Tips for Teaching Math in the Upper Elementary Classroom

Tips for Teaching Math in the Upper Elementary Classroom

Teaching math in the upper elementary classroom does not have to be scary! 

No matter which program or approach you use, being consistent and having high expectations go a long way to creating students who are mathematicians who practice critical thinking each day. 

Whether you are just starting the school year, or knee-deep in teaching students important problem-solving strategies, the tips in this post will help you grow your students as mathematicians. These tried and true tips for math instruction have helped me over the last 18 years turn timid students afraid to tackle multiple-step word problems into confident mathematicians. 

Tips for Teaching Math in the Upper Elementary Classroom

Math Activities to Get to Know Your Students

This quick-read blog post has ideas, tips, and activities to get to know your students as mathematicians and promote critical thinking in your classroom.

math bulletin boards for the classroom

4 Math Bulletin Boards to Leave Up All Year Long to Support Students

Let math concepts and strategies shine in your classroom with these math-focused bulletin boards that are easy to hang, informative for students, and perfect to leave up all year long!

teaching growth mindset in the elementary classroom

Growth Mindset Strategies for Your Upper Elementary Classroom

Help your students persevere, persist, and develop a life-changing growth mindset that will not only help them during math but in so many aspects of their lives.

teaching math discourse in the upper elementary classroom

4 Simple Ways to Engage Students in Meaningful Math Discourse

Help your students get over the fear of being wrong during math and encourage meaningful conversations in your classroom.

problem solving tips 3rd 4th 5th grade

5 Ways to Instill a Love of Problem Solving

Encourage a positive attitude and math a time of the day that both you and your students look forward to with these easy tips!

open ended math strategies in the classroom

How to Incorporate Open-Ended Math Questions

Weave in open-ended problems in your classroom to help show students that there is more than one way to attack a problem that will engage students of all levels.

tips for teaching multiple step word problems

5 Quick Tips for Teaching Multiple Step Word Problems 

Engage and and motivate your students with these techniques that target multiple-step word problems.

error analysis tips for 3rd 4th 5tgh grade

4 Reasons Why You Need to Use Error Analysis 

Error analysis is a game changer in the classroom. It truly brings critical thinking and math discourse into the classroom. Read this post to understand how you can help your students grow as deep thinkers as they defend their math thinking in your classroom.

error analysis activities for 3rd 4th 5th graders

A Closer Look at Error Analysis Math

Read about my story of bringing error analysis into my fifth-grade classroom in this quick-read blog post.

Make this the school year, month, or day that you enjoy teaching math with these tips and ideas. Not sure where to start? Feeling overwhelmed? Just pick one post and try one idea to help you get started. Remember, teaching math in the upper elementary classroom does not have to be scary!

Looking for critical thinking math activities? Click HERE.

critical thinking math performance tasks  upper elementary

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Tips for Teaching Math in the Upper Elementary Classroom

*affiliate links: “Think Grow Giggle is 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 Amazon.” (source: Section 5)


Teaching Grammar with Picture Books for Upper Elementary

Teaching Grammar with Picture Books for Upper Elementary

Ahh, grammar. The never-ending list of rules we need to make interesting enough to be engaging, AND find the time to make sure we get it into our daily schedule!

Luckily, there is a multitude of amazing picture books to reinforce these grammar rules, engage students, and help us make sure we are addressing important grammar skills each week. There really is no better way to introduce, teach, and review important grammar skills than with an engaging picture book.

While you can read just about any picture book and pull out mentor sentences and examples of grammar rules in action, the following picture books are must-reads for any upper elementary classroom when focusing on specific grammar rules.


1. The King Who Rained: written by Fred Gwynn

picture book for homophones

Although it’s a little older (I read this back in elementary school as a student) it is one of my favorites. The illustrations are perfect for creating a visual understanding of homophones and homonyms.  Challenge the kids to come up with their own hilarious “daddy says” homophone, and put them together in a class book to enjoy. The illustrations truly make the book memorable, solidifying this tricky concept for students.


2. Cows Can’t Jump: written by Dave Reisman

picture book for teaching verbs

In this simple book, readers are introduced to a wide array of very diverse and richly dynamic verbs. Verbs like “saunter” and “slink” can spark great conversations about how vivid verbs can transform students' writing pieces.  The class will enjoy defining (even acting out) these interesting verbs. A read-aloud of this book can be expanded into a research project to determine if these facts are true or not true about each animal.


3. Chicken In the City: written by Maria Fleming

picture book for teaching nouns

There is no shortage of cuteness in this book, and that is only one of the reasons I love it! The idea of a chicken throwing her corn kernels in a suitcase, grabbing her pearl necklace, and heading to the big city just makes me giggle a little every time. This book is great for so many reasons, but it is the perfect noun resource. Some of the pages are explicitly labeled with nouns. Another reason it shines and has to be on the top grammar picture book list is that there is a change of setting. You see the array of farm nouns, and then she heads to the city and there are nouns there too. This opens the door for a great compare and contrast opportunity. Make it extra fun by turning the circles of your Venn diagram into oval eggs! Or keep it simple and have your students create a list of nouns that they see in their classroom or at home!


picture book for teaching collective nouns

Once that basic noun knowledge has been activated, there are some books that are perfect for diving into the different categories of nouns. When you want to talk about collective nouns, this is a go-to book. It’s engaging in that it introduces students to animal groups they may not be familiar with, and who doesn't love hearing new animal facts? Extend this book read by having students name their family as a collective noun. A _____ of Smith’s, Wilson’s, Brown’s, etc. Go one step further and have them explain and defend the collective noun they choose to use.

Try these free and engaging noun activities to help you get in grammar this year!

5. Pig, Pigger, Piggest: written by Rick Walton

picture book for teaching superlative adjectives

Adjectives are one of the most colorful grammar units to teach, and when you specify with superlatives, it can be even more fun! The illustrations alone are worth this read- the three pig brothers make me laugh every time I look through it. As you read this book, guide students to describe the pigs in great detail, emphasizing that superlative detail in the Piggest Pig of all. Extending this with a simple art project is so much fun! Have students draw three circles with three objects. In each circle, have your students draw a picture of objects to match a given superlative set of adjectives: small, smaller, smallest or try yummy, yummier, yummiest. Students love this activity and get more creative with each illustration. 


6. Dear Deerwritten by Gene Barretta

homophone read aloud for grammar lesson
This book is another one that focuses on homohones in a fun and simple way. Each page has one sentence, but that is all it takes to help students understand the different meanings of words that sound the same. Brainstorm lists of more homophones have students create their own page to add to this book. 

7. Hairy, Scary, Ordinary: What is an Adjective: written by Brian P. Cleary

adjective picture book read aloud

This book is a fun read and truly breaks down the concept that adjectives can describe how many, what kind, and how big something can be. Since adjectives describe nouns, review the concept of nouns as you read aloud this book. Create an anchor chart sized T-chart. On one side label it adjective and on the other side label it noun. As you come across an adjective, ask the students what noun it describes. Keep track of all of them in the book. This will lay the important ground work for your unit on adverbs and how they describe verbs.

8. Eats, Shoots, and Leaveswritten by Lynne Truss

picture book for teaching commas

Comma usage is always so tricky for students! This read-aloud will help your students understand the why commas are so important to use as writers. The author writes two different sentences, one with a comma and one without. The illustrations truly help the students see how different the meaning of the sentence becomes when you forget to use that comma! This book will help to make teaching students how to use commas correctly an important part of your punctuation and grammar lessons!

9. Semicolons, Cupcakes, and Cucumbers: written by Steve Newberry

picture book for teaching punctuation

This fun read-aloud follows different punctuation marks as they have a conversation showing off how they work! I love that commas and semicolons are included in this book. As you read this book, be sure to change your voice and expression to match each punctuation mark, to truly help students see how punctuation is not only important to them as writers, but also as readers. Invite students up to help you "act out" this read-aloud, taking on the role of the different punction marks. Grab a free activity to use with this book right HERE

Add these books to your grammar units for instant engagement and memorable lessons for your students! You will find that by using grammar skill-specific and focused picture books students will understand the skills better and independently apply the strategies they learned to their own writing.

Looking for more meaningful grammar activities for your students? Try these!

grammar activities for upper elementary

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Teaching Grammar with Picture Books for Upper Elementary

*affiliate links: “Think Grow Giggle is 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 Amazon.” (source: Section 5)



3 Tips for Making the Most of Morning Meeting Time Upper Elementary

3 Tips for Making the Most of Morning Meeting Time Upper Elementary

Holding a daily morning meeting in your upper elementary classroom is an important part of building classroom community.

It is a specific time set aside each day to meet with your students, greet them by name, complete a community activity, and share important happenings at school and in the lives of your students.

Planning for morning meetings can sometimes feel overwhelming, I know! But there are so many benefits to holding a daily morning meeting. Having a consistent morning meeting helps:

  • our day start off calm and focused
  • our classroom environment became positive and kind
  • students feel valued and that their voice is important and heard
  • students feel appreciated and looking forward to collaboration and discussion time with their peers
  • our classroom community become stronger than ever

Since there are so many benefits, you will want to start holding a morning meeting today! 

I laid out all the ins and outs and how I run my morning meeting HERE.

This post includes three quick tips to help you get started with morning meetings in your upper elementary classroom.

1. Keep it Simple 

morning meeting weekly quote activity bulletin board

When it comes to holding morning meetings each day, create a schedule and a routine that is manageable for you and your schedule. You can have a quick morning meeting each day that simply includes a greeting and activity that unites all of your students together. Once you get into a routine, you can add more to your meeting time.  The key is to just start! Start simple and build on! 

Teacher tip: If you are worried you will go on too long during the morning meeting set a classroom timer for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, wrap up and get right on to the next task.

2. Include a Picture Book Read-Aloud

morning meeting read aloud activities

Have you taken a closer look at how I run morning meetings each day of the week? Look HERE

You will see that I complete activities with my students around motivational quotes that follow a theme. One of the activities I do each week focused on the theme of the week is to read a picture book that also follows that theme.  This is a great way to incorporate reading and standards into your morning meeting.

The best part about reading aloud one day a week during morning meetings is that the picture book that you read can be repurposed during other lessons throughout the week or month. Using one picture book in many ways always helps me make the most of classroom time and show students how important it is to read books over and over with a different lens each time. 

Teacher tip: Keep an anchor chart list of the books that you read for each theme of the week. When it comes time to teach students about themes in literature, you will already have a great list and starting point, making teaching this tricky concept so much easier!

I have compiled a free list of the picture book read-alouds that I use during morning meeting time by theme right here.

3. Focus on Social-Emotional Topics and Themes

morning meeting themes and weekly quotes with daily questions

Make the most of the time you have gathered with students by helping them through their own feelings and emotions by tieing in social-emotional learning topics, activities, and quotes.

During the sharing portion of your morning meeting do a quick check in with students by asking them how they are! You do not need fancy manipulatives, posters, or tools. Just ask! You can engage students and encourage more participation by using movement. For example: thumbs up if you had a great morning today, put your hands on your head if you are ready for a great day, give yourself a hug if you need a little extra TLC today. These simple prompts and movements will help you to see which students may need a little more support to make it through the day. You can follow up with each student individually if you see that some may be down. 

To go even further into important topics, we focus on themes that allow open discussions, sharing, and class activities that are important to the students and their well-being.

Here are the 6 themes we focus on throughout the year:

  • Community Building
  • Friendship
  • Kindness
  • Learning Strategies/Education
  • Work Ethic
  • Motivation and Inspiration

Teacher tip: Come up with focus themes by brainstorming topics that you want to bring up with students but do not have the time to during the day. Make those the focus theme for your morning meetings.

Remember that there are so many benefits of holding a daily morning meeting, so don't let planning or anything else stay in your way. When you incorporate these quick tips you will be making the most of the time you spend with students each day during meeting time, which will make morning meetings a vital part of your day.

Grab the FREE morning meeting starter kit below!

Grab everything you need to get started with focused morning meeting activities HERE.

morning meeting components and activities to be successful

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3 Tips for Making the Most of Morning Meeting Time Upper Elementary

*affiliate links: “Think Grow Giggle is 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 Amazon.” (source: Section 5)


Getting Started with Morning Meetings in Upper Elementary Classrooms

 Getting Started with Morning Meetings in Upper Elementary Classrooms

I love holding morning meetings!

Yes, even with my upper elementary students!

Holding morning meetings is NOT just for the primary classrooms.

There is so much goodness that comes out of morning meeting time that I believe one can be held in any grade level to help build a strong and positive classroom environment.

I did not always feel that way.

I used to think that morning meetings were just another thing to try to fit in that seemed to take up a lot of my classroom time and go on and on and on...especially if we got off topic.

I knew that if I wanted to bring value and build a positive classroom community, I needed to make the most of the morning meeting time that I had with my students and make sure that it was not just a "catch-all" type of meeting where we went over classroom housekeeping type of information.  

So I got focused and purposeful!

I came up with a daily schedule of activities that was focused on meaningful quotes to address important social-emotional learning areas and topics that would help me create a positive classroom environment while building our classroom community each morning.

When I had a structure in place, I no longer dreaded morning meetings. Instead, I watched these benefits unfold in my classroom community:

  • our day started off calm and focused
  • our classroom environment became positive and kind
  • students felt valued and that their voice was important and heard
  • students appreciated and looked forward to collaboration and discussion time with their peers
  • our classroom community became stronger than ever

Sounds awesome, right?

I often get asked questions about how I run my morning meeting and the amount of planning that it takes to get one started. I have compiled the most frequently asked questions that I receive about morning meetings and have answered them here! Read on to find out more about what morning meeting time looks like in my upper elementary classroom.

morningmeeting daily activity

Getting Started with Morning Meeting

👉 What are the components of a morning meeting?

Based on the Responsive Classroom, morning meetings are a time for the teacher and students to gather in a meeting area, usually first thing in the morning, to spend time together touching on these four components each day:

  • Greeting: welcome and greet each other by name
  • Sharing: a conversation that develops around important information and events that are shared
  • A focused activity: a quick activity that builds community and includes everyone
  • Morning Message: a teacher note about the day

👉 Why should you hold a morning meeting?

There are many benefits to holding a morning meeting. It is a great way to build community, ease into the day, welcome students, and create a safe and nurturing environment where all students feel comfortable taking risks and feel included in the community.

With the right kind of focus, it is also a great way to help your students manage their feelings and emotions and bring social-emotional learning into the classroom in natural ways.

👉 What is your morning meeting routine?

Our morning routine begins right after the school morning announcements. As soon as those end, students walk to the reading corner where we hold our meeting each day. Students settle into a circle where they sit next to someone new each week.

We start with a simple, respectful greeting that includes students turning, shaking hands, and making eye contact with their classmates as they say, "Good morning _____." Then that student turns to their left and repeats that to the classmate sitting next to them.

As the year goes on, we use other phrases such as, "Hi, how are you_____" It is nice to see you ____, good morning" and any variation of phrases such as those, as long as the student name is included and they make eye contact.

Following the greeting, we say a class pledge, and I share important news or events that the children must know about related to our day and our school. One student then shares something and the rest of the class is responsible for listening, responding, and asking questions. We also alternate student shares with book shares once a week that students sign up to do in advance. Doing this is a great way to bring content areas into the morning meeting time.

Our activity focuses on discussions and tasks related to motivational quotes. I have found that by using quotes we have a focus, it is easy to include social-emotional learning into our daily routine, and students are given the opportunity to reflect on how words of wisdom can be applied to their own lives. We focus on quotes on the same topic for a few weeks before moving on to a new theme or topic. 

Here are the 6 themes we focus on throughout the year:

  • Community Building
  • Friendship
  • Kindness
  • Learning Strategies/Education
  • Work Ethic
  • Motivation and Inspiration

morning meeting weekly quotes

Here are the activities that I do:

morning meeting daily activity

Grab a FREE morning meeting starter kit to try out some of these activities in your upper elementary classroom!

👉 How do you start a morning meeting?

Morning meetings begin with a greeting where each student has a chance to greet another student by name and they get greeted by name. I keep my greetings simple. I have found that the simple greetings we do in class truly carry over to interacting with others outside of the classroom. I see my students greet other students at the school, teachers, and parents with the same warm welcome we do during morning meetings, which always makes my teacher heart happy!

However, there is no right or wrong way to have a greeting each day as long as student names are used. I have seen many teachers get creative with high fives, fist pumps, and elbow taps. Whatever works with your classroom environment, use!

👉 How long does it take for students to understand the routine?

It does not take long for students to learn the routine as long as you are consistent! We start school at the end of August and by the beginning of October, our morning meetings are quick and effective! At the start of the year I set aside about 20 minutes for morning meetings, but once October comes, we usually get it done within 15 minutes. However, the day we read a picture book is the one day a week where the meeting tends to run longer. This is perfectly fine because the book shared is always repurposed later in the day or week for reading and writing lessons.

👉 What is your best tip for running smooth morning meetings?

Keep it manageable! Plan and organize what you think you can accomplish. Don't go overboard or you will find that you will be cutting morning meetings out of your day.

morning meeting set up bulletin board and read aloud

The more structured your morning meeting time is, the less time it takes and the bigger impact it will have on your students and your classroom community. If you want to rev up your morning meeting time this school year, this structure will definitely help you save time planning, get organized, make a difference, and look forward to this important time of the morning each day. 

Get started with focused morning meetings today with the resources HERE.

morning meeting group activities for the week

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Getting Started with Morning Meetings in Upper Elementary Classrooms

*affiliate links: “Think Grow Giggle is 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 Amazon.” (source: Section 5)

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