Our Favorite Things Blog Series

Leveraging Grade Level Changes: Our Favorite Things

It has been twenty years since I first entered a classroom as a teacher. I started in preschool, spent several years in kindergarten, and then looped up to first grade. When the opportunity to move to third grade presented itself in 2015, I eagerly jumped to this new adventure.

I had been feeling like a move to middle school would be my next move, and last spring, aside from having every box being checked, I was heading to the middle school. Naturally, I packed my room in preparation. After many changes, in August of 2020, I was given a choice to go back to third or take on the role of the remote kindergarten teacher. I picked the remote teacher role.

This was me in August of 2020, unpacking the room I had packed and finding the kindergartener in my heart! Whew, that was a process.

As the school year began to close in early June, the opportunity to move to the middle school again presented itself with more certainty. I once again jumped and am knee-deep in the process of preparing for a new crew of seventh graders.

So often, teachers don’t get the chance to make choices on their moves. I have experienced both scenarios. It certainly feels better when the option is your own. With each grade level change, I also know I have grown my understanding of all writers and learners.

I am better at recognizing what areas of writing follow learners across years and how these can look different or serve different purposes. So much of a writer’s process can begin in the primary years and be carried through elementary and secondary years.

Following all these experiences, I have curated a list of my favorite things to do when making a grade-level change. Just as writers can carry some favorite things from their writing process, teachers can carry favorite things to different grade levels, buildings, or even a new district.

Find Your People

When I found out in early June that I’d be going from remote Kindergarten to seventh grade at a new building, my first step was to join a Facebook group for middle school ELA teachers. I knew I needed to find my people to get inspired and prepared. One of my favorite things is collaborative conversations. Connecting with other teachers who take pride in their work gives me a charge of inspiration. On social media, I can find answers to questions, ideas to inspire new thinking, and people to follow on Twitter or Instagram. I can take or leave with what I want.

Take Photos

If your change means a room or building switch, photos of the blank slate can be beneficial as you plan. When I’m changing rooms, I’ve tried to do a rough sketch of where I believe I’ll organize materials. It’s sort of like my draft, and even though I may not follow the plan, it gets me in thinking mode.

Organize Your Tasks

I’m a list maker. No matter the change, a list is a bit like the sketch I mentioned earlier–a draft of my thinking. I have two favorite ways to make lists. I love starting a Google Doc to brainstorm. I can easily find the list, and I can add to it from any device. I also love a trusty legal pad. I get a lot of satisfaction crossing things out. 

When it comes to making your list, be realistic. Keep your goals reasonable. You likely won’t get everything done, and your list will change as the beginning of the year closes in. Prioritize and strategize your tasks. The first year in a new grade level, you don’t know what you don’t know. The second year can be a bit more challenging as you prepare to fill in the blanks of what you missed before.

Curate Your Stack

When I returned to kindergarten last year, after a handful of years in third grade, I returned to my favorite professional books. I went back to some favorite kindergarten read-alouds to put my head in the place of my learners. This summer, I’ve been reading the Book Love summer book club collection in addition to some other recommendations I have found through social media groups. Also, I found a couple of professional books that will help guide me with some best practices as I begin this new adventure. 

I anticipate this stack will grow and change.

If your grade level change has you wondering where to start when it comes to book recommendations, here are some great places to start. 

All Grades/Picture Books:

Heise Reads and Recommends


Middle Grade:

MG Book Village

Middle and High School:

Project Lit Community–Book Lists


Find Your Happy Place

During my first year of teaching, I had a building and grade level change one month into the school year. Then, two years later, I moved districts. That was three rooms set up in three years!

With each move, I created something visual that could give me an instant boost of pride. I distinctly remember in my third year of teaching making a felt board Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Tree. Whenever I felt overwhelmed by everything else around me, I would look at that tree and feel a little bit better. Something was ready to go and it looked great.

This was my third classroom in three years, fall of 2003. I loved that felt tree just waiting for letters and felt board stories.

Each new year, I try to create a spot, a space, or a part of the classroom that feels especially good. This past year it was my desk area. Since I was teaching remotely, I put lights up, always kept fresh markers for myself, and had a few unique trinkets nearby that made me smile. 

I’ve thought about what to have in this new space. Along with empty bulletin boards ready for student work I stumbled on an idea from Jennifer Gonzalez at Cult of Pedagogy. She shared inspiration from Rebecca Malmquist who has a wall dedicated to an Affirmation Station. I can’t wait to create my own. Take a look at a video from her students to learn more.

Also, be sure to click the previous link and scroll to her rainbow wall of affirmations. It’s beautiful!

No matter what grade level you teach, each year brings something new, and many of these ideas can help you plan. There is no shortage of challenges when making a significant change. I know I will make some mistakes this year, I won’t please everyone, and I also know I will learn a lot from my new students. Some of my plans will work, and many won’t. I am continually inspired by teachers, children, and books that supply me with inspiration.

Giveaway Information

Many thanks to Heinemann Publishers who is donating a copy of ONE of the Classroom Essentials books (i.e., winner’s choice).  

For a chance to win this copy of one of these books, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Saturday, August 7th at 6:00 p.m. EDT. Amy Ellerman will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. Their name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Sunday, August 8th.

Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so Amy can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, our contact at Heinemann will ship the book to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.) You must have a U.S.A. mailing address—Sorry, no FPOs—to win a print copy of the book of your choosing. If you have an international mailing address, then you will receive an electronic copy.

If you are the winner of the book, Amy will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS—FAVORITE THINGS. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

25 thoughts on “Leveraging Grade Level Changes: Our Favorite Things

  1. As someone who works with teachers across many grade levels, I love the reminder about how much good teaching carries across grade levels. The chart about what all writers need is a timely reminder for the start of the year!


  2. i have only taught grades 1-3, so to me the change has never been drastic. What I do with 1st grade writers can be done with 2nd and 3rd grade writers as well. I wish you the MOST AMAZING SCHOOL YEAR. Thank you for sharing your ideas.


  3. You have some really great ideas here. The affirmation board is wonderful! I went down a rabbit hole with many of your links and have shared with our teachers. Thanks for this post!


  4. Giving teacher a choice really is a privilege sometimes which I also have experienced and am grateful for. We should have a say in how we develop professionally, anyway, and I’m thankful your school gave you that respect. Great tips!


  5. I love the affirmation station idea. I have changed grade levels many times. This is a great post with tips. I also love the idea of having part of the room as my happy place. I am starting to plan that. Thank you!


  6. What I great post! Betsy, I found myself reading your suggestions and nodding right along with you. As someone who’s had more rooms than years teaching, and has shifted grade levels multiple times, I think you’ve nailed it. You’re right – it’s so important to find our people and our places. And the lists / drawings? You are, quite simply, a person after my own heart. =))


  7. Thank you for sharing your insight about changing grade levels. I am currently a kindergarten teacher and feel inspired after reading your post about changing grade levels- maybe even to middle school like you! I also loved your visual about what “All Writers Need.” It boils down what is most important for all writers. The affirmation wall is also a beautiful idea. I’m not sure how that would work in kindergarten, but I am going to plant the seed and see if I come with anything as a I start the year. Thanks again for the post!


  8. I am moving schools this year but am staying in the same grade level. I love your idea of creating one special place to ground myself and bring positive feelings to a new space-especially in a year where I cannot set up my classroom in the way I would like to because of health and safety guidelines. I love the idea of the affirmation station! Such an awesome way to promote positivity in the classroom!! Thank you!


  9. I love the idea of an affirmation station in junior high, especially since the students are the ones writing and affirming each other. I do know from experience, that students are somewhat skeptical when the teacher writes an affirmation to a student. The student doesn’t put much credence in what was said. Yes, it takes time to read them all, but with SEL in mind, these are genuine comments between students that might otherwise not be given air time. The teacher modeling how to write a meaningful affirmation will give those reluctant to share some help and confidence in writing one. I also appreciate that the affirmations are checked before being posted. Great idea!


  10. I love your chart of “All Writers Need…” This is such an important reminder that writing is about the process of writing and the conditions for learning. Whatever the grade level, all students need us to set up these conditions for learning.


  11. Amazing! Thanks for the inspiration! Because of Covid restrictions, the teachers are rotating instead of the kids. As a result, I’m envisioning an affirmations walk in every classroom. I can’t imagine what that would do for school culture and an overall positive learning environment! I also love the graphics you use for student engagement 🙌


  12. As someone who frequently changes grade levels/content, I love the tips you gave. I also like to create and set up one specific area before worrying about the whole room. It gives me a feeling if calm to see at least one thing that’s finished in the chaos of a new school year.


  13. I have to admit, I wasn’t going to read this because I’m not changing classrooms or grade level, but I did get some good ideas and gave me some things to think about. I also clicked on the link for books to read aloud during the year, which also brought me to another link about affirmation stations, which I really like.


  14. Great ideas and thoughts as teachers begin a new school year! I look forward to sharing your information with the teachers that I work with!


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