defeated by love and courage."

6. @ms_farima
Farima is serious business! Think less cute and more #woke.

7. @mrsrussellsroom
Tamara does so much to unite and support teachers of color on social media! She is also hilarious.

Any other social justice-minded teachers I should check out? 

5 Affirmations for Teachers Who Do Too Much

Our job matters. There's no denying that. What we do, what we say, what we teach... everyday, it matters. But sometimes that burden becomes too much, and we can't stop working and we can't stop worrying. If that sounds familiar, you might be a teacher who does too much. I say this as someone who absolutely does too much myself, and is trying to stop. It's not good for us, and it's not good for our students. I love affirmations as a form of self care and thought I'd put together a list for my fellow teachers who do too much. Try setting one as the background of your phone or saying them to yourself in the morning on your drive to school. You'll be surprised how much calmer they make you feel. You can even download them and print them for free here.


1. Taking care of myself is important and necessary. You can't pour from an empty cup. If we don't take the time to take care of ourselves, we will burn out. And that's not good for ourselves, our families, or our students.

2. My time outside of school is my own. I feel rebellious even typing this, but it's true! Do we all do work outside of school? Absolutely. And I'm not saying we shouldn't. But know that you aren't obligated to do so, and that you have the power to make that choice.

3. My happiness is important. We all want our students to be happy and successful, but our happiness matters too. Remind yourself of that.

4. I choose to set healthy boundaries. I'm working on this myself-- know your boundaries, and stick to them.

5. I am a priority in my own life. You matter just as much as your students do. They are so lucky to have you, but you need to prioritize yourself first. 

Are you a teacher who does too much? How do you find that elusive work-life balance? Don't forget to download the affirmations for free from my Teachers Pay Teachers shop!

Enter to Win Phonics By Design: The Complete Curriculum

a Rafflecopter giveaway GUYS-- I finally finished my year-long phonics curriculum! I designed and posted the bulk of it over the summer, but I just finished the last few mini-units in September and October (okay... ten minutes ago). The curriculum is based on how I was already teaching phonics, but actually use the pre-designed and pre-prepped materials this year has been AMAZING! There's one part of my day that I know will be efficient, well-organized, and FUN for my students and for me as a teacher! To celebrate Phonics by Design graduating from a growing bundle to a complete curriculum, I'm giving away one set for FREE! That's 9 units, 37 mini-units, and 1000+ pages of EVERYTHING you need for explicit small group instruction. As in diagnostic assessments, lesson plans, posters, games, pocket chart cards, foldables, quizzes, worksheets... shall I go on?! All you need to do to enter is follow @thedesignerteacher on instagram. You can snag an additional entry for following The Designer Teacher on Facebook if you want to double your chances!

Winner will be announced Monday morning-- plenty of time to prep a unit for this coming week (if you have off Columbus Day, that is)! Have a wonderful weekend, teacher-friends!

Resource Room Tour

Setting up a resource room can be a bit of a challenge... we're often given oddly shaped rooms, we usually have many different sets of students throughout the day, and there aren't a ton of examples online. My room is by no means perfect, but it works well for my students, so I thought I'd give you a little tour!

To give you an idea of what I'm working with, I'm in a long, narrow room (12 x 30) that's about a third of the size of a regular classroom. I'm by no means complaining-- this size works great for my group! I don't have a homeroom, so I decided to do away with most of my desks. They were bulky and just taking up precious space. I designed my classroom by zones, so I'll show it to you that way too! 

I linked to as many of the items in my room as possible for your convenience. All links to Amazon and Target products are affiliate links. 

Whole Group Zone

I gather my students together for whole-group instruction on this fun rug from Amazon. I use a clothes rack from IKEA for my large pocket chart, and keep some visuals and our weekly poem there. I use an inexpensive easel (also from IKEA) for my chart paper stand. To the right is my Clippin' for Character Chart from Sarah Plumitallo. It is NOT a behavior clip chart! Check out her great post for more information. My word wall (not many words yet) is on the wall behind. There's no particular reason it's there, that board is just in an awkward place! It was a really sad looking whiteboard, so I covered it with black contact paper. I made the word wall banner to coordinate with the other rainbow aspects in the room.

Small Group Zone

This is definitely an area that needs a little sprucing, but I'm obsessed with having a kidney table! It's been impossible to get my hands on one for my last three years of teaching, so I was SO excited when one of my colleagues helped me out and gave me one of hers! This is where I meet with my small groups and offer phonics instruction (using my Phonics by Design curriculum) and guided reading. You can find the alphabet & phonics posters in my TpT store

Word Work Zone

I can't quite get the yellow tone out of this photo, but I promise it's bright and sunny in real life! When students aren't working with me, they're usually in the word work zone. Students keep a word work choice board in their binders (the rainbow binders on the shelf), and they can see all their choices for the day there. The tall white shelf holds sight word work, and students can grab their sight word rings from hooks on the lower shelf. The lower shelf holds differentiated centers and work tasks. The number labels on the bins indicate what group does what tasks. Students can complete their word work at the circle table shown, or on the blue rug in the whole group zone, since no one is there at that time. You can read more about how I run centers and word work in my classroom here.

Independent Work Zone

Once a week, each group has independent work time while the other groups meet with me and complete word work. These students grab their color-coded binder from the shelf, and open it up to the independent work section. They complete practice pages related to their phonics objective that week (pages from my Phonics by Design curriculum, and also available as No Prep). They have their own supply caddy there, so ideally they should be able to work completely independently during this time. They turn in their pages in a blue bin on the window sill. We also have our swag tags display here! I printed my Swag Tags banner on teal paper, and then just hung command hooks for each of my students. I award all swag tags earned on Fridays, and they have the option to wear their tags that day. Students can earn reading level, sight word, homework club, and character tags. 

Library Zone

My library zone is on the far side of our narrow room, near my desk. Students' book boxes are here, as well as a few seating options. The kids love curling up in the laundry baskets, and there's also a big blow-up ladybug not pictured. We are required to label our books by level at my school, so the bulk of the books are in bins A-Q. I also have a few bins of nonfiction books by topic (that I couldn't level) on the bottom right. You can find the small white bins here, and the large green bins are from IKEA.

Cool Down Corner 

This is another area that could use some sprucing! But I think having a cool down corner is so crucial, so I wanted to go ahead and include it. You can read more about my cool down corner here. This year, it's just tucked between a file cabinet and the wall, and includes a small rug and back rest. There's a bin full of quiet sensory tools available as well.

Teacher Zone

I know many teachers have moved away from having a teacher desk, but I LOVE having a personal area. I didn't have one last year (I was sharing this same classroom with another teacher and caseload), and I just felt less anchored without it. I'm never over here during instructional time, but it's great to have a place to sit and organize before and after school, and during my prep. This area also needs some love! I hate that flower contact paper in the background, but I just haven't gotten around to covering it up.

Command Center

I keep this little desk near the door with things students might need while in any of the zones. It holds our tissue, hand sanitizer, and sharp/dull pencil organizer. I covered the desk with a plastic table skirt to make the area look a little more polished (ha!). 

Even though there are so many things I still want to fix, and there are plenty of things in these photos that make me cringe, I truly love this space. I hope this post is helpful for the other resource teachers out there! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions!

Just for Fun Back-to-School Supplies for Teachers

If you're anything like me, all these back-to-school displays make you simultaneously excited and nervous! Gluesticks and crayons are all well and good, but don't forget to treat yourself to a little something for your own desk!
This post contains affiliate links.

1. Pencil Pouch
2. Gold & Acrylic Stapler
3. Acrylic Pencil Cup
4. Poppin Pens
5. Sticky Notes
6. Rainbow Washi Tape

What are your favorite fun supplies to keep at your teacher desk?

6 Non-Traditional Classroom Rugs Under $75

This post contains affiliate links.

With more and more classrooms converting to cute color schemes and fun themes (thanks, Pinterest!), your old alphabet or map rug might be starting to look a bit out of place. I have a shared classroom, and I'm hoping my classroommate won't mind if I switch out our very primary-colored rug for something without toy trucks on it (I don't actually remember if it has toy trucks... but it's that kind of thing). I was cruising the good old internet for some suitable alternatives and thought I'd share the results with you all!

Love this black and white herringbone rug from Amazon!

Check out this fun hexagon rug from IKEA! Too small for a read-aloud rug, but perfect for a classroom library, and only $49.99!

These beautiful carpet circles are out of stock from Amazon at the moment, but wishlist them for future use because they are BEAUTIFUL! I love the idea of attaching mini-rugs to the floor in a pattern to use instead of one big rug.

This one ($52 from Amazon) would be perfect for a beach-themed classroom! 

This would be a good choice if you still want the option of assigning kids spots, but not the big old alphabet squares.  You can get this one for $54 from Amazon.

Last but not least, check out this beauty ($69 from Amazon)! My colors are mint & teal, so this would be perfect! I love the hand-drawn quality of the lines. Fingers crossed that you'll be seeing this one in classroom photos soon!

What kind of rug do you have? Which of these would you choose? Let me know in the comments!

My First Stitch Fix

Yesterday I got my very first Stitch Fix! Stitch Fix is a personal styling service that sends you out 5 pieces as frequently or as infrequently as you want. The pieces are based on a style profile you create, as well as any specific requests you make to your stylist. You choose which pieces you want, and send back any that you don't. There's a $20 stylist fee, but the fee is subtracted from whatever you buy. So as long as you buy at least one item from your Fix, the stylist fee is negated! I thought I'd try it out because I could use some new teaching clothes for fall, and I kind of hate leaving the house. I asked specifically for work clothes, and gave a few specifications about cut and length. Here's what I got:

1. Pink Skinny Jeans
The pants were a good fit and style, and I actually think I could have gotten away with wearing them to work. I just don't like magenta for clothing, and $98 is a bit steep for pants!

2. Gray Hi-Lo Top
I loved this top! Actually comfier than a regular T-shirt, and I think I could wear it to work with the right bottoms.

3. Flowery Toms
I'm not that into Toms to start with, but I was definitely not into the laser-cut flowery pattern on this pair. Going back!

4. Polka-Dot Pencil Skirt
I love pencil skirts and wanted to like this one! It just didn't fit me quite right, and I didn't like the white stripe going across the top.

5. Striped Dress
This piece was by far my favorite! It fits nicely without being too snug, and it's long enough for sitting on the floor with the kids. 

I decided to keep just the gray top and the striped dress. I love that you're not obligated to keep any of the pieces you don't like. When you check out on the website for the pieces you want to keep, you can also give feedback for your stylist. I imagine the Fixes just keep getting more and more attuned to your style as time goes on.

Have you tried Stitch Fix? If you're interested, I would love if you used my referral link

Get Your Teachers Believe Black Lives Matter T-Shirt!

Click here for the latest campaign.

A couple weeks ago I launched my first Teachers Believe Black Lives Matter T-shirt campaign. 26 teachers (or friends of teachers) bought shirts and we raised $170 for #blacklivesmatter! The tees have been arriving to their various destinations over the last few days, and they look GREAT! I launched a second campaign for those who missed out on the first one, which you can find here.

Here's how the tees look IRL:

Potato the Puggle's like, "Why are you making me do this?!" That's a ladies small I'm wearing in the picture, and I'm normally between a small and an extra small, if you're wondering about fit! 

Oh and here's the donation from the last campaign, just so you know I'm legit :)


Let me know if you have any questions in the comments and don't forget to order your tee before the campaign ends next week! 

Do you use HP Instant Ink?

This post contains affiliate links.

I don't know about you, but I do A LOT of printing at home. My school doesn't have a color printer (or not one that I have access to...) so I print most of my TpT materials at home (I got my printer from Amazon, similar to this one). When I bought my printer about a year ago, I went through four ink cartridges in a month or two, which is like $60, not to mention several late-night trips to the store! After that, I signed up for HP Instant Ink. It's basically a subscription service for ink. You pay monthly for a set number of pages, and they automatically send you ink when you're running low. I was paying 4.99 for 100 pages, but I actually just switched my plan to 9.99 for 300 pages. It's not a big deal if you go over your amount, you just save more if you sign up for the bigger plan. It's kind of weird to get used to at first, because it actually costs the same to print a b&w page and a full color page! But I love it because I can print full-color posters or interactive books with no guilt! But I also print stuff that would just be too stressful to print at school, like IEP report cards. It's like, I couuuuld wait in line for the one functioning computer linked to the printer, hassle the office workers for paper, probably have to fix the printer, and print the pages I need OR I could print the 40 pages at home for about $1.20 while lying on the couch. Guess which one I normally choose? Anyway, I often see teachers on social media talking about rationing ink, so I thought I'd share my HP Instant Ink referral! If you sign up through my link, you (and me!) get a free month! Honestly, more than the money, it's just removed the stress of ever running out of ink or having to price compare Target vs. Amazon vs. Staples! Now I just need "instant laminating sheets" hmm... 

Do you use HP Instant Ink? If not, what's your strategy?

Introducing Phonics by Design

I've been working all summer to put together my very own phonics program called Phonics By Design! I'm focusing on explicit, well-paced phonics instruction with plain & simple images and fonts. I've decided to offer each week of instruction as a "mini-unit" for teachers that are looking for a specific phonics element. Teachers who are looking for 3 to 6 weeks of instruction, perhaps for a certain RTI or guided reading group, can save 20-25% by purchasing a full unit. If you anticipate using this program for the whole year, you can save over 50% by buying into my Phonics By Design Growing Bundle right now! The price will go up as I finish the final three units, so buy now if you're interested. I know the bigger bundles are an investment, so I wanted to take you through a few aspects of the program step-by-step:

Direction Instruction

Each pack contains everything you need to explicitly teach the specific phonics concept. Each week, you'll introduce the new concept using pocket chart picture & word cards. After you model, you will lead the students through guided practice, and then they'll have a chance to try reading the new word type in context with fluency sentences. The fluency sentences are differentiated using visual cues and tracking dots for the earlier units. On the second day of instruction, you'll model how to sound out and spell the new words, and then students will have a chance to practice writing words and sentences from dictation. The dictation sheets are the same from week to week, so you can easily make copies in advance and keep them in student binders if you wish. 

Independent Practice

Each mini unit comes with a minimum of 8 independent practice pages. The practice pages start with a color-trace-write page with all the target words, which students can use as a reference if needed. This allows all students to complete these pages without teacher help, encouraging independence and allowing you to work with other groups if needed.

Matching Game

Each pack also includes a matching game! I find that students are most motivated to try to read challenging words in a game setting. Once you have taught the game once, students will be able to play it without any additional instructional each week. These matching games are also great for review, fast finishers, or to send home for family involvement!

Quiz & Flapbook

You'll wrap up each mini-unit with a simple quiz. Students spell 10 of the target words from dictation. Afterwards, you'll have each student read the words to you 1:1 to ensure they can both read and write the words. While you assess students 1:1, the other students will complete a sorting flapbook. These flapbooks can be printed on colored paper, or on white paper so the students can color them.

Each pack also  includes at least one poster pertaining to the specific phonics element being taught. If you purchase the Growing Bundle, you'll get a full set of phonics posters to hang in your classroom or use as anchor charts! You can also buy the posters separately if you would prefer. 

While each mini-unit outlines exactly how to use each resource, you can also pick and choose which aspects of the program work for you! Maybe you prefer the practice pages to be homework, or maybe you decide to use the pocket chart cards as a center. One of the things I love about this program is that everything is crisp, clean, and multipurpose! Nothing is seasonal, so the pieces can be used again and again. I personally use these units in my K-3 special education classroom, but they would also be well suited to a general education 1st grade classroom or RTI groups K-3. 

Make A Pretty Desktop Organizer

I posted my new desktop organizer on Instagram this morning, and you guys were so sweet about it that I decided to write up how I made it in a post! First off, I definitely did not invent this idea! I was inspired by A Teeny Tiny Teacher and tons of others! But if you liked the specific look of mine, here are a few tips:

1. Find the resolution of your screen. If you have a 13" Macbook like me, it'll be 1280 x 800. Otherwise, go to System Preferences > Displays > Resolution: Scaled, and hover over the computer image to find out your resolution. If you don't have a mac, you're on your own :)

2. Open up Keynote (or Powerpoint) and make your document the same as your resolution. This will keep your background at the right proportions later instead of having to stretch it out to fit.

3. Find a cute desktop background you like! If you're a TpT seller, you probably have tons of digital papers lying around. If not, or if you're looking for something different, I suggest downloading wallpaper from DesignLoveFest's Dress Your Tech. They're free and so pretty! I looked for something not-too-busy so my desktop wouldn't look too crowded.

4. Insert your wallpaper into your Keynote document. You might need to stretch it a teeny bit to fit your document size.

5. Make your organization boxes. I used the rounded square shape and made four 280 x 280 boxes, and one larger 280 x 630 rectangle. Your measurement's will be different on a different computer, so play around and see what you like. I suggest leaving a good bit of space at the top and bottom, as this is where your dock and toolbar will be (on a mac, at least). Pick a color that complements your desktop background for your boxes. I decided to make mine blush pink and make that a little bit transparent so you could still see the wallpaper.

6. Make labels for your sections. I used gray washi tape from this Instruct & Inspire Kit, and I love how it turned out! You could also use ribbon or banner clip art, or just make your own using rectangles. Label whatever you choose with a cute font! I used Sugar Plum. I went with Clip Art, Social Media, Products, School, and Personal for my categories, but use whatever makes sense for you.

7. Go to File > Export To > Images, and save your image as a high quality .jpeg.

8. Right click your new image (which will be wherever you saved it to), and Ctrl-click to see your option. Click Set Desktop Picture. Because you created your file to the exact size of your screen, you should be good to go! If something doesn't look right, you can always go to System Preferences > Desktop & Screensaver and click Fit to Screen, which should do the trick!

I'd love to see your finished product if you try it out! Leave me a link or tag me on Instagram @thedesignerteacher!

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