Weather Sized Problems Lesson

Monday, August 22, 2016
Poster comparing the size of a student's problem to weather: a big problem is like a tornado, a medium problem is like a thunderstorm, a small problem is like rain and a tiny problem is like sprinkles

My kickoff lesson for 3rd grade two years in a row now is to teach about how different problems are different levels of seriousness. It sets us up well for our conflict resolution and problem solving theme and is the perfect opening for me teaching them how to appropriately self-refer to me.

The first thing we do is play a round of "Pass the Cat" (like hot potato) using Felix the Feelings Cat (a kimochi doll I have that has a belly pocket). Inside the belly pocket are some basic questions reviewing the role of the school counselor. Most of them were at my school last year and had my amazing co-counselor, but I like to do a short review for new students and to give me a jump start in learning names.

Using a stuffed animal I call Felix the Feeling Cat to review the role of school counselors and how students can self refer.

Then I send them back to their desks and ask "What if I told you that this morning I spilled my milk all over my floor - that would be a problem, right? Well what if I told you that I woke up this morning and my house had flooded - that would be the same, right? Or are they different sizes of problems?". I then have them brainstorm with me about weather analogies for problems starting with the biggest (I'm shooting for tornado but this year's weather-savvy cohort also gave me hurricane, tsunami, and earthquake), medium (thunderstorm), small (rain), and tiny (windy or cloudy). I draw these on the board as we go to help them remember, because I believe in visual learning, and to help out the big chunk of my friends that are ELL. To get down with our kinesthetic side, we also come up with a hand motion for each of the four sizes.

Every student is then given a problem. They are all real problems my 3rd graders have had over the years and they range drastically in size. I give them a minute to read it to themselves and then ask them to leave their desks and group themselves by what size problem they have and encourage them to use their hand signals. *At this point I get a clump of kiddos who have no idea what size to go with. I encourage them to ask a classmate*

Once in position, I put a visual card on the floor by each group and have them place their problem cards around it. We then do a gallery walk: they walk silently through each of the four weather stations and read the problems. We get back together and I ask if they all seemed correct or if they would make some changes - no surprise, lots of changes needed. I then let them move the cards if they think they are actually smaller or bigger AND if they can find two classmates that believe them. Magically, even though some problem cards get moved a gazillion times during this 5 minutes, my classes all seemed to get them much closer to accurate.
a visual of a small problem rain and clouds with students problem cards placed around it.

Depending on time on their accuracy, I might project the problems one by one quickly and answer any questions or explain why they were terribly wrong (The biggest error? Putting problems like "Someone gave you a mean look" in thunderstorm). We talk about which size problems they can handle on their own and which require an adult's help.

This leads perfectly into my explaining the self-referral process and my "Let's Talk" self-referral forms. We go through each component of it. I give an extra high-five and "kiss your brain" to the kiddo that can explain why I don't put "windy" as an option!

a copy of a student's self-referral form that asks them to decide if their problem is Huge (tornado), Medium (Thunderstorm), or Small (Rain).

This post contains affiliate links.

For a (free) electronic download of this form:

For a (free) electronic download of the problem size visuals:

For an electronic download of the problem size sort cards:
How Big is the Problem Weather themed lesson plan and sort cards found on TpT

The Power of the Annual Agreement

School counseling management agreement.

The annual agreement is an ASCA national model document that helps counselors and their admins get on the same page in regards to program plans and goals. I have to admit that it took me a couple years to get on board with the importance of seemed like a useless piece of paper that I didn't have time to create. A colleague shared with me how much of a difference she felt in the efficiency and effectiveness of her program once she created an annual agreement at about the same time that I got a new, very enthusiastic co-counselor, so we decided to give it a go.

We poured through examples and templates (much thanks to google!) and eventually came up with something that really worked for us. It was WELL WORTH the time and energy to create it! Here's why:

  • It helped us prioritize. We allowed for some flexibility, but if it wasn't in the agreement (which we call out "program plan"), we didn't feel as compelled to do it. This is key in the world of Pinterest and amazing bloggers! It's easy to get sucked into amazing ideas and forget to focus on our key goals.
  • Speaking of focused, creating this helped us be more focused as counselors overall.
  • Advocacy! We started off the year in our early evaluation meetings with admin by discussing this document. It not only helped show our planning of services (a major component in our evaluation rubric), but it also allowed us to advocate for our work and our time. We tied our program goals to our school improvement goals which also helped.
  • We start the year strong - we've got a plan and so we do far less floundering at the beginning.
After some trial and error, this is the template we've come to use and love. It's not ground breaking, but I thought I'd share in case it really resonates with someone else! If you'd like the .doc, leave a message with your email and I'll shoot it your way.
Reproducible Annual School Counseling Program Agreement for counselor and administrators

Reproducible Annual School Counseling Program Agreement for counselor and administrators

Reproducible Annual School Counseling Program Agreement for counselor and administrators


Mistakes are for learning?

a funny picture of a confused baby depicting students' facial expressions when they were told that you "can't put toothpaste back in the tube".
My students when I told them it was impossible to put toothpaste back in a toothpaste tube.

I'm not awesome at discussing my failures, but sometimes you just have to go for it - especially if it may help someone else prep better.

This year my kick off lesson with 4th grade was introducing them to our theme of "think before you speak". I thought "I know, I'll use that fun toothpaste visual to show them how we can't take our words back!". I went to Target, bought five trial sized toothpastes, and got everything ready to go. Went into two different rooms, giddy with excitement about my fantastic hook/opener, and then figuratively fell flat on my face.

For those of you unfamiliar with this, here's one of one million write ups of it. Since I needed to do this without about 125 students in 5 homerooms, I decided to have a volunteer come to the front of the room and demonstrate. When they couldn't get the toothpaste back in, I'd have one or two more come up and try.

The problem? There were always 3-6 kiddos who still didn't believe me that you couldn't get it back in. These guys are dreamers and schemers and truly believe they are capable of anything! Well, anything I label a "challenge" anyways ;-) I didn't have time to let every kid try on the one tube, and I didn't have the budget for every kiddo to have their own. Without the students grasping the crux of the visual, the metaphor with our words was useless.

Ah, well, you know what they say about best laid plans. The rest of the lesson was also less than a homerun and took me doing a different version with all five homerooms before I hit the sweet spot - but that's a story for another post.

SMART Goals for Counselors

Smart goals for school counselors with relevant and measurable counseling program goals.

Like thousands of others, I'm a member of the Elementary School Counselor Exchange on Facebook. I often see posts on there surrounding the topic of goals, student learning objectives, etc. It was something several of my colleagues in my district struggled with too. With our jobs often on the chopping block (or at least our ability to do our jobs), using strong data is only becoming more important.

I was asked to give a presentation to other counselors in my district on SMART goals and thought I'd share some of the slides here in case it proves helpful to some of you as you create your program's goals for the year, or even smaller goals for classroom units or small groups. I needed something short, sweet, and to the point. This is what I whipped up for us:

Smart Goals - Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Results Oriented, Time Bound

The three types of data and examples for Process, perception and outcome data

Compare two types of counseling goals: Counseling Program Goals and Student Impact Goals with examples of what each goal looks like and how they differ with the conclusion that student impact goals are more powerful.

Quality SMART goal examples for elementary, middle and high school counseling programs

Where do the goals come from?

SMART Goals are derived from students' needs assessments example

SMART goals are derived from our Data Warehouse example: attendance and tardies.

SMART goals are derived from your School Improvement plan with and example goal of increasing attendance at a parent education workshop.

Now you give it a try writing SMART goals

Worth It: TPT Counselor Wins

TpT purchases, reviews, suggestions

I'm picky about nearly everything, including counseling resources. There's A LOT on Teachers Pay Teachers now for counselors, which is amazing, but it's also a bit overwhelming. Some things also just aren't a *fit* to my style. Last year I managed to buy a few really awesome things though:

TpT Think Before You Speak

Great scenarios here that are much more relatable to my 4th graders than other stuff I find. The cards can be used in tons of ways, including whole group, and the game itself is prime for a relational aggression or social skills small group. 3rd-6th grade

TpT Bucket Filler Board Game

Simple but great game for reviewing and practicing the tenets of bucket filling. I used this both in lunch bunches and also in social skills groups. Printing in color + laminating = ideal. K-3rd grade.

TpT The Race to Personal Space

This is THE BOMB. Great game about personal space that goes deeper and includes more nuances than "keep your hands to yourself". Rarely do I find things that I think "wow, I wouldn't have come up with that on my own" but I did for this. The game format itself is just fine, but the prompts are great. 2nd-4th grade

Tpt QQT card for The Invisible Boy

I ended up only using a few of these and mostly my own when I did my The Invisible Boy lesson, but for $1, this was well worth the 30+ minutes it saved me in thinking of all of my own discussion questions.

Positive review for TpT Growth Midset Interactive PPT

This PPT is just one of many on this seller's TPT page. They are pricey but incredibly worth it. Much more engaging than your standard PPT and she covers some great topics. Her Growth Mindset, Apologies, Learning Styles, and Social Filter ones are my favorites. She also provides stellar previews on her page so you really get a great sense of what you'll get before you bite the bullet to buy.

What about y'all - any fantastic TPT finds that made you think "worth it"?

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