The Best (Magic) Pumpkin Activity I Ever Did

I love fall. I love pumpkins.  I feel like they are everywhere this time of year.  In my early teaching years, I was so lucky to work with the most amazing team of special ed teachers.  We worked together, and the teachers, as well as the students, truly benefited from this cooperative learning environment.  One of our favorite things to do was to put together virtual field trips.  Due to budget constraints, we could only actually go on two field trips a year.  But, that did not stop us.  We even “went” to South Africa one year!!  But, I want to share with you the best part of our virtual field trip to a pumpkin patch.  The kids loved it, it was truly magical, and I have never forgotten it.

There were 4 teachers involved in the field trip, and each classroom became a stop on our trip.  Here is where we “went” and learned:

  • Life Cycle of a pumpkin
  • Pumpkin painting
  • Carving a pumpkin
  • The Magic pumpkin patch

After we were done, we all met in the cafeteria to watch It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown with popcorn and Halloween candy.

Let me share with you the Magic pumpkin patch activity in time for you to try it this fall.

Here are the supplies you will need:

  • 1 paint stick per student
  • bag of pumpkin seeds
  • trowel
  • rubber mallet (for teacher to hammer in paint sticks)
  • 1 small pumpkin per student


Explain to the kids that you have some very special and magic pumpkin seeds that you want to plant outside.  Before heading outside, have students write their name on a paint stick.

name on stick

Then head outside to plant the magic seeds.   Let students pick out what they think will be the perfect spot to plant their seed.  Each student digs a little hole and plants their seeds.

planted seeds

Then, we continued on with our field trip, ending in the cafeteria.  After watching the movie, we told the kids we should go check on our magic seeds, and see if anything had happened.  (Of course while they were all watching the movie, one of us snuck out and placed the magic pumpkins in our pumpkin patch.)

Here is what they saw:


It was really surprising how excited all the kids were to see if their pumpkin had grown.  I, truly, have never forgotten it, and am so thankful that I got to experience this field trip with my students with some of the best teachers I have ever know.

So, in an effort to continue to save you time and money as super busy special education teachers, I wanted to give you a chance to download my FREE Pumpkin Counting Book.  It was a very popular choice this time of year, and, yes, I can still recite if from memory.

counting pumpkins

I also have an awesome unit on pumpkins that is filled with activities for the fall.  CLICK HERE to check it out

pumpkin unit


Finally, I have a literacy unit on The Biggest Pumpkin Ever by Steven Kroll.  It was definitively a favorite in my class, and I am sure your kiddos will love it too!!  CLICK HERE to check it out.

biggest pumpkin ever

I hope everyone has an awesome start to the holiday season.  I also hope you consider taking a field trip to The Magic Pumpkin Patch!!

Differentiating 1 activity 3 ways, easily and effectively

We are all so busy.  I know how it is, you find the perfect activity, but only about half of your class will be able to complete it.  What if there was a way to take the exact same activity and modify it, just enough, so more of your students were able to not only complete it with less help, but actually learn from it?  Well there is a way.  More than one way actually, and it won’t cost you a ton of time or money…  AND it really works.

(Be sure to read to the bottom so you don’t miss out on some awesome FREE downloads.)

 Sorting Activities

I love having students do sorting activities.  It is a quick and easy way for me to gauge their basic understanding of the material.  Of course, it usually only involves two choices, so they have a 50/50 chance to begin with, but it is a great place to get started.

Let’s look at the following sorting activity:


In this example, you want the students to decide if a picture relates to kinetic energy or potential energy.  (This is from my unit on Potential and Kinetic Energy.  It is best for middle or high school.  You can check it out HERE.)  You will probably have a few kiddos that can do this, no problem.  Yeah!  But, let’s add a little extra visual support.

  1.  Outline the sorting labels, each a different color.  Then do the same to the sorting choices.


2.  Color in each sorting label a different color.  Then do the same to the sorting choices.


3.   Color in the actual columns of the sorting template to make the distinction even more obvious.


4.  Color in the sorting choices and then place the sorting labels on two pieces of colored construction paper that are the same colors.


Venn Diagrams

I LOVE Venn Diagrams.  I find there are so many questions I can ask about them when done.  For example, when comparing 2 time periods, I can ask which time period had more?  What is one thing that was present long ago and still today?  There are some easy ways to make this activity a little easier for some of your early learners. (This activity comes from my Thanksgiving unit.  You can check it out HERE.)

  1.  Outline each circle and the intersecting part a different color.  (You will use 3 colors).  Then do the same with the pictures that go in the diagram.


2.  Color in each circle and the intersecting part a different color.  (You will use 3 colors).  Then do the same with the pictures that go in the diagram.


3.  So some kiddos are just not ready for a Venn Diagram and what it really can tell us about how 2 things are alike and different.  So, for those students, I just use 2 colored circles and print 2 sets of sorting pictures.  I give them a complete set of pictures PLUS those that would have gone in the intersection.  That way, if is was a shared characteristic, they have 2 of that picture.  Then add the level of color coding you think is most appropriate.


Circle Maps

Graphic organizers, in general are so great for students.  They are a perfect visual representation of the information we know about a topic.  I’ve had some teachers tell me this is how their kiddos “take notes” while reviewing.  Very age appropriate, engaging and effective.  (The following activity is from my novel unit, Mr. Popper’s Penguins.  You can check it out HERE.) Here are some ways to take the same circle map and use it with various learning levels.

  1.  For your lowest level learners, I would make the activity errorless.  That means, you ONLY include correct answers for them to put in the circle map.


2.  If you include wrong answers mixed with the correct ones, you can outline or color in the correct ones using the same technique we used above.


3.  For even higher level students, you can provide them with an answer key to use to check their completed circle map for accuracy.

Again, for most of the activities above, you are using the exact same materials, just modifying them slightly.  And, it really does not take much time.

Here are some helpful tips I have found:

  1.  Do NOT give your students glue sticks until they are done.  That way, you can check their work and easily remove wrong answers and ask them to try again.  Most kids love to glue, so the reward at the end is to be able to glue all their answers down.
  2. For students with significant fine motor challenges, I pre-cut the pictures if my primary goal is to assess comprehension of the content.
  3. Record data on each student’s initial product.  That is what you should use as your data point, even though they get a chance to make corrections.
  4. Use self-checking whenever possible.  Give them a copy of a completed sample to check their work with.
  5. Send home the same activity so parents can review it and do it at home.  Always let parents know the level of differentiation you used, or add the differentiation prior to sending it home.

I hope there are some things in this post that will make your day just a little easier and more efficient.  If you would like access to any of the activities you see above to try it out for yourself, just click the button below to get ALL 3!!

Best Free Spider Resources for October

spider and corner web

Do you find October a little scary?  Are your kids expecting you to come up with spooky, creepy and crawly activities?  If so, not to worry.  I have you covered.  I know many of us are looking for alternatives to teaching about witches and monsters this time of year, and spiders are a great subject to have students focus on and still feel like they are getting some of that holiday eeriness.

I reached out to a bunch of my favorite teacher authors so I could come up with list of great activities all in one location that you could click and download.  I hope this makes your October lesson planning just a little less scary.

spiderSuper Spider Math Activities

  • Little Mrs M has a great web template and spiders you can cut out to be used in lots of ways in a math center.  CLICK HERE to check it out.
  • Do you like spiders?  My Happy Place has a great free graphing activity that will tally your students love or not for arachnids.  CLICK HERE to get your copy.
  • Marcia Murphy has some doubles flash cards with some really great spider graphics you kids will love.  CLICK HERE to get them practicing those math facts.
  • It’s Almost Friday has a I Have, Who Has game is perfect for whole-class engagement! This product contains 24 game cards to practice addition and subtraction within 20.  CLICK HERE to grab it now.
  • Kamp Kindergarten has some super spidery counting clip cards do download using quantities up to 12.  Also works those fine motor skills!  CLICK HERE to start counting.

spiderCreepy Spider Science Activities

  • TCHR Two Point 0 has an amazing stem activity where students follow directions to make and then color a spider web.  If you want to get excited about STEM CLICK HERE!

spiderCrawly Spider ELA Activities

  • Emily at Education to the Core has a super cute mini-book and writing reflection on spiders.  So if you have those early or emerging readers, CLICK HERE to check it out!
  • Jennifer at Engaging Activities for Little Learners has some really great things you can do with some magnetic spiders.  You could even do these with just plain plastic spiders as well as long as you have a flat surface.  Practice letters, names, and even filling in 10 frames with this cool activity.  As a bonus, there is an emergent reader you can download for free as well.  CLICK HERE to see all you can do!
  • Kathryn Garcia at Made for Learning has designed a fun center activity for children who need practice matching uppercase letters with lowercase letters.  CLICK HERE to set up this literacy center.
  • Caitlin at Learning Ahoy has some neat ideas for a letter matching center using a silver sharpie.  Draw some silver webs on the tops of some lids, grab some plastic letters and you are all set with a free download.  Learn how to set it up, CLICK HERE.
  • Lindsey’s Classroom Creations has 3 mini books with a Halloween focus and one is on (you guessed it) spiders!  CLICK HERE to get your mini-books.
  • Caitlin O’Bannon uses a spider spinner to review  digraphs ch, th, and sh.  Your students will LOVE this game.  Get it when you CLICK HERE.
  • Michelle at Teacher 123, has some morning reading passages on spiders using those oh-so-cool QR codes.  CLICK HERE to get reading.
  • Linda Nelson at Primary Inspiration has a spiderweb  word wall partner game for your literacy centers, but you’ll find that this is incredibly versatile and be adapted to many other uses.  CLICK HERE to check it out.
  • A is for Apples has a download where students can write everything they know about spiders with these tree map graphic organizers and writing pages! CLICK HERE to get your kids writing.

spiderFreaky Fine Motor and other cool Spiders Activities

  • Jessica at Tot School is rockin’ it with this amazing blog post FILLED with really creative things to do with spiders that works those fine motor skills in truly unique ways.  Be sure to check it out and CLICK HERE.
  • Danielle at Fun Learning for Kids has a very clever way to work on those fine motor skills using some yarn, a basket, and some plastic spiders.  Your kids will love it!  CLICK HERE to see how to set it up.
  • From the HappyEdugator, get an amazing mind set poster with spiders in mind.  When the storms of life get you down or wash you down the water spout, you need to let the sun dry you out and climb up again! This growth mindset freebie was inspired by Hurricane Michael as I see family and friends recovering from disaster. We should all remember the lesson of the little nursery rhyme, “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” This poster is an inspirational quote from the Itsy Bitsy Spider himself! CLICK HERE to grab this one!

So what about me?  What do I have to offer?

Click the button below to grab the 2 free science related downloads I have for you, pulled from my unit on Spiders.hanging spider

  • Label the parts of a spider

  • Sorting things by number of legs

If you area looking for even more, you can check out my unit on Spiders in my store.  It has almost 70 pages of activities for your students with autism and special learning needs.

spider unit cover

Using file folder activities effectively

You may be surprised by this blog post.  If you follow my store on TPT, you know I have NO file folder games for download.  It you are on my email list, you know I am focused on more than file folder activities.  BUT, just because I do not specifically create them as a teacher author, does NOT mean I don’t use and LOVE file folder activities.

There are two main reasons I do not spend my time as a teacher author creating file folder activities.

  1. There are so many on TPT.  So, why compete with the awesome and plentiful resources already out there?
  2. I have a super simple way to turn any of the pdf activities I do create into a file folder activity.  It just takes a laminator, some Velcro and a little time.

Watch this short video on how to turn ANY activity into a file folder game.

So how do I use these file folder activities?  There are so many great ways to effectively use them.  You do have to be careful, however.  Students can become bored fairly quickly if you use them too often or too frequently throughout the day.  That means you need A LOT of variety and strategic planning.


Here are some great ways to use them that are meaningful and engaging:


1. Use them to review previously taught material.  

We spend so much concentrated effort teaching a topic, let’s say the solar system.  For most students that information will just stay with them and needs very little review.  For many of our special education students, however, review and repetition are critical to maintaining that acquired knowledge.  After I teach a unit, I will often make several file folder games using the same activities we had done while learning the material using the technique described in the video above.  I then rotate those in their independent work stations.  That way, even when I am teaching about spiders in science, they can still be spending time reviewing what we learned about the Milky Way the month before.

2.  Use them for students who need additional support in a small group lesson.

As I have said before, special education classes can be incredibly diverse.  I often had students who were in 5th grade, reading on a 2nd grade level, sitting at the same table with a kindergarten student who was non-verbal and struggling with a significant intellectual disability.  File folder activities are a great way to engage your lower level students while spending focused time on some of the other students in the class.  If possible, the file folder has something to do with the material we were learning, but let’s be honest, sometimes that was not always possible.  There were times when student A was doing a color matching activity while students B, C and D were learning about addition with regrouping.  So, why keep them all in the same small group?  Due to budgeting constraints, I had very little extra adult assistance in my classroom.  It helped if my assistant was in close range and could interject as needed.  If she (or he) was at the table with me rather than off with another student, we could tag team so much more efficiently.  I tried it both ways, and believe me this worked so much better (for my teaching style).

Just remember, even for your lowest level learners, you need lots of variety to keep them engaged and to minimize problem behaviors.

3.  Use them for early finishers.

For those students (and in they exist in every class) who finish way before all the other students, file folder activities are a great way to keep them engaged and minimize problem behaviors while other students catch up.  I tried to keep some really cool ones for this purpose.  I would go through toy magazines and laminate and Velcro pictures of various toys that could be sorted into categories like: video games, board games, outdoor games, etc.  The kids loved just looking at all those colorful images and it saved me a ton of money on colored ink.  If you know a student has a favorite TV show or obsession, try to make a file folder with that material specifically for use when they finish something early. I never wanted students to feel they were being punished by finishing early, and just getting more work, so I tried to make the file folders as “cool” as possible.  Unfortunately, I did not have the kind of students who could simply go hang out in the reading or play center quietly when done.  They needed something with more structure so I could focus on those kids who were still working.  So keep some fun and  not-too-hard file folder activities aside for this purpose.

4.  Use them for morning work.

My students straggled in every morning over the course of about 30 minutes.  That was a long time for behaviors to erupt if there was not something engaging for them to do.  However, I could not really do a small group lesson with that much disruption and my assistant was usually unavailable helping with car duty or in the cafeteria assisting with breakfast monitoring.  I needed a way to get my kiddos in the door and doing something that was fairly independent.  File folder activities fit the bill perfectly.  It allowed for some review, and kept them busy.  For the most part, I never really had a student who hated doing these file folders.  Maybe I was lucky.   Maybe I just did a really good job rotating them often to provide variety, and creating new ones often that were exciting and engaging.

5.  Use them to collect IEP data.

I LOVED using file folders to collect some IEP data.  I could create some quick activities to probe various goals, like sorting letters and numbers.  It was easy to keep data on these, and note if there was progression or regression.  It also was great because these particular folders all had a special sticker on the front that indicated it was for IEP measurement.  That way any adult in the room knew to put that folder, once done, in a special basket on my desk so I could track it later.

IEP folder

6.  Use them for homework.

Full disclosure, I am NOT a fan of homework.  But, I often had parents who felt their child was missing out on something if they did not have homework just like their siblings.  I also know, first hand, the reality of living with a child who has a significant disability.  The last thing you want to do at night is sit down and attempt to do something that may be challenging.  So, I started sending file folder activities home in big plastic bags for my lower level students.  Parents loved it!!  Of course, I always made it clear it was optional, but more often than not, the folders came back complete, and I never lost a single piece in 10 years!!

HW bag

I hope this helped explain why I LOVE file folders, but do not make them to sell in my store.  I have hundreds of them!!  

Leave me a comment if you have a great way you use file folder activities that you think someone could benefit from!!

PS  Have you signup up for my FREE RESOURCE LIBRARY YET? 

If not, CLICK HERE!!

Fire Safety Month Activities

October is here, and for many of us that means it is time to teach about Fire Safety.  I always found this a fun topic to teach, and there are so many great resources out there you can use to add to your lessons.  If you would like a FREE LESSON PLAN to use with this unit, scroll to the bottom of this post.


When teaching students who have significant learning and often physical challenges it can often be hard to relay the seriousness of this information with adding to a student’s anxiety and confusion.  Here are some activities I found to be really helpful.

Vocabulary Boards

Consider using a vocabulary board when teaching about fire safety.

vocab board

I found utilizing a vocabulary board as a constant in my lesson was really helpful in keeping everyone on the same page and engaged.  I used this board when doing activities or even when watching YouTube videos.  It encouraged interaction and sharing even for students who were more verbal.


Of course, I really like to use books, and of course books on my student’s level could be really difficult to find.  However, I did find for this particular topic there were quite a few good books in the library that were fairly engaging and my students seemed to enjoy.  Of course, I did end up writing some of my own as well.

stories and power card

Small group stories

For this particular unit, I knew it would be difficult to practice a fire drill in different locations around the school.  But, the reality is you never know where you and your students will be when the fire alarm goes off.  So, as a group activity each day, we would sequence the steps, matching pictures to words on what you would do if there was a fire alarm while working in class, during time in the library (or other enhancement class), and while eating lunch in the cafeteria.  Although it is not a substitute for actually practicing the real thing in different locations, it was a good substitute.

small group cards

Sorting Activities

I LOVE doing sorting activities with my students.  They are fairly easy to set up and easy to differentiate with color coding.  (Read my post on Color Coding for Differentiation to learn more about that.)  For this particular unit, I did a safe and non-safe sorting activity.  It served as double duty because I did a color version in class and sent the black and white version home to do with their parents.  Gotta love that purposeful repetition.

safe unsafe sorting

Sequencing Strips

I find it is always a great review tool to have student sequence a process.  It is easy to differentiate by quickly writing numbers on the pictures, and it is also a great way for students to practice first,  next, and last.  We did two different sequencing activities for fire safety month.  One was a simple stop, drop and roll sequence.

stop drop roll

Students would hold the cards and get in the correct order.  Of course we had to model the sequence as well.  Super fun.  In the free lesson plan below, I have several good Stop, Drop, and Roll videos on YouTube for reference (including one for older students).

The other sequencing activity I did related to the steps we would have to follow when there was a fire drill.  You can download this one for free by clicking the button below.

sequence strip

Social Stories

You know I LOVE a good social story.  Reviewing proper behavior during a fire drill was a great one to read.  We also practiced a mock fire drill every day.  That may seem really disruptive to your daily routine, but it is really worth it if there ever was an emergency.  There are so many sensory issues wrapped up with the fire alarm.  It is loud, it can be crowded in the hallway, and it is a totally unexpected part of the daily routine.   For this unit, I used 2 social stories.  I had one I created using photos that we would read at the beginning of the lesson.  I also made one that just had black and white symbols from Boardmaker they could color and take home.  If you would like a free copy of the black and white booklet, Fire Drills, click the button below.


Power Cards

Have you ever used a power card?  They are a really great tool when you are working on social skills in various locations.  They are small, usually the size of an index card that summarizes the key points in the social story.  I like to let students personalize their cards with stickers or other art media to make them look “cool.”  They can be differentiated to meet the need of the student.  Some use pictures, and some use words.  The ones for the fire drill should be kept in a specific location once you are done teaching this unit so students can take the cards with them whenever there is a fire drill.

I hope you found some helpful tips and suggestions in this post.  Sometimes I think I am just documenting what people already know, but maybe there was one part here you want to add to your own lessons this year.  Thanks for all you do for our special kids.  The difference you make is immeasurable.

If you want to grab my complete unit of Fire Safety, click the image below:

fire safety unit

PS  Don’t forget to get your free lesson plan by clicking the button below.