Reflections and Resources from Tarheelstate Teacher: September 2016
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A Lesson Fail and 9 Ideas for Character Traits

Ideas and Activities for teaching character traits and describing characters
I once taught a guided reading lesson to a group of 4th and 5th graders on describing characters in a story. The plan was for us to read through the book (for the third time on day three of guided reading with this group), look at the character’s actions, and decide how we would describe them. With a group of five children, I expected that we would brainstorm a few words quickly and I could focus the lesson on justifying our character traits with evidence from the text.
Do you know where this story is going? Do you recall yourself attempting to teach the same lesson at some point in your classroom? You can laugh with me. It doesn't hurt too bad.

Back to the story, in case you are not recalling your own memories at this moment…I was quickly dismayed at the lack of vocabulary that my students were able to generate. I heard characters being described as nice, kind, mean, good, and bad.

Now, to add some background information to this story, I was teaching a reading intervention group. These students had been identified specifically for having low language skills. No one was ESL or ELL, but their ability to communicate their thoughts and retell stories through the use of grade-level appropriate vocabulary was very low. Our routine was to read the same short story each day for a week focusing our attention on different aspects of the story with each reading. And toward the last few days of the week, we spent time discussing the story by focusing on one tiny literary aspect. Students basically had the stories memorized, so the rest should be easy, right? FACE PALM!

However, after this lesson fail, I realized that my readers would not be able to come up with quality vocabulary without a little scaffolding from their teacher! And to tell the truth, even students reading on grade-level sometimes have difficulty coming up with good words COLD TURKEY, am I right?!? Thesaurus PLEASE!!! I quickly picked myself up off my kidney table (hehe) and came up with a strategy. I began developing a list of words, creating definitions, and providing students with pictures that would trigger the meaning of the words. I printed a set of these vocabulary word cards to use during my guided reading lessons. I would pull out a handful prior to each lesson, looking for words that DESCRIBED a character in the story AND words that were ANTONYMS of how I would describe the characters in the story. Can you imagine?!?!? Students were SO MUCH MORE successful! And you know what happened as the weeks continued? They started INTERNALIZING the words I had introduced to them and firing off new words not even included in my word set.

Later, I began using these character traits and definitions in reader's workshop  with the whole group when I taught lessons on describing characters. I used them in writer's workshop to support my minilessons focused on brainstorming ideas for personal narratives that focused on strong emotions and feelings. I printed all of the character traits on cardstock and made a border of character traits on the main wall of my classroom. You can find my 48 character traits in my teacherspayteachers store. {This summer, I created an EMOJI style set, which you will see in many of the pictures below.}

Some of the words I used may seem pretty basic to you or for some of your students but I have found that having even a simple list of words works magic in helping myself and students generate more sophisticated vocabulary for describing characters. Having this list helps us choose great words and generate better ones because we are not starting from scratch! No face palms for you, because you can learn from my mistakes!
Ideas and Activities for teaching character traits and describing characters

Today, I've got 9 Ideas for How You Can Get Your Students Practicing and Using Character Traits to Increase their Vocabularies for Describing Characters, Traits, and Feelings

1) VOCABULARY DEVELOPMENT: Begin a “Word a Week” Routine. Display the character trait/adjective at the beginning of the week. Use a Frayer Model (with four quadrants) or other recording sheet for students to keep up with the words they have learned and to guide aspects of your word explorations. You can focus on one word development topic each day, like synonyms, antonyms, real-world examples, and using the word in a sentence. Create an anchor chart with the four quadrants to display and allow students to add to it throughout the week as new ideas come to them.
oblivious emoji character trait lesson
I made two templates for "A Word A Week." One contains the 4 quadrants for the frayer model. The sheet below has students' write a definition for the vocabulary word in their own words, list synonyms for the word, make a connection to a book character or person they know, and make a plan for how they will use the word in writing and speaking.
vocabulary development ideas for character traits
2) VOCABULARY DEVELOPMENT: Given a list of words, students can complete a word knowledge sort to have them think about their level of mastery for each vocabulary word. This would be a great strategy to use before starting your "Word a Week" routine. Then you could focus your attention on the words most students don't seem to know. This will allow you to get more bang for your buck as you teach them a new word each week.
word knowledge continuum sort for character traits
3) LITERACY STATIONS: Given a list of words, students can sort the words into positive/negative trait categories. To apply the words to their own reading, they can sort the character traits by focusing on one character in their book and whether or not that character exhibits that trait.
describing characters in books lessons and activities
4) READER’s WORKSHOP/INDEPENDENT READING: Tie the character traits to students’ independent reading and your read alouds. Lead students to think about the character traits shown by the characters in their books (or class read alouds) and to consider how a character's personality (or character traits) have changed over the course of a story.
wonder by rj palacio describing characters example
Addressing "character change" is a great follow up lesson to just describing characters because characters usually are different when we compare their actions and personalities at the beginning of a story to how they are at the end of a story.
describing character change and traits graphic organizer

5) GUIDED READING: Have a set of definition cards ready to use during guided reading. As you discuss characters in the story, allow students to choose words that describe the characters. Work hard to help them find words that MORE PRECISELY describe the characters’ personalities and actions. The definition cards CAN BE USED AS TRIGGER WORDS to help spark other descriptive words not included in the set. As your students get better and better at describing characters, vote or discuss which words they have generated most accurately describe the characters and which word they think is the best representation.

6) WRITER’S WORKSHOP: Choose 3-4 strong traits or emotions that lend themselves to writing personal narratives about a time students exhibited those qualities {determined, courageous, embarrassed, and livid are always good choices for my students}. Display the character trait/emotion on the smartboard. Get students talking about the emotion and sharing stories (whole group or with a neighbor). Have students title a journal page with the chosen emotion and ask them to list as many memories, moments, and ideas that come to mind for that emotion. Using different character traits in this manner gives students many story ideas to choose from when writing personal narratives.
Ideas and Activities for teaching character traits and describing characters

7) BULLETIN BOARDS: Create a bulletin board of emotions that students can refer to when describing characters during writing activities and class discussions. You will be amazed at how their heads turn to refer to the words you have discussed. Expect students to come up with 3-4 descriptive words when describing characters in their own books and your read alouds.

8) Start the year with Character Trait Lessons: Start by having students use character traits to describe themselves as a "Get to Know You" activity. Turn this into a fun activity by having students leave their names off their papers, numbering each student's sheet, and posting them in the hallway. Students can guess “who’s who” by reading one another’s sheets.
using character traits as a get to know you activity

9) Use holidays/seasons as an opportunity for creative writing focused on character traits and adjectives. Students can write stories about pumpkins, snowmen, Valentine hearts, shamrocks, or anything else you can think of. They can personify the item, choose a word, and write a story that shows the object acting in that way. My students have written about malicious pumpkins, jubilant snowmen, and compassionate Valentine hearts. Sometimes I focused the writing project on poetry, other times, they were required to write imaginative narratives with a strong beginning, middle, and end. To prepare for celebrating the writing projects, we decorate a pumpkin (real or a template printed on cardstock), make a snowman, or create a valentines heart to represent the character in the story and their trait. Our writing share and celebration turns into a bit of a classroom party and is an educational way to have some fun around different holidays.

So there you have it! I hope I've given you some fresh ideas for incorporating more work with Character Traits into your classroom. I do know this for sure--when you make vocabulary development a FUN and REGULAR part of your classroom routine, students start using the words you have shared with them. Sometimes they are playful or use the words to impress you, but they are really trying them out on their tongue or in their writing and learning how to use the words more precisely. It's a win-win. I challenge you to teach your student some new words this year beyond your academic and content area vocabulary. It will be so rewarding! What do you do to keep vocabulary development fun in your classroom? How do you teach character traits?

And most of all, were you nodding your head when I was talking about my lesson flop? Please let me know in the comments if I am NOT alone on this one!
9 lesson activities for character traits and describing characters

Have you Introduced Growth Mindset This Year?

leveled math assessments differentiation for growth mindset
I've got a passion for getting students excited about math and changing every-single-mathitude {yes, that's math + attitude} I can into a positive one. If we expect to get anywhere with our students in math class, we MUST change their mindsets, attitudes, and belief in themselves.
Differentiation in math + growth mindset is this perfect fusion of my passion and teaching style! I'm always there to motivate my students and inspire them to feel AWESOME or differently about how they have felt about all things "school" in the past.

Many of you have introduced the "Growth Mindset" way of thinking to your students this year, but after those introductory lessons, you may be wondering, "What's next?"

If you are asking yourself this question, I think you are amazing! 

You have already laid a solid foundation for helping your students understand the "power of yet," you are helping them understand how their brains work, and that intelligence is NOT something we are born with that stays static. We can learn things that we never thought were possible simply by allowing our neural pathways to develop, coming back to challenging things again and again, and keeping our minds open to believing that WE CAN LEARN, we just may not have learned it yet.

I bet you've already figured this out, but it is nearly impossible to teach multi-digit multiplication to a student who has decided math is hard, believes they do not know and cannot learn their math facts, and quite frankly, hates math and groans the moment it begins.

But, I believe we can give all students the instruction they need {and deserve} by using leveled and differentiated resources in our classroom.
3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teachers, have you introduced Growth Mindset to your students and now you're wondering, "What's next?" Well, I've got some ideas for you for math and some freebie opportunities that you will not want to miss!
Now, you might not be able to do this all the time, every day for every single math objective you teach, but I PROMISE from experience, struggling students gain more traction when you teach and have them practice in a way that carefully links one learning goal to the next. Your average students will gain more confidence because they start out with an easier form of the objective and work their way up to new learning, and you will not feel so guilty about your high-performing students who learn things very quickly because you are prepared with the next step to increase the levels of difficulty for them. {Can you say #thismagicmoment? Sounds amazing, right?!?!}

 Differentiated Math Practice/Assessments for RoundingWith my huge passion for growth mindset and differentiated math assessments, I got hit {smack} hard this weekend with a light bulb idea! How could I resist offering something on Facebook that you can use to help infuse your classroom with differentiation and growth mindsets? Well, I couldn't :)

If you are teaching 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade math this year, I have got something for you that I think is really special! If you've introduced Growth Mindsets {or mathitudes ;) } to your students and are ready to really infuse your math class with learning that actually allows students to practice having a growth mindset, I'm going to be posting a problem set every Saturday morning that you can plan to use in your classroom during the upcoming week.

Are all of your students on the same level math-wise {tongue in cheek ;)}? No? Then, these cards will be perfect for offering intervention, on-grade level, and extension for your higher students. You can use these for morning work, bell-ringers, or exit tickets! They will be great for review or pre-assessing even if this specific standard is not what you are working on right now. Here's place value card #1:
 Place Value 4th Grade Leveled Differentiated Task Card
I imagine teachers displaying these on the smartboard and having students write their answers in their math journals or on piece of paper. I'd have everyone start at #1 and build up to the more challenging problems.

Depending on how much time you give and students' abilitites, some students may not finish all of the questions, and that's okay! You want students to begin thinking in terms of how far they can "stretch" their brains. Things in math do get more challenging {oh, 4th and 5th grade math teachers, I see your hands are up!}, but I truly believe that if students can see the span of where they came from to where they will be going, they are more capable of believing in themselves. Isn't this the true purpose and true power of differentiation? #canigetawitness? #ifeellikeiampreaching!

Each "task card" was developed by studying the 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade standards. 3rd grade teachers, you will see problems that go beyond your grade level's expectations, but they may be perfect to try with your students to see how deep their mastery goes. 4th and 5th Grade teachers, your students will be able to take a step down, move to work on grade level standards, and then go a step beyond if they are ready.

If you are teaching 3rd, I won't be hitting all of your objectives, but you will find some questions that work really well for your curriculum (two cards focused on rounding whole numbers are on their way soon!). If you feel that some of the questions go beyond what your students can grasp, you can enlarge the image, crop it in powerpoint, or cover it up with your smartboard features. You could also just print cards that go beyond your standards to use as a "fast finisher" task for some of your higher students to try.

What else might you want to know about these freebie posts on FacebookI will number each post and title it with the domain/concept it focuses on. The first post is labeled Place Value #1. You will be able to use the search bar on my facebook page to find the task cards by typing in "Place Value #1," "Fractions #2," etc.

Shhhh! Here's card #2 that I am posting tomorrow morning! You get a sneak peek because you are an awesome blog reader! :) I'm also going to post an extra card on Thursday and then will begin my Saturday's only posts. I want to make sure you have a few question sets to choose from so you can get rolling with incorporating these into your classroom routine!
 Place Value 4NBT1 5NBT1 different number forms

What Teachers Can Do About the Unobservant Principal

Many of you are really getting into the groove and into your school year right now. It might seem like worrying about reaching out to your principal should be the last thing on your list, but I encourage you to go ahead and read what I have to share and get started implementing these tips right away. SERIOUSLY, even if your principal seems amazing, but they are new to your school and you don't know exactly how "present" and "observant" they will be, you need this!

In my 11 year teaching career, I have worked in two school settings and for 6 different principals and 4 assistant principals. {Did you do the math? That averages to less than 2 years each!?!?!} If you have worked for different principals, I’m sure you have found that great differences exist between them all. I’ve found that each principal prioritized different aspects of teaching and the school environment while leading my schools. In addition, principals often have to gear their focus towards district mandates and goals that the board has placed on them for the year.

While working for a variety of personalities, I’ve found one thing to be common--our leaders are busy too! I’ve had some leaders say that they have to remind themselves to step outside of their office. {Hmmm, I've got opinions about that...but we will just #letitgoletitgoelsaandana}

Today I want to share some strategies for ensuring that your school leaders see the wonderful things you are doing in your classroom on a regular basis.

-Send Email Reminders about Events: Get in the habit of sending an email to your leaders when you have a special event, guest speaker, or student presentation in your classroom. Did you just publish your stories in writers workshop? Is one of your students sharing a slideshow about their trip to Switzerland over spring break? Have you invited a parent into your classroom to talk about diabetes--his research area of expertise? (I have had all of these happen and I was sure to send a quick email to let my principals’ know what was going on and what time they should drop by). Even if you forgot to send an invitation ahead of time, sending an email 5 minutes before the event may work. Every principal has access to their email on their cell phone these days. And, the invite is evidence of what is happening in your classroom, regardless of whether or not your principals are able to visit.

No matter the personality of your leadership, they almost always go out of their way to drop in during these times AND you have created a trail of evidence that demonstrates what you are doing in your classroom. It’s a WIN-WIN.

-Student Shares: If you are not in the middle of DIRECT instruction when you principal pops in, ask that a student share what they are learning. If I am not in the middle of direct instruction, I am often super busy working with another student. This is a great time to say “Sarah, would you like to show Mr. what we have been working on?” “James, would you like to tell Mr. what we talked about during our lesson today?” This means if students are working independently on something, in small groups, or in partners, you have directed your leader to a place where he/she can interrupt the activity for a few minutes and feel like they get a sense of what is going on in the room. {Now, of course you can strategically pick those students--IE the ones you are sure can effectiively communicate what they have been learning, but I often like to put a child who needs to feel smart and good about learning in this position. Talking with the principal about what you are doing? Can you say ‘learning reinforcer’ and ‘confidence booster’?!?!}

-Newsletters and Classroom Blogs: Do you write a newsletter for parents? Or have a classroom blog where you share news, pictures from lessons, classroom routines? Makes copies of your newsletter and place it in the principals’ boxes. {I’ve had principals require this so that they stay in the loop}. I’ve since moved to sending weekly emails to parents and utilizing a classroom blog. When I’m sharing something that should be of interest to my principal, I email him/her the blog post and/or send the email to them as well.

-Have Excellent Communication with Parents: I believe that next to creating lines of communication with your leaders, it is important to have excellent communication with your parents. Sometimes parents will share their excitement and appreciation of your hard work on your behalf! When we have a field trip or fun classroom activity, I snap pictures throughout. If I don’t have time to blog about it, I share the “cute” pics of activities with a quick email to parents. {Also great for cc-ing your principal on these!}

-Share student work: Every year, I publish at least one classroom book or magazine--one year it was a Civil War Newspaper, another year students created “Future Articles” about potential careers, we write magazine articles about specific time periods in United States history before we go to DC, you get the idea! I always take student articles and copy them into books for the kiddos so that they can see everyone’s work. Make an extra copy and put one in your principals’ box.

Are you a google docs school? Even better. My students have google docs, and over the past few years I’ve had a few students share their work with the principal through the “share” feature. Students can type a quick message, “Mrs. Roose wanted me to share my project with you. We are working on travel brochures for different places in North Carolina. I hope you enjoy it!”

-Forward Parent Emails: Did you just get praises from a parent? Forward these over to your principal! If that sounds like you are tooting your own horn, comment on how much this child is grown and how you just wanted to share some student success with the principal! They love to hear good news too--write comments in your forwarding email focused on the child and it’s not really about you at all {but a good principal knows it’s because you are doing an amazing job! ;) }

-Document and Save: Go ahead and make an “Evidence” folder in your email account. Each time you send those emails, move them over to your "Evidence" folder. {You could even call this folder "I'm AWESOME." #nojudgmentzone #teachersneedALLthePOSITIVEwecanget.} Not only will you have a record of what you have done, but you will most likely have a record of your principal’s response. After popping into the classroom, my favorite principals would even send me a complimentary email full of positive feedback and interest to share with students! File those emails! Don’t feel like your principal knows enough about what you do and how you teach? Who cares!?!?! You have been collecting evidence for yourself ALL year! And truly, those unobservant principals that seem to be checked-out are the ones missing out on watching teaching and learning in action and getting to know your sweet kiddos better.

Please do not take my suggestions as brown-nosing. I consider myself a person of character and sucking up is truly (and sometimes painfully detrimental to myself) not in my vocabulary. However, when we have leaders who do not make finding their way into our classrooms for more than required observations a priority, we must take care of ourselves and our own professional reputation.

If you are having a really difficult time with your leader(s) or become nervous when they pop into the classroom, these are ways that you can invite him/her in on your own terms where you are in control of the situation and what they will observe. You will begin building the connection that your classroom and your students are where your leaders are welcome to drop in AND enjoy teaching, learning, and children! And, perhaps you will receive more grace on the days that they pop in and you are not in the middle of a magical lesson.

 7 Ways You can Help a Busy Principal Build a Better Relationship with Principal
Even when a principal is amazing, they often get SOOO busy with all the other things it takes to keep a school running smoothly. Sometimes, your reputation proceeds you and they don't pop in because they aren't worried about you. But, you still need to reach out to them. I'd much rather my principal REALLY have evidence for my amazing teaching skills than just spout off generic praises or hearsay about my teaching. 

If you found this post helpful, be sure you pin it! I'd also love for it to get into the hands of new teachers. These are tips that I had to learn over time {and wish I'd used more often once I realized that my new and promising principal did not visit my classroom as much as they envisioned they would}.

I'm hoping you all have really supportive principals this year and that your relationship with him/her only encourages you to teach harder and motivates you to be there for your kids! Do you have any tips you would add to this list? Drop them in the comments below!

Adios August! Hello Approaching Autumn!

{Come find out about some back to school personal stuff, differentiation in math updates, blog posts you don't wanna miss, and more!}
Gosh, I am so happy to take some time to reflect on August today. It sure went by in a whirlwind for me #iseeyourhandsareuptoo :). Last week was my daughter's first week of school, and while getting into the swing of things was not a struggle at all, I dealt with a ton of emotions as I sent her off into someone else's care at her new school. I mean, really, it was like I had just dropped her off at kindergarten and it was a li'l embarrassing. But, as I talked to a few other moms this week, I was reminded that I wasn't as insane as I felt by being a hot mess of emotions as many of them could mirror my struggles. Fortunately, we have a 3 day weekend to just relax and enjoy some time together. And, I can get my big girl panties ready for next week! I know it will get easier as we get into the groove and she finds her place at her new school. And I'm looking forward to all that she and I get to celebrate this year with her learning, the new friends she will make, and the new experiences she will have.

 4th Grade Standards Based Assessments
In other news...if you sat down and had a conversation with me about all things teacher, I'd tell you how passionate I am about differentiation in math and how I'm focusing 90% of my energies on borderline obsessing about how teachers can best differentiate for their students in math. If you've been hanging out here with me for even the slightest bit of time, you know that I'm working on Differentiated Math Assessments #likeaboss. This month, I went ahead and posted the BUNDLE of all of the 4th grade Math Assessments so that if you fall in love with this approach to assessing students, you are able to grab all of the assessments at a 20% off discount. Currently, the Place Value/Addition and Subtraction set, Whole Number Multiplication, and Whole Number Division set are ready for you. Each one is nearly 100 pages worth of standards based assessments on very specific concepts so that you can assess your students and proceed to differentiate. The 4th Grade Fractions assessments are just about finished and will be uploaded this weekend.

 differentiated math resourcesLast weekend, I uploaded the Place Value/Addition and Subtraction set {Numbers and Operations in Base 10}. I also put together a freebie from the place value assessments that focuses on Generalizing Patterns in Place Value (4.NBT.1) so that you can get a taste of the differentiated assessments.

What Topics are included in the Place Value Set?

♦ Standard Expanded Form, Powers of 10 Expanded Form, Expressing the Value of the Digits in
SHORT WORD FORM, VALUE OF AN UNDERLINED DIGIT♦ Writing Numbers with Values increasing in Powers of 10 (10, 100, 1000, 10,000 times greater)
♦ Increasing the Value of a Number in Powers of 10 (10, 100, 1000, 10,000 etc.)
♦ Writing Expanded Form, Powers of 10 Form, Word Form
♦ Identifying Place Values to Compare two Numbers
♦ Converting from Word Form to Standard Form

♦ Computation
♦ {THEMED} Multi-Step Word Problems
♦ Building Blocks, Goals, and Stretching Beyond Summative Assessments

After I finalize the 4th Grade Fractions assessments, 5th Grade teachers GET READY because I'm working on Place Value and Fractions for 5th grade in September. {This is why the 4th Grade Bundle Timeline has a little break in it from September-December.}

If you are checking in to my August updates, I really hope you've already caught some of my blog posts, but just in case you missed something...This month, I was fortunate enough to guest blog at Tried and True Teaching Tools where I focused on Morning Meeting and the roadblocks teachers may face as they try to implement a morning meeting routine. (Of course, I offered helpful advice for these roadblocks because you know how much I love community meetings.)

I wrote about my Back to School Schedule for the 1st Week of School. Even if you've already began your school year, you might find some helpful tips and freebies linked in this post!

I shared how I "trashed" reading logs last year and still had accountability for my students' independent reading at home. {If you read nothing else, I HIGHLY encourage you to go read this one! It was a #gamechanger for me last year!}

Was meal planning a real struggle for you last year? I want you to take care of yourself this year and nourish your body...YOU DESERVE it! So, don't miss my post about how I solved the "What's for Dinner" Overwhelm last year.

I hope you have a restful Labor Day weekend and that you are excited about September. I caught sight of a few leaves on the ground yesterday and if this North Carolina humidity ever breaks, I'm ready to bring out those skinny jeans and tall boots. Thanks for stopping by! I'll see you soon!

How I Survived "What's for Dinner?" as a Busy Teacher

What's for dinner? After taking care of everyone else all day, is your drive from school back home enough time for you to figure out what's for dinner? Are you snacking on saltine crackers and supplementing real dinners with bowls of Raisin Bran?

I don't know about you, but as exhausting as teaching is, realizing you will be home soon and don't know what you will eat {and you are starving} is one of the most draining, depressing feelings in the world for me! It was especially hard during the years when I didn't enjoy cooking and quite honestly, just didn't know enough about food preparation to know what to do. And in my first decade of teaching, figuring out what I was going to do in my classroom was about all I could handle.

Are you a busy teacher asking "What's for dinner?" Then you're going to love the easy to implement ideas at this blog post! Real, whole foods do not have to be a dream any more. Get supper on the table with very little prep work or time. These low prep meals are sure to please the busiest teacher or mom. Whether your family is big on meat, strictly vegetarian, or any other health style - you'll find recipes and ideas here that are sure to fit your needs AND your budget! Click through for details

In 11 years of teaching, "What am I going to eat for dinner?!?!?!?" has crossed my mind approximately 1,980 times (that's 180 x 11 if you are curious--and that number's only accurate if I only asked myself that question once a day!) and if you are the one in your household that is responsible for cooking (or you are a single teacher and responsible for taking care of yourself) I'm sure your numbers are up there too!

But I'm here to help! I made ONE change last year that made my "What's for dinner" stress a little more bearable, and even EASY some weeks. This strategy does not rely on having 100 ideas for crockpot meals or spending all day cooking so you can freeze up a month's supply of dinner, so please keep reading!

Before I jump right into my tips, you need to know two things:

  1. If you are vegan or vegetarian, this strategy can still work for you, but you can go straight to the recipes and just think #meatless. Some of these recipes are already vegetarian and I've added the meat in my adaptation. 
  2. I am NOT suggesting that you leave a crockpot on all day while you are at work. I did this ONE TIME this year and the stress and anxiety it caused was just not worth it. 
(Maybe I have unwarranted anxiety and fear about an unattended crockpot, but all I could think about all day was when I'd get the call that my house was burning down. Since I can't live with that anxiety, I'll teach you how to NOT depend on the crockpot for your fast meals on a day you have to go to work #likeeverydaythatendsiny #savethecrockfortheweekends.)

Okay, now that we've got that out of the way, are you salivating thinking about what's for dinner? Unless you are uber lucky, your personal chef is not going to show up tonight, so let's roll!

Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Read my full disclosure here.

Here's what you need to do:

Step 1

Buy 3-4 pounds of chicken breasts. I buy organic boneless chicken breasts from Costco. One package is typically three pounds.

(If you are a more advanced cook, you can use a whole chicken, but I don't like the taste of the dark meat as much and #aintnobusyteachergottime for picking chicken off the bone on a week night. Seriously, I've cooked a whole chicken 3 times {ever} and made homemade chicken broth from them twice. And, I get it! I love the "free" and tastier chicken broth, but remember, this tip is #allaboutsavingyoutimeandsanity).

Step 2

Grab your crockpot (if you don't have one yet, run now. This post is NOT all about the crockpot, but you need one for the life-changing aspect of my easy-meals strategy!)

Are you a busy teacher asking "What's for dinner?" Then you're going to love the easy to implement ideas at this blog post! Real, whole foods do not have to be a dream any more. Get supper on the table with very little prep work or time. These low prep meals are sure to please the busiest teacher or mom. Whether your family is big on meat, strictly vegetarian, or any other health style - you'll find recipes and ideas here that are sure to fit your needs AND your budget! Click through for details

Step 3

Cook the chicken using the "Best Whole Chicken in a Crockpot" recipe from Lisa Leake at 100 Days of Real Food. I bought her cookbook by the same name two years ago when I learned more about GMO's and whole-food, organic lifestyles. This cookbook is #lifechanging, and worth every penny, I promise!

But, the recipe is linked on her site for free. And yes, the recipe says for a "whole chicken" but it all works for chicken breasts too! In addition, I don't chop onions. Save yourself the time by buying dried onions and throwing in a tablespoon instead! #savemoretimeandnocrying

You will cook the chicken for 4-5 hours on high. I've found that closer to 5 hours makes the chicken so much easier to shred.

Now, here is where the magic happens!

Step 4

When the chicken has cooked for 4-5 hours, shred it in the crock pot and separate the 3 pounds of chicken into three bowls of around 2 cups each. I include broth and all in the bowls {nothing goes to waste kind of girl here}.

When it's time to use the chicken in the meal, I may or may not dump all of the broth in along with it, but it's tasty and there if I need it.

If you use a recipe that requires more chicken during your week, you can include another meal that week that allows you to use less chicken (like a soup where you are just throwing in some shredded chicken because your husband is a carnivore!)

Now, you have at least three nights worth of chicken ready to be matched with a recipe that will have your taste-buds and tummy feeling oh so happy and you feeling LESS stressed about meals! {Ummm, go you!}

Let's not forget about the goal of almost never driving home worrying about "what's for dinner" again! #andlessdrivethrus #letsbehealthier

Are you a busy teacher asking "What's for dinner?" Then you're going to love the easy to implement ideas at this blog post! Real, whole foods do not have to be a dream any more. Get supper on the table with very little prep work or time. These low prep meals are sure to please the busiest teacher or mom. Whether your family is big on meat, strictly vegetarian, or any other health style - you'll find recipes and ideas here that are sure to fit your needs AND your budget! Click through for details

Now, for what you REALLY Want...the FOOD!

Here are 12+ of My {FAMILY's} Favorite Recipes that work with Shredded Chicken

Broccoli Quinoa Casserole from Chungah @Damn Delicious: Organic broccoli is another thing I buy in bulk at Costco, and since they have very few organic frozen veggies, we end up eating broccoli as a side or in a cheesy chicken recipe quite often. You can use rice or quinoa in this recipe.

Broccoli and Penne Pasta from Nealey Dozier @the kitchn: When we made this recipe, my husband took over and did all the work! It was Ahhh-MAzing! I think it's the butter and cream cheese. The ingredients are so simple, it's perfect to throw together after work. We are in love with the Simply Delicious organic penne pasta from target, so I always keep a bag or two in stock.

White Chicken Chili from Brooke @Skinny Mom: This recipe is just an easy throw in the pot! I use lots of different beans, just whatever I have on hand. The hubs loved this recipe, but I noted that it did not make leftovers the first time I made it, so I double all the ingredients now.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole from Mitzi @writtenreality...mmm, look at those pictures...enough said, and notice how I'm substituting shredded chicken for something that traditionally uses chicken breasts. We can use chicken breasts on the weekend. There's just something about already cooked meat in the fridge waiting for a recipe. Maybe it's just a #mentaltimesaver, but at the end of a long day of teaching, our capacity for decision making is soooo dwindled.

Cheesy Enchilada Casserole from Jonna@Just Get off Your Butt and Bake. I found this recipe last summer and then proceeded to make it every other week for a long time! I made it with shredded chicken sometimes and beef other times. My husband and I would then eat the leftovers for lunch or a "leftover" dinner night. He got sick of it! {Oops! Don't tell me you like something!} But I never did!

I can still make this from time to time, but had-to-take-a-break! Because we {he} was getting tired of this meal. I started freezing half of it (wrapped in aluminum foil and put in a freezer bag) so that we wouldn't eat the leftovers for days on end. Good thing anyway because it's not the healthiest of meals with all the cheese and sour cream, but it is fairly easy to make and like I said, it's one of my most favorites!

Curry Chicken Casserole This is another recipe from Lisa Leake, seriously, grab her cookbook and search her website when you have time! We are fans of curry, but it can be hard {for me} to get it right. This Curry Chicken Casserole takes a little more time to make {for me}, but it is worth it.

I've prepared it all on a Sunday and popped it into the over when I got home from work Monday afternoon before. This is also a great meal to double-up on and freeze 1/2 of for a bad day. This recipe also includes broccoli. I told you that we eat A LOT of broccoli!

Lisa also has a recipe for Corn Chowder in her cookbook, but not online. It can have a little heat to it, which is nice from time to time. Here's a whole slew of recipes for corn chowder to fit your tastes.

Vegetable Soup from Jaclyn @Cooking Classy: Just think soup! In those chilly fall months {when we are not only cold, but WORN out from teaching and potentially getting congested and sick}, vegetable soup with shredded chicken thrown in is the perfect comfort food to warm you up!

Taco Shepherd's Pie from Sheena @Noshtastic: This recipe takes a little time with the mashing of potatoes, but everything else is EASY! If you want to speed up your after-work prep time, I suggest boiling and mashing the potatoes on Sunday and having them ready to top the Shepherd's pie when you make the meal. I guess you could use the boxed mashed potatoes, but my whole-food self cannot really suggest that for you....but if you already eat boxed mashed potatoes...well, go ahead and sub!

Tomato Bisque Soup another from Lisa Leake: We make this one heartier for a dinner meal by adding penne pasta and shredded chicken. If we have some, I cook french bread to go along with it. And, why not steam some broccoli as a green veggie side, too? (< 3 will you still love me if I keep saying "broccoli"?)

Chicken Quesadillas: No recipe here, just add a little butter to a frying pan, place a tortilla in it, throw on some shredded cheese and chicken. I like to have cheese on the top and bottom to hold the tortilla together #neattrick...#ipromiseihaventbeencookinglong. Then, top with another tortilla. Or you can use the fold method to make a 1/2 sized tortilla. I feel GUILTY making this meal for dinner with some beans and rice because it's WAY TOO EASY, but my husband was ecstatic the first time he came home to it, so I have the green light to consistently add it to our dinner rotation.

Buffalo Chicken Chili from Jennifer @slow cooker gourmet: Who doesn't love ALL THINGS BUFFALO CHICKEN? I throw this recipe in from time to time when I remember how much we love buffalo chicken. This recipe cooks it all in the slow cooker, but I've used all the ingredients to cook a pot on the stove and it still tastes delicious!

How else can you use your shredded chicken? 

You will find a million ways now that you know this dinner trick, but any chili recipe will work with shredded chicken. Any recipe that calls for beef {like my Cheesy Enchilada Casserole FAVORITE Mexican dish} should also be just as tasty with shredded chicken instead.

Any recipe that calls for sliced chunks of chicken (like the Broccoli and Penne Pasta recipe) or chicken breasts (like the Chicken Cordon Blue Casserole) works just as well with shredded chicken. And any recipe that is meatless but you think chicken would taste great in {and you want to "beef" up the protein-with chicken} works too, like our favorite 5 Ingredient Broccoli Cheese Soup Recipe from Sara at Budget Savvy Diva--I know, more broccoli, are YOU tired of it yet?? I'm not!

Are you a busy teacher asking "What's for dinner?" Then you're going to love the easy to implement ideas at this blog post! Real, whole foods do not have to be a dream any more. Get supper on the table with very little prep work or time. These low prep meals are sure to please the busiest teacher or mom. Whether your family is big on meat, strictly vegetarian, or any other health style - you'll find recipes and ideas here that are sure to fit your needs AND your budget! Click through for details

Now, one last tip about my shredded chicken dinner strategy. I alternate between weeks where we have shredded chicken meals and weeks that we do not. We are an omnivorous family, so we have one ground beef meal, 2-3 chicken meals, and one other meat a week.

I inhumanly do not need much variety in my life, especially when it comes to eating and being hungry, but I have found that keeping things mixed up helps us continue to enjoy meal time. I've even learned to switch up our brands from time to time with simple staples like yogurt and bread just to keep our taste-buds alive and not bored!

Are you a busy teacher asking "What's for dinner?" Then you're going to love the easy to implement ideas at this blog post! Real, whole foods do not have to be a dream any more. Get supper on the table with very little prep work or time. These low prep meals are sure to please the busiest teacher or mom. Whether your family is big on meat, strictly vegetarian, or any other health style - you'll find recipes and ideas here that are sure to fit your needs AND your budget! Click through for details
As I struggled to balance it all this past year, I had quite a few breakdowns over meal planning. 

A number of times, I told my poor husband that I was JUST SO TIRED of feeding him. He doesn't get home until 6:45, so it really is my role to put dinner on the table. I had a really bad week where I bought a rotisserie chicken from Harris Teeter one night and pizza and ice cream the next night {really, at my house}.

In these moments of exhaustion and desperation, when I finally calm down {and get over being so pissed that dinner is my responsibility}, I always come back to this: feeding my family healthy foods that nourish our bodies is REALLY and TRULY one of my top priorities. 

I want to save our eating-out adventures for the weekend when we can relax and enjoy it more. Most importantly, I want us all to live long, healthy lives. So, cooking--and I mean really cooking--is a priority. And because it's a priority, I have to have strategies for making it work for us!

Are you a busy teacher asking "What's for dinner?" Then you're going to love the easy to implement ideas at this blog post! Real, whole foods do not have to be a dream any more. Get supper on the table with very little prep work or time. These low prep meals are sure to please the busiest teacher or mom. Whether your family is big on meat, strictly vegetarian, or any other health style - you'll find recipes and ideas here that are sure to fit your needs AND your budget! Click through for detailsWhat should you do now?

  1. PIN this post so you don't lose it or forget about it. 
  2. PRINT ALL of those recipes that look good to you. 
  3. SEARCH your own pinterest boards for recipes that will work with shredded chicken and print those too (you can share those here too, I'd love some new ones!). 
  4. ORGANIZE your recipe binder. Mine was OOC (out.of.control) this summer! 
  5. PLAN your dinners for the week. 
  6. And last, if you want more ideas,  I'd love for you to FOLLOW my Food Pinterest Board. I'm always looking for quick, tasty, and mostly healthy meals to feed my family!

Have you found any superb dinner strategies that have helped you make it through the "What's for Dinner?" overwhelm? We'd all love to learn from you! Share in the comments!


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