Top Ten Favorites for Back to School (Plus some freebies)


Top Ten Favorites for Back to School 

Hey, y'all! Every school year, when I start planning I make a list of everything I'm going to need. I make a not of everything from new pens, to necklaces for reward tags, to data binders, to first week activities. It can begin to feel overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. Here is my starting point for my top ten resources for back to school. Hopefully, this makes your back to school planning a little easier. 

1. Decor

I love new decor. I love simple, clean lines. And since I seem to ALWAYS change classrooms, I tend to switch it up pretty often. A few of my favorites are the Boho Mountain decor set, the rustic Sunflower set, the Bright Dots set, and the new Eucalyptus decor set. 

Each one has a matching back to school night set that makes meet the teacher night a breeze. 



2. Student Data Binders

One of the best things I've done in my classroom is implemented student data binders. It is so easy to keep track of students' progress with sight words, reading fluency, number recognition, counting, and more. AND it makes it super easy to hold parent conference and show families exactly what their student does and does not know yet. 

These data binders are designed for kindergarten, first, second, and third grades. I've used them successfully with all grades and the kids are so proud of their progress. For more info on how I use these in my classroom, check out this blog post

I've used them in 1/2" binders and in folders. Both work well, but binders are easiest to change out goal pages. I've even paired them with student learning progressions so when report cards or conference time comes, there is plenty of evidence to show students and families where they are in their learning. 


3. Beginning of the Year Assessment

If I'm being real, I hate giving assessments. But we have to know where our students are academically at the beginning of the year. This kindergarten beginning of the year assessment has been a life-saver for both BOY assessments and progress monitoring throughout the school year. 


And when I moved to first grade, I needed something similar so I knew where my bigger kids were at. 


4. Sound Wall

Sound walls are relatively new and support the science of reading guidelines. I love that it's so easy to add new spelling patterns we're learning to our sound wall so students can refer to it when they're reading and writing. 

This sound wall has the sound symbol, a picture to match the sound, and mouth shapes to add as you teach the sound. I have compact mirrors in my classroom students use to watch their mouths make the sound as we learn it. Then, as a class we add the picture of the mouth that looks most like ours when we make it. 

We also add a words under the pictures with the spelling pattern. I write them on index cards or sentence strips and hang them under the spelling pattern. The kids literally build the wall with me throughout the year. I find that they reference it so much more when they helped to create it. 

They also have personal sized sound walls that they keep in their writing journals to use as well.



5. Social Emotional Learning

SEL has become a huge part of our day together over the years. Some classes need it more than others, but all students benefit from the exposer. 

During our morning meeting, we go over an SEL word of the day. We start off with the simple ones like saying "please" and "thank you," then work into more challenging concepts like mindfulness and controlling our attitudes or responses. 

Each word has a simple lesson plan that accompanies it or your can use your own ideas. For older kiddos, there are response pages for them to write or illustrate their thinking. 

These made a HUGE difference in how my students talked to each other in and out of the classroom. And there are enough concepts to last an entire school year. 


6. Reward Tags

You may know these as brag tags, but we call them pride tags and shout outs in our classroom. (Bragging is not polite, but being proud of yourself totally is!)

We have tags for everything: rockin' reader, raising our hand, helping, being calm, good behavior with a substitute, a daily shout out, kindness, and so many more. You can check out all the options I use in my room here

I order the necklaces in bulk off Amazon (affiliate link) and have them prepped and ready with a "great first day of school" tag for the beginning of the year. Kids earn tags all year and show off their achievements on Fridays. When they finally take home their necklaces the last week of school they are so excited to show their families. Makes my day every time. 


7. Simple Bulletin Boards

Have you taught in a school where you had to change out your bulletin boards on a regular basis? It can get tiring. That's why I use this bulletin board bundle that lasts me the entire school year. 

Each set has a writing prompt, a cover that makes a little mini-book, and print-and-cut letters to finish off the display. I hang a string and clothespins on my bulletin board so even the kids can take off the old writing and add the new ones. 

It's not fancy but it's not stressful either! And that's what we really need. 


8. Science Safety

We LOVE our science time. We learn, we build, we make connections. It's the best. But we have to know how to use all the tools and how to be safe with them. So our first unit each year is our Intro to Science unit. 

We talk about what a scientist is, the tools they use, how to be safe, and the kids go to different stations to check out things like eye droppers, balance scales, and magnifying glasses. They. Love. It. 


We do stations like this all year long and the kids becoming amazing at directing their own learning and being super independent. For more science units, check out these here. 

9. Getting Familiar with Books
Nearly everything we do in the classroom is book-related. Whether we're exploring characters' motives, solving equations in our math notebooks, exploring animal adaptations, or finding out more about history, we use books. 

Students need to know how to find the title and author, use text features, process storylines, and more. So one of our very first reading units is on parts of books. This inquiry-based reading unit has students exploring multiple texts and looking for similarities. It gets us having some FANTASTIC conversations about how books work, which is SO IMPORTANT, especially in the primary grades. 

This is a unit we refer to multiple times throughout the year as many of the pages can be used for different texts, making it super easy to compare and contrast different stories. 


10. Inquiry

There's been a HUGE push for inquiry over the last few years. Finland does it best with phenomenon-based learning. But whether you teach it like a Fin or focus on one part of a topic at a time (inquiry-based), giving students choice in their learning does amazing things in your classroom. 

I could go on an on about inquiry in the classroom, but I'll let you explore more when you're ready. Here are a few places to start: PBL, Inquiry and QFT, Teach Like Finland, Integrating Subjects

Inquiry (phenomenon-based learning) has hands-down been my favorite way to integrate reading, math, science, and social studies. There is literally not enough time in the day to get it all done, but these PhenomBL/Inquiry units make it so much easier. Plus, students are not simply learning new concepts, they are applying old and new concepts and skills in real, authentic ways. 

And parents are thrilled BTW. They message me all the time astonished at what their student has learned during these units.


Whew! That was a lot. Thanks for sticking with me that long. Since you made it this far, go ahead a grab a couple of freebies to get you started on the right foot this back to school season. Check out:

I hope you found some new ideas for classroom this year. I'm always adding new resources to my TPT store so be sure to follow me for all the latest ideas, resources, and freebies. 

Have a wonderful week and I'll talk to you soon. 

Stay cozy, 

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