Monday, March 28, 2016

My Top Five Favorite Purchases from TpT

Long before I ever sold a product on Teachers Pay Teachers, I was a consumer... and an avid one at that! But, there was a time before I was a consumer, when I was... ooh, this is painful to admit now... kind of a bit of a... how do I say this delicately?  ... a hater (insert bashful, embarrassed emoji here!).

I can remember being in my first few years of teaching and stumbling upon TpT in my late night Googling sprees that helped with my hours and hours of lesson planning. This was in the early days of TpT, before Deanna and New York Times articles and teacher millionaires. It was also before pretty covers and beautiful works of clip ART and fun fonts. Yes, TpT wasn't much to look at then... cumbersome Word documents created with Microsoft stock clip art and (gasp!) Comic Sans. No, TpT didn't really WOW! me at that time and when I'd click a link that led me there, I'd quickly hit that back arrow and resume my search.

But then, after I'd been teaching several years, things started to change. Standardized testing became the norm, Common Core took over, and suddenly, Pearson and Prentice Hall, who, when I began my career, were all but a stack of old, dusty textbooks hidden in a storage closet somewhere, were suddenly back in vogue! Promising to hold the key to Common Core and the foreboding PARCC and Smarter Balanced that were on their way, new editions of the big publisher products boomed back into classrooms everywhere. The "art" of teaching was replaced with their "science."

It didn't take me long to realize that this kind of teaching wasn't exactly for me. While lesson planning was suddenly a breeze - these programs offered more worksheets than even the most efficient teacher could use in a day - it wasn't really fun. It felt stuffy and dull. It didn't spur my creative juices. The kids were bored. I was bored.

Now, I'm not here to knock Common Core, or standardized testing, or data-based instruction, or big publishing. They are a piece to the puzzle and I accept that. But, while they've done much to promote the "science" behind learning, they've done little to foster the "art" that is necessary to make science-based instruction stick with our kids. For me, science-based instruction helps kids learn to decode words, but it's the teacher-artist who makes a child a life-long reader. Science-based instruction helps students develop number sense, but it's the teacher-artist who leads a child to become a passionate problem-solver.

And this is how I found my back to TpT! By this time, I was married and had two small children, so long gone were my 12-hour lesson planning sessions on Sundays. I can remember one afternoon wanting something more than a worksheet and a packaged PowerPoint to help my kids learn how to multiply and divide fractions (which, by the way, no longer just meant multiplying across and the tried-an-true "keep, change, flip," but now insisted on illustrations and detailed explanations, that even I, the teacher who took calculus and statistics in college because it was an easy "A," had to pretty much learn how to do!). A quick Google search led me to TpT, which looked entirely different than it had in my early years of teaching. I bought a $3 product - now with beautiful works of clip art and fonts that I never even knew existed! - that turned my 6th graders into bakers delving out desserts. What seemed so foreign and difficult to illustrate on graph paper, suddenly became fun and easy with pans of brownies. This $3 made the problems from our textbook come alive and, after two days of playing with chocolate, gave my students a deep and lasting understanding of a pretty complicated process.

From that moment on, I was hooked on TpT. Taking the scope, sequence, and science from our textbooks, and marrying them with the creativity and, most importantly, the experience of TpT sellers, made for some of the most effective and dynamic lessons that I'd ever taught. Lesson planning was fun again and my students loved coming to class. My teaching and their learning was taken to the next level.

So... that was a very looooong introduction to the meat of this post, which is, my top five all-time favorite purchases from Teachers Pay Teachers. These are the products that appear again and again in my classroom, the ones for which I'd gladly pay 3-4 times the amount I did.

In no particular order:

1. These Transition Tickets from ELA Seminar Gal. I've used these so many times, I've lost count. Quick writes, "do nows," writing centers, open-ended questions, formative and summative assessments... these little gems work for just about anything!

Transition Tickets

2. The Greek and Latin Roots products from Got To Teach. Love, love, love how thorough and easy to use these products are! My students get a new word list each week. I give them a few of the pages for homework/classwork and the quiz on Friday. It's a piece-of-cake way to get some writing grades :)

3. Any of the clip art from Ron Leishman Digital Toonage. His artwork is awesome for older kids - meaning it's not too "cutesy!" I use his images on so many things... worksheets, posters, labels, and bulletin boards:

4. Fonts from Kimberly Geswein. Never underestimate the power of a good font!! A difficult task in Times New Roman is a burden, but change the font and all of a sudden what was so intimidating before, seems a little less frightening, especially to students who are already resistant to learning.

                                                            Kimberly Geswein Fonts

5. Literary Yoga by B's Book Love. Fun, creative, kinesthetic... my middle schoolers absolutely LOVE these moves! I wasn't sure how they'd respond at first... I thought they'd laugh at me for even trying something so out-of-the-box. I could not have been more wrong! They play along every.single.time.

Alright! There you have it! My top five favorite TpT purchases of all time. Please know, I have so many other products that I've purchased and LOVED, but these are the ones that I use pretty much on the daily.

So, what about you? Any TpT favorites that you'd like to share? I'd love to hear from you!!

Happy Teaching!!



  1. I just recently bought some of Ron Leishman's clip art...I love it! And I love Kimberly Geswein's fonts! Which makes me were you able to use her fonts on your blog? I have a blog (The Way of Victorious Beauty) and would love to use some of her fonts. I'm so computer illiterate!

    1. Hi Kelly! I can't use her fonts on the blog... the fonts you see are standard from Blogger. I'm sure there is some way to upload them to Blogger, but that's beyond my tech skills!! Thanks!

  2. Question! Do you have a place we could purchase all the little labels you have for your book genres? I love the black background/description/clipart on them. Thanks!!!

  3. Question! Do you have a place we could purchase all the little labels you have for your book genres? I love the black background/description/clipart on them. Thanks!!!

    1. Hi Kylie,

      As of now, I don't have those available to purchase... but that might be a nice little project to work on over the summer, so stay tuned!!

  4. Hi Jenna! Just have a quick question for you while I'm here. I'm currently sketching out my 1st Quarter Lesson Plans (I know...workaholic), and am almost exclusively using your products (you ROCK!). A thought occurred to me about homework. Since it's the 1st Quarter (first nine weeks of school), and they're just beginning to learn about Elements of Literature, what homework do you normally give your kiddos during this time? I was thinking maybe Greek/Latin Roots, but we do cover that during the 3rd nine weeks of school (I have no idea why). Kelly Gallagher convinced me to stop assigning reading for homework (Readicide was such an awesome, and eye-opening read), so I don't want to do that for homework. Article of the Week is something that I started at the beginning of our second semester last year, and for this year, I was going to start it during our 2nd quarter, when we start with informational text. I never thought it would be this difficult figuring out what I'm going to do for homework this year. Or...maybe I'm complicating things. What do you think?

    1. Hi Kelly! So the only homework that I give is the Article of the Week... sometimes some Greek and Latin Roots, but if so, very, very little!

      I am not a fan of homework. I teach in a district where too many kids are left to handle homework on their own at night. This gives a distinct advantage to kids who do get help from their families. So, for me, it's not worth it. The Article of the Week is really as far as I go and I provide class time and a day after school where kids who need help can get it from me.

      And from a personal note... getting rid of homework was the most liberating thing I've ever done! No more checking/grading/managing. It didn't make one bit of difference to what kids learned... it just liberated all of us form the homework-burden!

      Thanks, Jenna

  5. As always, thank you for your thoughts on this. In respect to homework, it seems like our districts are rather similar. I teach in Las Vegas, and the student population is quite transient. Pair that with some kids whose parents either work swing or late shift, and it doesn't make for an ideal support system when it comes to homework. Recently, our legislature passed a bill which limited homework to what is actually being taught in class that day/week. My department did vocabulary for homework for the past two years. I could not have that on my conscience (yuck!) so I stopped giving it. Vocabulary, I think, needs to be taught in context, otherwise, it's meaningless to the students. When you assign Article of the Week, is it a weekly thing for you? And how far into the year do you start it?