Saturday, April 5, 2014

It Was a Crate Idea!

Are we the only people who get inspiration from weird, random places? That's the funny thing about inspiration, we suppose ... you never know when it's going to hit you. Well ... we recently got some inspiration from a weird source: freezer meals. Do you know about freezer meals? Some amazing people make enough meals for one month and then they freeze them. Talk about organized!!! See ...

The philosophy behind freezer meals or make-ahead meals is that it's more time efficient to do things once even if it's a lot of things at once. For example, if you're chopping vegetables for dinner, you might as well go ahead and chop vegetables for all your dinners that week. Big effort BUT saving time by doing the repetitive activity only once. You see? Let us tell you how this inspired us.

We have a weird cycle when it comes to preparing for the week. We are pretty much have everything prepared for the week in our core instructional areas by Monday morning, give or take a few things. That's good, right? Things prepared for the week, plenty of time to get started on the next week. WRONG! Somehow every week our time gets eeked away and we end up like this on Friday afternoon:

It's not a good look! It leaves us stressed and frazzled through a final early morning push on Monday and then - phew - we're ready for the week. We have repeated this lovely cycle week in and week out so far this year - hating it but not knowing how to change it. Enter our freezer meal inspired idea. We give you ...

We pride ourselves in our differentiated reading program and we strive to provide our students with targeted instruction to meet their specific reading needs during our Reader's Workshop block. One component of our program is our phonics strategy groups. We run our phonics groups in six week cycles and the children move flexibly in and out of the groups based on their needs and their growth. For the phonics cycle we're in currently, we have four different strategy groups running, each with their own 6 weeks worth of lesson plans. B.C. (before crate) we were pulling each lesson and all of its supporting materials every week and putting it into our lesson plan totes.

It was the same thing again and again ... a lot of work every week to pull and prep, pull and prep. Then the crate was born:

The crate holds all of the instructional material for all 6 weeks for each phonics group. Each phonics group has a different color hanging folder to differentiate it from the other groups. Each hanging folder is labeled by week and all of the instructional materials for the week are dumped into the folder.

There are also a few hanging folders with support materials, such as our Dictation sheets and Draw and Label sheets that we use weekly. Finally, each phonics group has a checklist (we LOVE checklists) so that we can keep track of our prepping and reference what hasn't been completed yet.

You can download this document here.
KM worked on the crate all week, which seems like a lot of time, but then it was ALL prepped ... for SIX WEEKS ... ALL prepped ... can we get an "oh yeah!" Now she just pulls everything out of our lesson plan totes and dumps it back into the "Week X" folder it came from, and then puts all of the materials for the next week in the totes. SO ... MUCH ... EASIER ... and less stressful. KM is now officially more obsessed with the crate than our pencil sharpener.

One thing that we've learned about teaching 40 plus kids and striving to provide them with the most differentiated, targeted instruction that we possibly can, is that we have to stay organized. It's the only thing that keeps our train on it's tracks and keeps us sane. It's always a huge victory when we think of something that will help make our jobs go just a little smoother. So we're passing this along to you to see if you think it's a "crate" idea, too.

From the limb,


  1. I am in love with this blog. I just read the entire thing in one sitting, but I will be coming back to re-read and borrow ideas. I am very jealous of your Columbia Teacher Camp. I teach in a SPED self contained room with 15 K/1/2 kids on the spectrum. I have two teaching assistants so the collaborative ideas have been wonderful for some great new techniques. Thank you!

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