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Kathy's Favorite Things - 10 VIRTUAL Classroom Essentials

Happy Summer everyone!  I truly hope that you were able to escape the craziness just a little bit this summer.  After a very stressful spring, a summer that has gone by in the blink of an eye, and a fall full of unknowns looming...I thought a fun blog post might be in order.  
Let's face the facts:  Remote learning is likely to be part of our future in the coming months (and, dare I say, years).  There are so many things to consider as we settle into this new reality, and it can be super overwhelming.  I am hoping that today's post takes some of that stress away and helps you to start thinking about setting up your virtual learning environment, as well as some of the essential tools that you may want/need to make things go smoothly.

So, if this post stresses you out it for another time!  Otherwise, keep reading for a list of my favorite VIRTUAL Classroom Essentials.


If you are working from home, a headset can be a very useful tool.  It can help in several ways including:  blocking out background noise, better audio quality to be able to hear your students more clearly, and sparing your entire household from hearing your classroom banter.  As you are selecting your headset, consider whether you want one earphone or two.  I found that two is great for hearing students, but makes it difficult to hear yourself and what's going on around you in real-time (which bothers me).  I use a headset with one ear piece so that I don't feel blocked out from the rest of the world and can hear myself talking.  I like the MPow brand (I have both of these headsets).


Either a virtual background or a vinyl background that you can hang is great for teaching.  It helps students to focus on you rather than on what is going on behind you.  You can actually find awesome virtual backgrounds on Teachers Pay Teachers, and many that are free on Google.  If you use Zoom, you can upload these right into the platform (and I believe Google is working on adding this feature soon as well).  If you have Manycam (will discuss this further below), you can use a virtual background no matter which conferencing platform you use.

I have also used a vinyl background that you just hang up behind you.  I designed it myself (you can purchase designs on TPT), and sent it to "Banners on the Cheap" to print on a vinyl banner.  It cost about $25 and turned out great!  I was able to hang it from the ceiling in my office so it looks like my real background (you could also hang on the wall).


I have a stand for my tablet and for my phone.  I use both of these when I teach remotely and needed an organized way to keep them nearby.  The one I use for my tablet is adjustable, making it possible for me to use my tablet as a document camera...which is awesome!!


This needs no explanation!!  I use them to remind me of everything!


This simple tool can come in really handy when teaching student remotely.  Sure, you can use a virtual whiteboard, but a real one works just as well and you don't have to "share screen" to use it which puts YOU as the focus of students' attention, which is what they really want.


Good lighting is super important in a virtual learning environment.  Students want and need to be able to see you really well.  Especially with the dark day of winter approaching, do yourself a favor and invest in some cheap studio lighting.  


This is also self-explanatory.  I love cute file folders because I have them out everywhere, so they might as well be part of the decor!   I keep a file folders for small group instruction, current/hot projects, and student contact information...anything you need in a snap and don't want to go digging around your Google drive to find.


Manycam basically acts as a "virtual" webcam.  It uses your actual webcam, but then you set Zoom or Google Meet to use MANYCAM as your camera.  It's a little confusing if you've never used it...but look into it (loads of Youtube videos are available).  It enables you to do cool things like use a virtual background without a green screen, share your screen without having to actually share your screen, use picture in picture during live meetings (so students can still see you while you are sharing texts and other things), insert images and special effects into your screen (picture a parrot gif sitting on your shoulder as you teach), and you can even put virtual masks and other accessories on yourself (kooky glasses, a pink wig, or a cat mask are my favorites).  Manycam is free to use if you don't mind having a watermark on the screen with you.


I have not invested in one yet, but I am seriously considering it.  This teacher/coach is not used to sitting down this much!


If you have a document camera, yes, you can put your picture books and other texts under there to read aloud to kiddos.  However, there are so many perks to using digital texts!  My favorite resources for digital texts include Newsela (free), Readworks (free), Literacy Footprints Digital Reader (pricey), Raz-Kids (pricey), and Oxford Owl (free), Get Epic (free for teachers, but students need a subscription to access from home).  I use ALL of these for different things (future blog post alert).  

So, there you have it...some of my favorite tools for remote teaching.  I know our budgets are very tight, especially now, so hopefully you won't be spending a ton of your own money on these things.  If we really value education in our country, we need to be properly funded and teachers need to stop spending their own money on EVERYTHING!  But if you are on you own to get the things you need, I've seen teachers have huge success in raising funds through Donor's Choose, Facebook Fundraisers, and GoFundMe. 

I hope you enjoyed this post and it gave you a moment of happiness, thinking about setting up your virtual classroom.   I have posted some digital resources that I created in a pinch last spring...they are perfect for uploading into Google Clasroom or any other learning management system.

Be well, stay safe and know that you are heroes!!  Reach out in the comments with your favorite essentials!

Digital Graphic Organizers for Google Classroom (Distance Learning)
Digital Reading Response for Google Classroom -  Distance Learning Bundle

Distance Learning: Remote Guided Reading Lessons Made Easy!

This post may be coming to you a bit late, but hopefully I can provide some tips and resources to support your efforts to bring small group reading instruction to your students in a way that is manageable for both you and them!  IT CAN BE DONE!

School ended (as we know it) here in Michigan on March 13 (yes, it was Friday the 13th).  After the shock wore off, panic began to set in.  My thoughts were spinning:  "How will we support our striving readers, who are already so far behind their peers?  They receive so much support at school...single dips, double dips, triple dips!  They can't afford this time away from school."  I immediately began to think about how we could continue to provide the reading support that they need remotely.  Enter Google Meet...(or Zoom, if that's your "classroom" of choice).   Using a virtual meeting platform, and a few key tech tools, I was able to get small group reading instruction rolling with my students in a way that is almost as good as "the real thing."


You will need to use either Google Meet or Zoom to connect with your students virtually, and your students will need access to the same platform.  In our district, we were able provide devices to those students that don't have them, and a system was set up for them to receive free wifi with the help of local internet providers.

In a Google Meet, you are able to see your students, talk with them, and present visual aids to use in your lessons.  One issue with Google Meet, is that when you present your screen, you can no longer see your students, which is a huge problem in a guided reading lesson.  There are several ways to remedy this situation.  Eric Curts from Contral Alt Achieve has a great video to help you navigate that.

My favorite set up is to use my phone as a second monitor.  I simply log in to the Google Meet app on my phone and on my PC.  I use the PC to present visuals, and I use my phone to see my student.  I work with students one on one, so I can actually "pin" their face on my phone's Google Meet so I only see them and not what I'm presenting.  With a small group of students, you would be able to use the sidebar or tile display mode and it would work just as well (as long as you have 4 or fewer students at a time).

I also needed a white board.  I tried using an actual white board with real markers and holding it up to the camera, but the glare was so bad that students had a difficult time seeing what I was showing them.  So I set up a virtual white board via my Ipad mini tablet.  I mirror my table to my PC monitor using the free version of an app called ApowerMirror.  I had to load that onto my tablet and my PC.  It was easy and worked flawlessly.  I then loaded another free app on my tablet called "Whiteboard".  Voila!  Now when I am in present mode, my students can see what I write on the whiteboard app of my tablet.  I can toggle between this whiteboard and other visuals that I am using, such as digital texts, and Google Slides.

Here is what my set up looks like:


You will need access to leveled digital text for your guided reading lessons.  At school, we have well-stocked classroom libraries and bookrooms, with REAL books!  That luxury is gone, gone, gone!  So, digital text is the only way to go for remote guided reading lessons.  You will need to be able to display text in present mode, so that all students can see the book.  It is also nice if they are able to access the same digital text after your lesson so they can re-read for fluency practice.

The great news is that there are several sources of FREE digital text available during "these unprecedented times."  Here are my favorites:

  • Literacy Footprints - This is brand new!  LP responded very quickly to the need to have leveled digital text, and they created an AMAZING platform for teachers and students, with a healthy collection of leveled texts.  They also put together Read at Home kits of real books that are fairly inexpensive, so that if you have the funding, you can ship the books to your students so they have a hard copy of the texts that you are using with them virtually
  • Reading A-Z - Most of you are probably familiar with this platform.  They have a very extensive collection of digital text resources.  The wonderful thing about RAZ is that they include lesson ideas and worksheets to go with each book.  RAZ has extended their free trial through the end of June.  RAZ also has some simple annotation tools that can be used when projecting a text (highlighting, masking, etc).
  • Readworks and Newsela - These do not use F&P levels, but do provide lexile levels.  If you are looking for shorter reading passages and articles, this is the way to go.
  • Get Epic - Get Epic has a huge collection of digital trade books.  They do provide levels, but they are not as great for guided reading as digital texts that were created for the purpose of guided reading (i.e., Reading A-Z, Literacy Footprints).  However, they have a VERY LARGE collection of text.  I like to use this to add a little variety to my lessons.
Following is how my remote guided reading lessons tend to go.  CLICK HERE to download my lesson plan template.


1.  Sight Word Review/Introduce New Sight Word

If possible, work with parents to make sure that students have access to a small dry erase board and marker (paper and a marker are a good substitute).  We practice sight words during the lesson.  Students use their whiteboard, and I will dictate three sight words for review that they will write on their boards.  I will then use my digital whiteboard to teach a new sight word.  If they have magnetic letters available, I will have them play "mix and fix" by making their new sight word several times and mixing up the letters each time.

2.  Re-read Book from Previous Lesson

This reading serves two purposes:  to practice fluency, and to work on comprehension skills.  I expect to hear some smooth, fluent reading since the student has read the book multiple times at this point.  I will choose a comprehension strategy to focus on, such as retelling using main idea and key details.

3.  Phonics/Word Study

If you wish to include word study in your guided reading lessons, you will need to have some digital flashcards with words for students to sound and blend, and for sight word practice.  I use the phonics flashcards to practice sounding and blending words with students.  I have preassessed each of my students (using the Core Phonics Inventory) to determine where they are in our phonics scope and sequence so I know which set of words to use (CVC, CCVC, R-Controlled, etc).  I use the following process during this part of my lesson:
  1. Model how to sound and blend each word using "I do, You do".  For example, if the word is cat, I say "c-a-t, cat!  Now you do it."  The student then says, "c-a-t, cat!"  We will do this for all words in the set.
  2. Then the student or students go back and read each word independently.  My direction to them is, "If you know it, just read it.  But if you're not sure, sound and blend."  
  3. Next, students will read a few short sentences that contain the phonics pattern we have been practicing.
  4. Sometimes I will add dictation at the end of the lesson by having students write a few words or a short sentence using the phonics skill we have been practicing.

If students have access to magnetic letters (which many do not), I will practice the phonics skill by making words (sometimes called make and break).  This can be a little time consuming because students have to make the words, then hold up their magnet board to show you after each word.  Some parents are great about doing this as part of homework.  It takes about five minutes after your lesson to show parents what to do and give them a list of make and break words to do with their child at home.  

4.  New Book

I usually end my lesson with a new book.  I usually give a brief book introduction, or I may do a picture walk (depending on the student).  I will also talk about new vocabulary.  Then they read and I prompt as needed.  If working with a small group, you could have students take turns reading.  In normal times, this type of "round-robin" reading is a big no-no.  But "in these unprecedented times" it may be a necessary evil, especially if your students are still working on decoding skills.  Another option could be to have your students turn down their sound and mute themselves until it is their turn to read to you.  If your groups are primarily working on comprehension, you could have them read sections of the book silently, and then have talk about what was read.  If there is time left, we will have a discussion about the book.  For my striving readers this usually involves retelling or summarizing what they've read. If we run out of time, we will discuss the book at the start of our next session.

That is really it!!  My lessons usually take 20-30 minutes.  I was so intimidated by the thought of doing guided reading from home, but now I get excited when I know I have a lesson coming up.  One important thing to remember is that you will never be able to match the effectiveness of real, in-person reading instruction.  Also, create a weekly schedule that is manageable for you and should not expect to meet with every group every day, especially if you are already trying to manage your whole class lessons (either live or recorded).   If you can meet with your lowest readers once or twice per week, you are doing GREAT, and they will benefit in the long run.

Here is a video that shows how I use some of the digital tools described in this post (forgive my quarantine uniform...pony tail and sweats).

I have created some digital tools that may help you as you navigate this process (listed below).  I hope you find them helpful.  If you have any questions, or would like some help in getting started with remote guided reading, please reach out!  I am also VERY interested in all of the ways you are supporting your students in "these unprecedented times."  Please share your thoughts, ideas, questions, worries, etc in the comments below!!  

Hang tough teacher peeps!  Summer is coming've got this!!  

Phonics Lessons Digital Flashcards for Distance Learning - CVC Words  Phonics Lessons Digital Flashcards for Distance Learning - Digraphs & Blends

Phonics Lessons Digital Flashcards for Distance Learning - R-Controlled Vowels  Digital Reading Response for Google Classroom -  Distance Learning Bundle

Digital Graphic Organizers for Google Classroom (Distance Learning) 


Kathy's Favorite Things - 10 Classroom Essentials

This post is just for fun!  I shop A LOT!  Too much in fact.  I try not to, but I just can't pass up a good deal when I see one.   This year, I will post a monthly list of some great finds...just for teachers!

This month I thought I would start with a list of ten essential things that every elementary classroom MUST HAVE.  When I created this list, I kept in mind those things that I absolutely could not live without in my classroom.  I've included tried and true brands to save you time time shopping around.  Trust me...these items are THE BEST!

1.  {Visual} Classroom Timer

This visual timer is essential, especially for primary grade students.  It is just good teaching to set time expectations for students and they appreciate being able to see how much time they have "at a glance."  When time is up, there is a simple, "no-nonsense" beep.  There are several good online timers, but you can't beat this one for ease of won't need to use your Smartboard, and it works even when the internet is down!  It comes in two sizes...I recommend the largest one.

2.  Chimes

These chimes are the perfect tool to get your students' attention.  A soothing sound, easily adjusted to loud or soft, is just what you need to gently direct their attention your way.

3.  Ruggable

Have you seen these WASHABLE rugs?  I have two...and they wash up beautifully....perfect for keeping your classroom clean!  Lot's of different patterns to choose from too!

4.  Stackable Paper Trays

I like to keep papers organized in my classroom, and I could not live without these classroom mailbox trays.  You can use them in a multitude of ways, and they will really help you to avoid creating "teacher piles."

5.  Pencil sharpener

After 28 years in the classroom, I am a connoisseur of pencil sharpeners.  I've had them all, and I can confidently say that this one from School Smart is the very best one!!  No need to shop around any further.  This one will last you several years before needing to be replaced, and when it does die, you can't beat the price point.

6.  Walmart Shelves

Every elementary classroom needs an epic classroom library!  Unfortunately, not all schools provide great shelving for this purpose.  My hubby made me some custom shelving for my classroom that has lasted me all 28 years!  If you're not that lucky, these shelves from Walmart are sturdy and affordable!  You don't need to feel guilty buying multiples as this price!

7.  Plastic Book Bins

I use these bins for so many things, including individual student book bins, extra storage space in a flexible seating classroom, and even to keep myself organized!  You can find extra fancy ones on Really Good Stuff, but if you are on a budget, these ones from Amazon will get the job done for a lot less.  They come in a pack of 30 and are available in lots of fun colors!

8.  Wireless Keyboard

Most classroom smart boards are hooked up to your desktop PC.  It can be less than convenient to walk all the way back to your desk when you need to access your board.  These wireless keyboards are super cheap and so convenient.  The kiddos can even use them!  I love to use them for interactive writing lessons!  This one even comes with a wireless mouse!

9.  Hole Punch

If you are a "binder queen" like me, you punch a lot of holes!!  I like to keep my students and myself organized by keeping things in binders and folders!  This would be absolute drudgery if not for my heavy duty hole punch!  I've had this thing forever and has probably punched at least a million papers!  I have one at home too!  It is such a time-saver.

10.  The "Cadillac" of Staplers

A good stapler is such an essential classroom tool.  It seems like such a simple thing, but choosing the wrong stapler can lead to endless frustration (and even injury)!  I love my shiny red swingline!  I have one at home and at school...don't overthink this one...just buy it!

Well, there you have it...the ten things I could not live without in my classroom.  I am sure that are other things that I could add to this list (we teachers do need so very many things), but I promised to keep this list list to ten!  What are your favorite classroom essentials?  I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by...check out my TOP TEN BEST SELLERS BELOW!  Happy Shopping!

Kathy O.