Back to School IB PYP Sale

Back to school is almost upon us again! Whether you’re ready or not, get a head start on your new IB PYP classroom with the TpT Back to School Sale! Teachers Pay Teachers is having their annual Back to School Sale from August 1-2. All of my products will be 20% off and TPT is offering more when you use the promo code BTS2017.

If you’re looking for high-interest activities and units to start off the new year, I have just what you may need. I’ve been working on providing more IB PYP products and adding to my collection of Complete Units of Inquiry. Take a look in my store and see if anything fits your upcoming Programme of Inquiry.

For those of you who are new to the IB PYP, you may like my Getting Started with the PYP Kits, for big kids and also for little kids.  Or there is a MEGA  bundle of PYP tools and classroom activities found here.

Enjoy! Happy sale shopping!

Back to School Giveaway! Win!

Get back to school ready! Win a $10 gift card!

Giveaway starts Saturday, 29th July and ends at midnight (mst) on July 31st.

3 lucky winners will be notified by e mail WITH A $10 TpT GIFT CARD ATTACHED on August 1st

If you missed this giveaway follow my blog by adding your e mail address below for future giveaways.


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Good Luck!

Essential Tools for Every IB PYP Classroom


Cooperation- how to construct a 3d model of a volcano.

Back to school preparations are in high gear for some and are coming to a screeching halt for others as summer is upon us! I tend to fall into the latter category myself…despite good intentions every single year. You know, last minute cramming, moments before the kids walk into the classroom?  But that’s how I roll after 23 years of this gig! However, for the many, many teachers who will be new or newish to the PYP this year, I wanted to put out a list of the essentials for every PYP classroom, giving even those of you who, like myself, tend to procrastinate all summer long, plenty of time to prepare.


Every PYP classroom, regardless of where you are in the world, ( 4655 IB world schools at the last count in 2017!), will have some commonalities as I’ve listed below. Your PYP coordinator will be able to provide a printed checklist list for you from the OCC ( IB’s Online Curriculum Centre). Entry to this site will require your school code as a password. If you do not have convenient access, you can download this FREE PYP classroom checklist list by clicking here.  

I also found a really great, 4 minute video on You Tube a few years ago and still think it is one of the best for peeking into a PYP classroom set up.  I’ve no idea who created it but I applaud them and gladly give credit. Check it out here. 

The Essential Agreements

Although this is definitely something that will be required to be seen in your PYP classroom, it does require the children to be present and active participants in its creation and so isn’t possible to have it prepared in advance of day 1. But, it’s a fantastic way to help to establish procedures during those first few days when we are all just getting to know one another, as well as have the children be very much a part of forming our classroom community.

The Essential Agreements are essentially a list of agreements that are important to the balance within our classroom. They essentially consist of good attitudes, reinforce learner profile traits and are quite simply essential to a smoothly running, respectful environment. They are expected to stay up, for all to see, all year long. You can of course, add to and adapt them as the opportunities arise. But, essentially, you want to get those babies agreed upon and up within that first month.  Essential. ?

I like to have each child add their signature to our final list of Essential Agreements before we give it pride of place on the wall. Voila! Class contract completed.

The Classroom Posters

A set of PYP posters will be required to be in plain sight and easily accessed by the children so that they can constantly refer to them. You will find that this happens  on a daily basis. The posters will need to cover The Learner Profile, The IB Attitudes, the six themes for each unit of inquiry, the transdisciplinary skills, the Key Concepts and the IB Action Cycle. These are things that are looked for by IB evaluators and crucial to a working PYP classroom at all levels. Ideally, the children will be part of the posters creations, evidenced by their own writing and drawings. This is up to you and the needs of yourclass of course.  There are a myriad of great posters out there, not least the ones that can be found on the resource site of the IB’s own website but I, of course, am plugging my own creations too!  :0 )

You can link to any of the posters in my store by clicking on the images. Shop around, see what suits your taste and your classroom style. You will find easy prep, print and go posters as well as create-your-own posters 

Create Your Own Posters- a handy packet for all grade levels.

The Learner Profile: The Centre of the PYP

The Learner Profile posters are essential in that they describe the character traits of a learner and, since that’s what we are doing every day, it’s important that  the children are able to see the language of the Learner Profile and have the posters under our noses as we are constantly referring to those learner traits. Each unit of inquiry will focus on specific learner profile traits. Check your planners to find out which ones are the focus for each. I like to point a big, bold, red arrow at the traits ( and key concepts) that are our focus for each unit. Another blog post that I created recently, does look at my favourite books for reinforcing the Learner Profile. You can link to that post here.

Involve the children & create your own banners or posters.

The IB Attitudes.

There are 12 attitudes that we refer to constantly. Within each unit of inquiry, there will be a focus of a few of them. The attitudes are what we use to develop the Learner Profile traits. I also like to reward the children when they are spotted using these attitudes with my Star Student tickets. This attitude  is acknowledged with a star drawn on their work and a wee message for them. The children are taught from day one that they can earn their Star Student ticket by demonstrating the IB Attitudes in their day-to-day action at school. They know that when they see this star, they can independently walk over to the place where I keep the tickets and they will write themselves a Star Student ticket. It requires name, IB Attitude shown and the reason why they receive it. Example, ” I showed commitment when I handed my project in on time.” or ” I was cooperative with Bobby, as we read together to find the answers.” etc. The completed ticket will then be put into the tub ready to be drawn at the end of the day. Every afternoon, I will pull several tickets from our box, read aloud the recipient’s name and the attitude they demonstrated  and the winners get to pull a prize from our prize box. Simple, effective classroom management,promotes  growth mindset and the kids LOVE it! You can grab a free copy of the Star Student tickets here if you wish.

In addition, I do have a fancier-schmancier packet of positive behaviour prize tickets found in my store that are all related to the 12 IB Attitudes.  Click here to view them.

The Key Concepts

These posters are a biggie since we teach everything through the lens of the big ideas of the 8 key concepts. Your students should know the definition of each key concept inside out and back to front by the time the year is over. Everything I taught, each curricular area, is through the key concepts. You can find more ideas as to how to use the key concepts within your teaching in this post from a few years ago.

The Transdisciplinary Themes

There are 6 themes. Each theme is what our unit of inquiry will fall under. Thus, these posters are used every six weeks or so; the length of an average unit of inquiry. They can be displayed altogether and pointed out with an arrow during each unit or, you can add them to an accumulative bulletin board that you use for your units of inquiry. Incidentally, when you introduce each unit, its great to point out the key vocabulary within that unit of the profile, attitudes, concepts, skills and theme by using the posters.

  • How We Express Ourselves
  • How the World Works
  • Sharing the Planet
  • How We Organise Ourselves
  • Who We Are
  • Where We Are in Place and Time

The Transdisciplinary Skills

Every learner is constantly developing the transdisciplinary skills within their learning behaviours. The 5 skills consist of a list of actions and behaviours that are under the umbrella of one main skill. I point the skills out every day, with maths, reading, research, group work, independent work and so on. When the children are asked to reflect upon their day, or at the end of a unit, they often refer to the Skills posters.

  • Thinking Skills
  • Research Skills
  • Communication Skills
  • Social Skills
  • Self-Management Skills

The IB Action Cycle

Marching for equal right.

Action. Without it, it’s all just talk. Part of the IB philosophy is to encourage independent action. This will of course look quite different depending on the age of the child. However, within a PYP classroom, the cycle of action is taught, demonstrated, reinforced and encourage. Keeping it simple is key, in my opinion. There are so many smaller actions that can be achieved daily than one big action once a year.


Desks: More than Simply A Place to Sit

Collaborative group work requires space to meet, discuss and think together.

Whether you opt for flexible seating or fixed seating is entirely up to you, but the positioning of the desks is far more important. A PYP class is constantly working collaboratively, sharing ideas, thinking through problems and exploring artefacts and sources of evidence. It looks like a busy, productive factory with bodies moving and voices chatting.   Positioning your tables or desks into groups is the most effective way of accomplishing this. The children can sit beside and opposite one another, they can move around their group, they can all see, hear and access materials far more easily than if they were sitting in rows. Of course, there are times when a teacher has to single out a few seats and separate children in order to maintain management. I totally get it! It can actually work in your favour in order to get the kids back into group work. Bribery? I prefer to call it motivation. ?


The Teacher Table- Our Inquiry Table

Math inquiry: angles, area and fancy fish.

In addition to having my table groups for the kids, I have a kidney shaped table in my classroom that serves as the gathering place for my group work as well as a place for individual groups to work together. I love this table and it usually doubles as my desk since I spend so much time working with the children at that table. I like to have that positioned in a central spot where I can have my students meet me AND I can still see what’s going on all around me. : if you know what I mean! 😉

On the whole though, you really want to establish the collaborative environment from day one. I plan to write a post for developing collaboration and team work very soon. Stay tuned. 🙂


A Second Language- Making the Room International

Most of the IB schools I have worked in have been truly international schools, with a fantastic group of children coming from all corners of the globe in one classroom. However, depending on where you work, this can vary. And so your Language B will vary too. In order to encourage development of a second language, the PYP classroom will have the basics labelled with both the native language and the second language.- pencils, rulers, door, desk etc. I also like to add a few key sentences in the second language too, posted around the room where the kids can easily refer to them. Examples:

  1. “Please may I use the bathroom?”
  2. “Can I fill up my water bottle please?”
  3. “May I have a drink of water, please?”

These phrases slowly developed as we progress throughout the year, getting to the point that the kids are challenged to ask using the foreign language every time they want to ask. It can often be uncomfortable for some kids in the beginning, but with gentle coaching and firm perseverance, they really do get it mastered and feel immensely proud of their wee selves. You may even find that you are approached with suggestions to add to the repertoire of languages! My trickiest was Hebrew. Haha! Amazing what you will learn from your kiddos!

Research Tools

So much of learning is inquiry based, student led and teacher facilitated and therefore we are constantly researching. Having the tools handy for research is important within a PYP classroom.

Computers should be kept in  central location in your classroom. If you have laptops or tablets, keep them in  cart or on a table. Using duct tape to mark the layout of them is handy, especially to encourage responsible ownership. Desktop computers can be spaced around the room or placed together in a kind of computer area.

There should be a plentiful selection of non fiction books readily available in your classroom library or, if they are sourced with each separate unit, keep them on display and hands on for the children, throughout the unit of inquiry.

I have a selection of good old-fashioned encyclopedias, dictionaries and thesaurus also on hand.

Maps or a world globe are fantastic tools too.

Your PYP coordinator will usually give you a deadline as to when you should have accomplished this list. So don’t panic if youre just reading this the night before school goes back! As I said earlier, there are many great tools and resources available to make your life easier for the set up of your PYP classroom. Please do reach out and let me know if there is anything that I could add to my store for you, to help make this set up easier. I am always open to hearing from you.

Good luck with your new school year and enjoy!



Trans disciplinary Teaching – the salad of education.

IB teachers smoothly incorporate the unit of inquiry around all of the curricular areas. At least that’s the plan. More often than not, I’m running with my hair on fire, going with the moment and thinking on my feet! Ah well. It’s not unusual for my planner to look like a map of the London Underground!

Who We Are: Personal narratives & hero atributes

The IBO centers inquiry based learning around the traits of a learner; namely the Learner Profile. Those traits are further developed with repetitious use of the TRANS DISCIPLINARY SKILLS. I have a fun set of posters for big kids and little kids that lists and explains the skills. You can link to the big kids here and the little kids here.  I am constantly referring to the posters as we use the skills. This develops an awareness in the kids of what it is they are doing and gives purpose to their activities. 


It is THOSE skills that we transfer across the disciplines for authentic learning. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, life is not broken up into separate disciplines. So why do it in the classroom?

Problem-solving for Planning Math?  

Where We Are in Place & Time: Exploring angles & pyramid like the ancients

When I’m planning my units, I usually begin with the summative assessment in mind and go backwards from there. I learned to plan across the curriculum a million years ago as a student teacher in Scotland and I still do it today. ( yup, I’ve been around quite a few playgrounds.) My planner looks like a dartboard with the summative as the bulls eye and my concepts running through it. 

How We Organise Ourselves- Structure of a story

 Math can be a finicky problem for me. And, for the sake of my sanity and the kids learning, I’ve had to just go with the fact that sometimes it’s just not going to flow nicely.  Trying to tie in some of those fundamental skills such as order of operations into ocean life can be tricky. I admit to being creative but even that one pushes my creativity to the limits. Thus my skills of thinking and research are practiced! 😉

Not to be completely beaten however, I will throw in the fabulous catch all- DATA ANALYSIS, A.K.A. Graphing! haha!
Seriously though, if you step back and look at real life within the unit, I find that this helps me to find the math. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Science-measure, data, probability, area, elapsed time, shape problem solving, volume, time, speed, distance, decimals, fractions, construction ( angles, lines, rays etc)
  • Social studies– data analysis, surveys, measure, time, angles, lines, rays, mapping, money, decimals, fractions
  • Literacy– frequency, mean, median, mode, data analysis, surveys, time, rhythm,  problem-solving with all operations, volume, area, perimeter, fractions

Life is A Salad.

  But in all seriousness, teaching authentically has to be done inclusive of ALL of the disciplines.  Life and learning is all smooshed together with reading, writing, counting, synthesizing, researching. ….and so on. It comes together like one great big salad and so, teaching the children to learn this way can only be valuable. Not to mention in preparation for the trendy phrases, ” College and career readiness.” !!

Who We Are: Researching Revolutionaries: This was sensitively researched with an open mind as the children learned how revolutions can be both destructive as well as progressive. Remember the 6 million!

My complete units of inquiry, found here  in my store, are my attempt to make it easier for others to pull together the disciplines and to teach in a trans-disciplinary fashion. Each IB theme is now available and despite being planned for 3rd-5th, there are many that can be adapted for 2nd and even older than 5th. They cover reading, writing, math, science, social studies and the arts in some form or another. I am ALWAYS open to hearing your own expertise and to incorporating it into these planners so that they can improve. I love hearing from my fellow PYP teachers around the world ( Italy and Singapore, to name a few, thanks ladies), with suggestions that can be used to update the activities and improve the learning for our kiddos worldwide.
I’ll keep creating at this end, if you can keep giving me the feedback at your end.
Meanwhile, keep calm and keep on teaching transdisciplinary!


~ Susan 

Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible

It is no great news that children are created in a myriad of different ways and the way they synthesise things is as varied. We have the listeners, the visual learners, the kinesthetic and the cognitive to throw out  a few of the technical terms. Our challenge is not only to cater to all of those varying forms of learning but also to be aware of who our different learners are within our classroom.
 By making thinking visible, it helps us, as their educators, to see exactly what is going on ( or not going on in some cases) as each child is learning and to facilitate their learning further. Also, for a child to be able to show their thinking and explain how they came up with a solution, is a big confidence booster! :

The book that I’m about to plug is aptly entitled, “Making Thinking Visible”. It was given to me by one of my head teachers about 6 years ago. Since then, we have actually done a staff PD using the book to help us. The strategies are priceless, in my opinion, and utterly tied in with inquiry based thinking and learning. Many of them you will recognize as they have been around for a while and some may be new. All, in my opinion, are valuable and touch on all forms of learning. You can find the book  on Amazon by clicking the link below.

Perspective: Tug O’ War                                    

The Tug O’ War is an amazing provocation and converstation starter and will certainly get the children thinking about the key concept of perspective. Using pictures or text and a question to ponder, the children will write their opinion to the question on a sticky note and post it on a continuum of yes at one end and no at the other end. This can be done anonymously or not. I have used the technique along the lines of a gallery walk, with my 5th graders, where they look at the other answers and note their thinking. We then come together as a whole class to discuss the different perspectives. It is perfectly okay for the children to change their thinking with an explanation and to move their sticky note.

There doesn’t have to be a final outcome. I have found however, when used at the beginning of a unit of inquiry, that often some kids will change their minds as we progress with our learning and inquiries. 

Connection: Interactive Organisers

Making connections is a thinking skill that goes on all the time within all subject areas. By using large graphic organisers, the children are able to work together cooperatively, sharing and building upon their thinking. They have to use a ton of discussion as they work to place their thoughts. The concept maps that I often use within our inquiries are a great way to SEE how the children are making connections between the key concepts and their vocabulary or math skills or whatever you may be working on. You can check out concept maps here from a previous post.

Reflection: The picture below shows a formative assessment that I did towards the end of our unit of inquiry. But of course this can be done with any curricular area. I’m planning on trying it with our math unit of fractions too.

The children became REFLECTIVE, using the Learner Profile trait and they began by discussing within their table groups the things that they feel they learned from the unit. Each group then took the time to write their learning on the chart paper. Showing their learning and making their thinking visible allowed the children to share what they know, which is always a plus. It was also a great evaluation of my own where i could see who knew what, and perhaps which lines of inquiry I needed to develop further.  Finally, when we came to our final reflection of our unit, the information on this chart was priceless for the children to look upon and recall all of the learning. ( You can find a myriad of reflection sheets in my store. You have the option of print and go or editable packets.) 

There is an earlier post all about REFLECTION if you’re interested. You can link to it here. 
Meanwhile, I am continuing to try to make the kids thinking visible all in the pursuit of constant and never ending improvement- for them and mostly for me. 

Pause for Thought with my Erin Condren Planner

The Planner to Top All Planners.

My Erin Condren planner is my NEW best friend! I had heard a lot about the cute, colourful planners with the fancy stickers and casually shrugged it off as another planner that would end up in the graveyard with all of my other fancy-this-is-the-planner-to-end-all-planners. I am the first to raise my hand and admit that I am perhaps a slow learner and always seem to be on the down slide of upward trends. But this Christmas brought me my Erin Condren planner, a few years behind the curve, but better late than never.
As I opened the box, the beautiful shiny cover had MY NAME in silver letters, just shining out and beckoning tantalisingly for me to come on in. It wasn’t easy to refuse. And refuse I did not. It was really like Christmas in a box. There were the stickers, the bling page markers and the pens. Oh, every teachers delight; those multi-coloured felt pens!
I have been a convert for three months now. And my Erin Condren vertical planner is my right-hand woman.

Stopping to Smell the Roses.

I use the vertical planner for both organising my three personalities: teacher, mother and then Susan. Of course, colour coding is expected. I can use the first two sections for work and school related activities and the top part is where I manage to squeeze in time for myself: gym, haircuts, hikes and so on. The vertical lists at the side of both pages allows me to set goals for my week and to add to my never ending to-do lists.
I especially love that it has a special place for stopping to smell the roses; for noting down what it is I am most thankful for each week. My friend and colleague and I take time once a month to stop and smell the roses over a glass of wine. We look over our plans and goals for the coming month. Sharing our professional plans with our friendship helps us to stay connected both within school and outwith. With the craziness that comes with living life in the fast lane of the USA, Erin Condren’s planner has actually created a few moments for reflection, pause for thought and the all important awareness of gratitude. For that alone, Ms. Condren, I am grateful.

Anyone with additional direction or useful knick-knacks to add to these planners, please let me know. I’m all ears and open to learning.




They are always a surprise in our school district. Despite the amount of snow we get in these here parts,  it is very rarely that we have a snow day called the night before. But this week, it was a surprise and very welcome SNOW DAY.

So, what did we do?

After a leisurely start to our Tuesday off, snow-shoes were donned and off I stepped out my door and into the great, white, blissfully beautiful Rocky Mountains. Living in the mountains is truly my idea of serenity. Yes, I have to drive an hour to and from work but I would not give up my home in the mountains for anything.

Soup, Chipotle Chicken and Similes

After my hike through the snow, I came back and, now in the mood for something warm and comforting, I made good old chicken soup. Chipotle chicken was rustled up too, more as forward planning for easy meals for the rest of the week.
As everything was bubbling away, making the house smell wonderful, I pulled out my computer and went to work! Yes, I know, I know……
I am creating a new packet of lesson plans for creative writing. But for right now, I want to share my new FREEBIE with you. The Best Game of Matching Similes.


With poetry month well and truly under way, I created this set of matching cards to use with my lower level writers. The plan is that this would help to reinforce both figurative language and reading comprehension with inferring skills. Two birds with one stone, so to speak. So far, so good. I copied it onto card, laminated the card and cut it out. We are working on descriptive writing and using figurative language is a brilliant way to integrate clever writing. 
You can download this differentiated FREE resource at either of my stores, Tpt or Teacher’s Notebook.


~ Susan