January 2, 2016

How to Make Fruit & Cheese Kabobs- Writing Freebie!

Happy New Year everyone! Today I'm sharing an activity (and a freebie!) that I will be doing with my class this month as we continue to fine tune our sequencing skills and our how-to writing. I love doing a hands-on activity before we do how-to writing. I have some very concrete learners and it makes a significant difference when they can actually DO what it is that they are writing about. Making any sort of kabob is a good way to practice patterns, sequencing and fine motor skills. For the past three years I have had students with peanut allergies so this is also a great way to use food in the classroom without worrying about nut allergies. I always call home to my allergy parents to make sure they feel comfortable with the activity first. They have always been happy to have their child involved in a safe food activity at school, since those are few and far between for our allergy kids!

Whenever I do a cooking activity with my class, I try to prep all of the materials beforehand. For an activity like this, I suggest divvying up the ingredients onto plates or into bowls so each child has his or her own set of ingredients. Then you also avoid any sticky fingers from contaminating the ingredients. Yuck!

Depending on the level of your kiddos, you can talk about kitchen safety while you prep the ingredients. I always teach the kids about washing produce, knife safety and clean hands.

You can play with the food and make different kabobs to hone in on different skills and modify to match the needs of your class.
Here are some different ways I have used kabobs: 
  • For some learners, the fine motor manipulation of pinching the foods and sliding them on will be the bulk of the activity. 
  • Ask them to make a particular pattern (AB, AAB, ABA, ABC). 
  • Make it a listening and following directions activity. Tell them what order to put them in. After you are done, show them your kabob and see if their kabob matches yours.  
  • Ask students to verbally describe the pattern they made.
  • Ask students to describe someone else's pattern.
  • Have students work with a partner on giving directions and conversational skills. 

I hope your little loves enjoy this activity as much as mine!

To download the freebie, click the image below!

October 1, 2015

Fall Craftivities

Happy October! How does September go by so fast?? I suppose that's a good thing since it's the month I usually block out of my memory each school year. I have a wonderful new group of kiddos this year and I am looking forward to a great year together. This year I have 12 kids (yes, 12!) which is the most I have ever had. I finally have girls this year (woo hoo!) and I have an awesome new aide in my class this year. All in all life is good in our classroom. It's feeling like fall at home now too. This week the temperature has dropped a lot in Buffalo and the leaves are starting to change. Tonight my family and I went to get pumpkins and mums for the porch since it's officially October. My brother is getting married on Saturday so we are hoping for a beautiful October day for them!

Over the next two months our theme in the classroom is apples and pumpkins! We will take a trip to a pumpkin patch and we will have our Apple Investigation Day in a few weeks.

Here is a visual tour of the crafts we will be doing this month. Our October crafts are some of my favorites!

Paint Swatch Monsters
I love these little guys SO MUCH! We made them for the first time last year and they turned out so stinkin' adorable. Yes, Home Depot has a photo of me behind the counter for stealing so many paint swatches. I use foam pieces for the facial features and of course, googly eyes!

3-D Pumpkin Diagram
We make these fun pumpkins when we dissect a pumpkin and learn about the parts of a pumpkin. I got this craft from my sweet friend, Sarah, who moved to another school last year (wahhhh). I miss her and her creativity every day! On the inside of the pumpkin we glue that confetti grass that people use in gift baskets for the pumpkin pulp. 

Thankful Turkeys
As you can see, I wasn't kidding about my paint swatch hoarding problem. I love making these paint swatch turkeys when we start talking about being thankful. At the top of each feather the kids write one thing they are thankful for.

Thankful Pumpkins
This adorable craft came from The Moffatt Girls. It is so easy and looks great on display in the hallway above our cubbies! I always have parents tell me they used it as a centerpiece on Thanksgiving.   

Shape Witches
This craft came from my old teammates and is a fan favorite in kindergarten. Each of the pieces of the witch are different shapes and when it's assembled it looks like she is flying into the wall. The kids get a kick out of it!

September 1, 2015

Teaching Social Skills in an Elementary Class

For those of you who follow me on Instagram, you may remember that last year I posted photos of my weekly social skill lessons. I got a lot of questions about how I teach social skills so it's about time I addressed it!

Last year I started teaching social skills to my group of kindergarteners and first graders using the skillstreaming approach to social skills instruction. Skillstreaming is a method of instruction that contains four main parts:

1. Modeling
2. Role-playing
3. Performance feedback
4. Generalization

There are entire programs, camps and schools that are based on the skillstreaming model because it is research based and it works! My little version is a compilation of lessons and ideas that work for an elementary classroom with a limited amount of time! I set aside 30-45 minutes on Monday to teach social skills and we practice it all week for approximately 15 minutes per day.

To introduce and model the social skill of the week, my aides and I act out the skill together. Depending on the group, we can use a bit of humor and act out the WRONG way to do something (always gets some laughs!) and then act out the RIGHT way to use the social skill.

After the skill has been modeled, my students get to come up and act out the skill. This takes a bit of practice and modifications for certain students but they LOVE it! We practice role-playing every day that week to secure the skill.

Performance Feedback
After the students role-play, they are given feedback on their performance to show that they followed the steps of the social skill correctly. I give green points (Class Dojo) and a whole lotta enthusiasm to get them pumped up about their performance!

Generalizing the social skill is the whole idea behind teaching social skills! We want our kiddos to go out into the world and USE the skills, so when they can generalize the skill across all areas of their life it means that they have actually learned it. To encourage generalization, I point out that my students used a social skill and provide immediate reinforcement. For example, if a student asks a question appropriately I will say "You get a green point for using a social skill!"

Stay tuned for a YouTube video of me teaching social skills to my students in a few weeks!

Interested in trying social skills in YOUR classroom? You can get my social skills lessons for 30% off TODAY ONLY! 

August 2, 2015

10 Tips for Creating a Useful Classroom Website

Hey everyone! I hope you had a nice weekend. I meant to get this post out this morning but in typical 3 month old baby world, I am just getting around to the finishing touches on it tonight. Can you believe it's August? It's very bittersweet for me. I miss teaching and am excited to go back to work, but I also wish I could stay home with my baby all the time! We have had such a special summer. I went into my classroom this week to get a little bit done and I feel a lot better now. Since I was on maternity leave last year I did not get to pack up my classroom or do my usual end-of-the-year list of things to make my summer easier. I still need to go in and send copies out, get prepped and organized for my new class. At least my classroom is mostly set up now.

Tonight I'm talking about making a classroom website that works! Does your school require a classroom website? Do you get to choose what is on it? In my school we are required to have one but the minimum requirements are pretty minimum, meaning we have lots of room to make it our own. Here is a look at what I feature on my classroom website and how it works for my class and my parents. Since I am a kindergarten and first grade teacher, my classroom website is a tool for parents.

1. Homepage with Important Info At-a-Glance

When you enter my classroom webpage I include all information that a parent may be looking for. Telephone number, email, social media and a link to my "What's New?" page.

2. What's New?

In place of a traditional newsletter, I include the What's New page on my classroom website. It has our text reminders embedded into it, our Instagram photos streaming on it, and a list of upcoming events, themes and important information for parents to know. 

3. Meet Mrs. Hornung

I include a biography of me that helps families to get to know me better!

4. Meet My Team!

My students spend a lot of time with my paraprofessionals. I think it is important for families to be able to contact them and get to know them a little better too.

5. Important Documents

I love having important documents like this on my classroom webpage for anyone to be able to access. When I have families tour my classroom I always direct them to my website so they can read more about the way that I run my program.

6. Academic Information

I post links to curriculum information, our homework and grading policy and tips for parents. I also include suggestions for apps, websites and materials.

7. Classroom Wish List

Enough said!

8. Classroom Job Descriptions

9. Our Favorite Books

After we read theme related books I like to post the most popular ones on our website. I often have parents ask me what books their child enjoyed or if I have suggestions for books. 

10. Frequently Asked Questions

Having a FAQ section is a great way to answer a lot of questions or include a lot of information in one page. 

July 31, 2015

Cannoli Dip

Last weekend we had our son's baptism party at our house and I made this delicious cannoli dip as an appetizer. In a world full of taco dips, cannoli dip is a breath of fresh air. Easy and delicious, it has become one of my standard go-to recipes thanks to my sweet friend Sarah who introduced me to cannoli dip a few years ago! I've played around with different combinations of cheeses and think I finally got my proportions right. It is a great dip to serve to mix up the appetizers at a book club meeting or it can be a great dessert to serve on a dessert bar after dinner. 

Yields 3 cups


8 oz. mascarpone cheese
15 oz. part-skim ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips


1. Strain the ricotta cheese with a cheese cloth or absorbent paper towels by squeezing the moisture out. The ricotta will hold it's shape when it is strained. Here's a great tutorial with photos on how to properly strain ricotta!
2. In a standing mixer, whip heavy cream and vanilla extract with the whisk attachment until stiff peaks form. 
3. In a bowl, combine mascarpone cheese and ricotta cheese. 
4. Fold in the confectioner's sugar until combined. 
5. Fold in the whipped cream and the chocolate chips. 
6. Garnish with mini chocolate chips or chopped pistachios.

I use graham crackers but you can use broken up waffle cones, animal crackers, Nilla wafers or fresh fruit for dipping! Sometimes I even just use a spoon. Enjoy! 

July 29, 2015

Easy Like Wednesday Morning

Happy Wednesday to you my friends! Today I'm talking about morning routines. Like it or not, back-to-school is just around the corner- some of my friends are already back in session this week! I start to get that back-to-school jones around the first week of August. There really is nothing like a new year, a clean and organized classroom and a fresh group of kiddos who have no routines in place!

So how do you set the tone for success when you are still developing routines in September?!

Mornings in every classroom can be hectic, especially during the first month. Any teacher will tell you that the more independence that happens in the morning, the better the day goes. I am a firm believer that good routines in the morning set the tone for a smooth and successful day. Here are a few ways that I keep our mornings smooth right from day one.

1. Morning Business

In my classroom the kids have to take care of their morning business before they can begin morning work. Morning business includes:
-hang up your coat
-hang up your backpack
-change into sneakers (during the winter)
(Nobody is allowed inside the classroom until these three items are completed.)

Once you enter the classroom:
-put your folder in the basket
-sign up for lunch
-drop off library books (on library day)
-get started on your morning work

2. Morning Work

I LOVE morning work and it works really well for my students. One of the biggest challenges with morning work is choosing work that the students can be mostly independent with. When you are trying to take attendance, submit your lunch count and check folders, it is hard to help a student who is struggling. In September my morning work is easy-peasy (especially because I still don't have a grasp on how much my students know!) Most of the work involves tracing, coloring and following simple directions.

3. Me Time

I swear this is one of the secrets to productivity in my classroom. After students complete morning work I give them "me time". Me Time isn't free time and it's not computer time. It is time when the students have three choices:
-Scrap Monster

I'm very specific with them about these three choices so that they understand Me Time is different than free choice time.

Our Scrap Monster is our glorified recycling bin which my kids have free reign over. I throw everything in there from envelopes to old sheets of stickers. They love to dig around and find new items and use them to draw pictures, make crafts or just play with paper (fine motor!).

Me Time is great because it gives the students something to work for in the morning and it also gives them some self-directed independent time in a mostly teacher-directed workday. For many of my students on the Autism spectrum, it provides a lot of self-soothing time for them to be able to sit quietly and complete a puzzle or draw a picture without being disrupted.

Selfish teacher bonus...it also keeps them busy while I am running around the classroom doing my own morning business!

4. Let's Get Visual!

Using visuals can really help your students to become more independent in their morning routines. I have a visual checklist in the hallway that my students can look at before they enter the room and pictures of their Me Time choices so there is no question about what they are allowed to do. One of my favorite visuals in my classroom is my lunch choice visuals. Thanks to these I don't have to repeat the lunch choices 1000 times before 9:00am! As if you need another reason to go out for Froyo, I keep the spoons from Froyo places and use them as our lunch choice sticks. They come in all different fun colors and they are durable so they last the whole year. You can grab these lunch choice visuals on sale TODAY only! There are 90 lunch choices included. Worried that your school's specialty choice isn't included? No problem. Each purchase comes with 6 custom choices!

July 22, 2015

Quinoa Fried Rice

Quinoa Fried Rice

Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main dish


3 cups of cooked, cold quinoa
3-4 tablespoons of soy sauce or Bragg's liquid aminos
2 teaspoons of toasted sesame oil
1 cup of frozen edamame (or peas)
1 cup of diced onions
1 cup of diced carrots
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
green onions for garnish
salt & pepper, to taste
Optional: scrambled egg

Cook quinoa in advance. I cook a pot of quinoa at the beginning of each week so I have it on hand for easy, healthy meals all week.

A little tip about cooking quinoa: I always soak quinoa for 10-15 minutes before cooking and rinse it well to get rid of the chalky-ness that it can sometimes have. I cook it like pasta by putting it in water, boiling it and removing after it has reached its desired texture, then I drain it. This prevents it from getting mushy and overcooked.

To make the fried quinoa:
Sauté carrots and onions in the olive oil until the carrots become slightly tender and the onions soften. Add shallots, garlic and edamame. Add the quinoa and soy sauce and stir until everything is mixed together and coated. The quinoa will stick to the bottom of the pan so keep stirring until it is heated. Add the sesame oil, stir, and remove from heat. Garnish with green onion. YUM! How easy is that?

We had it as a side dish with grilled teriyaki shrimp and salmon but since quinoa is high in protein you can have this as a meal by itself! It's an easy-peasy weeknight meal. My husband liked it so much that it might just become part of our weekly menu. Enjoy!

July 20, 2015

FREE Back-to-School E-Book (25+ Freebies & Giveaways!)

Happy Monday! Yes teachers- it is Monday. I know it's hard to keep track during summer vacation! The ladies of #weteachsped and I have been planning this e-book for months now and we are excited to finally share it with all of you. It's packed with back-to-school tips and lots and lots of freebies! You may even find some new teachers to follow while you are perusing through the book! 

After you download the e-book, make sure you cruise through all of the links below because each and every blogger is hosting a different giveaway. So many chances to win some really awesome stuff! I'm giving away $15 PayPal cash and my best-selling Call the Cops Writing Pack. We hope you enjoy this back-to-school extravaganza!

Click on the book cover to download!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

July 18, 2015

Paraprofessionals & Aides (Summer Blog Hop Week 4)

Welcome back to Week 4 of our Special Education Summer Blog Hop! It's crazy how fast this summer is going by! This week we are talking about paraprofessionals and aides.

My key to success with paras is having a weekly, monthly or quarterly meeting. Each year your paras will have a different chemistry with the kids and the other paras/adults in your room. Some years you might find it necessary to only have a quarterly meeting and other years it might be necessary to have a weekly meeting. It all depends on the kiddos in your room and the paras that are assigned to you.

Here is an example of an agenda for my monthly aide meeting. This is a very informal write up of the key points I would discuss in a monthly meeting.

Three things to remember about your paras:

1. They didn't go to college for special education. Everything they know about working with students they learned by working with students. They don't get extensive formal training like teachers so you cannot expect them to do things the way you do unless you teach them and set an example.

2. Some things are above their pay grade. I had a friend who worked as an aide and the teacher she worked with expected her to write the IEP! Don't have unrealistic expectations for your aides- they certainly don't get paid to grade your papers at home at night or plan your reading groups on their lunch break. 

3. Paras get burned out too. We know teachers can get burned out but paras can too! Sometimes even more than teachers. Watch for this throughout the school year and if you sense that a para and a child are starting to really get under each other's skin, mix things up so they can have a break. Never let a para get so burned out from a child that it interferes with their ability to help the child.

Bounce on over to Julie at Superheroes in Sped to see what she has to say about paraprofessionals!

Can't wait for our last and final week so we can talk about every teacher's favorite thing.... the first week of school! YIKES!

ALSO make sure you come back on Monday for our FREE Back-to-School E-Book that is loaded with freebies! I'll be hosting a giveaway this week- you won't want to miss this!

July 13, 2015

Landing the Job: 6 Tips & 40 Questions to Help You Land a Teaching Job

It's July and you know what that means! It's interview season for any teacher who is searching for a job. Whether you just graduated from college or you've been substituting for years, everyone gets nervous about interviewing. 

I am by no means an interview expert or a career counselor, but I do have a lot of experience in teaching interviews. When I graduated from college it was nearly impossible to get a permanent teaching job in New York State. I went on dozens (yes, dozens) of interviews for many years until I finally got my dream job. I was a long-term substitute for 3 years and a teaching assistant for 1 year before I was hired. 

It can be extremely frustrating to find a job and it can be heartbreaking to be told "We are going to go with someone with a little more experience." I remember thinking, "How am I ever going to be the person who has 'a little more experience' if you won't give me a chance to get experience!" But somehow it all works out. 

I've put together a list of tips and questions to help you feel confident and prepared for any interview that may come your way this summer. Good luck!

This seems like a no-brainer, but you would be amazed at how many candidates wear dress pants and a dress top to an interview. An interview is not the time to play down your professional appearance. Err on the side of caution and wear a suit for every interview. I wore a suit even when I was interviewing in the schools that I had been subbing in for years. Avoid jewelry, heavy makeup, perfume, open toe shoes and revealing clothes. Be as conservative and professional as possible. Oscar Wilde said it best, "You can never be overdressed or overeducated." 

I can't tell you how many interviews I went on and never opened my portfolio! I spent weeks creating it and then never used it. As technology changes, teaching portfolios aren't necessarily in a leather binder anymore. I always brought my iPad with screenshots of my blog or other activities that I had done on the internet. An iPad is a great way to display photos of things you've done or demonstrate how you use technology. My advice for remembering to use your portfolio is open it as soon as you sit down in the interview. Once you start answering questions you will get too nervous and forget!

This is SO important. Good manners go a long way and a thank you note is absolutely necessary after an interview. 

If you interview with a group of people, send a thank you note to every single person. If you can't remember who was on the interview committee, call the main office and ask the secretary to tell you or stop on your way out and ask. Your thank you note should help them to remember you, so if there is anything personal that you can add, go for it. A thank you note should be handwritten and mailed using the good old-fashioned USPS. Skip the emails and Facebook messages here. 

Here is an example:

Writing a thank you note should be the first thing you do when you get home from an interview. Get it in the mail THAT DAY. Even if they make a decision that day and they don't hire you, still send the thank you note because you know what will happen next time they are hiring? They will remember that you were the candidate with good manners.

There's nothing worse than jumping into an answer before you have even digested the question. It is OKAY to ask the person interviewing you to repeat the question or to simply say, "Let me think about that for a moment." You aren't Siri...you shouldn't be able to answer every question thoroughly as soon as it is asked. The interviewer will respect your choice to answer sincerely and you will have a better response if you take your time.

Every school is different. You might have seven years of experience but have no experience with Reading Workshop. If you are asked a question that you simply can't answer, BE HONEST. You can say, "Although I don't have experience with that particular program, I do have a lot of experience teaching reading to small groups." You can also ask them to tell you more about the particular program. "I'm not familiar with The Daily Five. Can you tell me more about it?" After you hear a little more about it, you can probably find something in your experience that makes you a good candidate to learn said program.

I always made folders for interview committees and left them there. Inside the folder I had a copy of my resume, a sample lesson plan and a bookmark with my picture and my philosophy of teaching on it. Once I started this blog, I also had a note that invited them to visit my teaching blog. Don't feel like putting together folders? Simply bringing a copy of your most up-to-date resume and philosophy of teaching shows that you are prepared, even if they never read it.  

1. Tell us about yourself.
2. What can you tell us about your background to bring your resume to life?
3. Why teach?
4. If I walked into your classroom, what would I see?
5. What would your literacy block look like?
6. Tell us about The Common Core.
7. How do you teach reading?
8. How do you teach writing?
9. How do you deal with difficult parents? Tell us about a specific scenario when you dealt with a difficult parent.
10. What is your classroom management style/plan?
11. How do you motivate a reluctant learner? Give us an example of a time you made a breakthrough with a reluctant learner.
12. How do you engage a child?
13. How would you handle a parent that challenged your teaching?
14. Why should we hire you?
15. What type of professional development do you partake in?
16. How do you incorporate technology in the classroom?
17. How do you incorporate technology in your own professional development?
18. Tell us about an experience in which you worked with an aide in your classroom?
19. What does co-teaching mean to you?
20. What experience do you have with diversity?
21. What experience do you have with Students with Disabilities?
22. How have you modified instruction to meet the needs of students?
23. How have you challenged students and raised the rigor in your teaching?
24. How would your coworkers describe you?
25. What part of this job would be a challenge for you?
26. Tell us about a time you had a conflict with a colleague and how you resolved it.
27. How do you work with others in a team setting?
28. How would you describe yourself?
29. What types of formal and informal assessment do you use?
30. What is your experience with data in teaching?
31. What are the most important elements of a lesson?
32. Why do you want to work in our school? 
33. What can you bring to our district that nobody else can offer?
34. Describe how you handle a child having an outburst or meltdown?
35. Tell us about your literacy approach.
36. How do you use assessments?
37. Describe how you handle a child who refuses to work?
38. This position involves paraprofessionals/aides. How would you manage adults in your classroom?
39. What experience do you have with [specific programs/assessments]?
40. Do you have any questions?