Tackling Test Anxiety with Picture Books

Tackling Test Anxiety with Picture Books

“Palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy…” Eminem pretty much nailed it. Throw in a line about elevated heart rates and a few tears and he’s just written the anthem for every test anxiety sufferer out there.

In my experience, many students have become so accustomed to testing that they don’t bat an eye when the topic comes up. For other students, the sound of the word can send them into a panic attack that lasts until you tell the class to put their pencils down at the end of the last test.

There are a million and two testing taking strategies out there that teachers use to prepare their students for a test. But my question is, how much time do we spend teaching these strategies as opposed to teaching students how to address their test anxiety? Don’t get me wrong, strategies are important but they’re incredibly difficult to use if the only thing you’re able to focus on is the knot in your stomach.

Anxiety isn’t something that will just miraculously disappear which is why it’s so incredibly important to teach children to coping skills that will help them be more successful. Testing season is rapidly approaching and one way that I’m changing test prep in my classroom this year by exposing my students to test anxiety coping strategies in addition to test taking strategies.

And what better way to do that than through picture books?! Although we still have a few weeks before testing begins, we’ve already started reading some of these books in my classroom. I wanted to give my students the opportunity to not only hear the stories multiple times but I wanted to give them time to process and figure out what coping skills work best for them.

Here are five of my favorite book finds so far:

The Anti-Test Anxiety Society by Julia Cook

This is the story of Bertha Billingsworth, also known as BB. She is a bright girl but when it comes time to take any type of test in her classroom, her anxiety takes over and she can’t remember the information she needs. Eventually BB’s teacher learns about her test anxiety and decides that BB needs to become a member of the Anti-Test Anxiety Society. As a member of this society, BB learns twelve strategies to help with test anxiety and her perspective shifts from Terrible Every Single Time to Terrific Every Single Time.

Mathsketball: A Story of Test Anxiety by Erainna Winnett

Ethan loves going to school. He’s successful in every subject with the exception of math. When his teacher gives a pop quiz in math class, Ethan begins to feel sick. That afternoon, his friend, Jack, introduces Ethan to a game called Mathsketball. The next day when Ethan gets his quiz score, he begins to feel sick again and that’s when his teacher explains something called test anxiety. She teaches Ethan some strategies to help ease his anxiety when it’s time to take a test. Although he isn’t confident in them, he agrees to give them a try. Ethan finds that between playing Mathsketball with Jack and using the skills his teacher taught him, tests aren’t as bad anymore.

The Big Test by Julie Danneberg

Mrs. Hartwell has worked hard to teach her students different test taking strategies. They practice filling in the bubbles, reading directions, and they even receive a lesson in test day nutrition. She had good intentions but quickly realized that not only was all of the Big Test Day prep was causing test anxiety in her students but she forgot to teach her students to simply RELAX!

Testing Miss Malarkey by Judy Finchler

As standardized testing approaches, everyone in school seems to be a little more stressed than usual. Students play math and phonics games during recess, the cafeteria is only serving “brain food”, and even the gym teacher starts teaching relaxation skills instead of the usual game of baseball. In the end, the students learn that the test wasn’t as big and scary as they thought it would be.

Worry Warriors: Anxious Adam Braves the Test

Adam’s school is getting ready to take their big test. Adam is dyslexic and as test day approaches, his anxiety increases. Although he has the support of his family and friends, he still wonders if he’ll be successful on the test or if he will need to repeat the fourth grade. In the end, Adam realizes that one of the most important things is trying your best.

Are there other picture books that you use in the classroom to help ease test anxiety in your classroom? Let me know in the comments below!

*This post contains affiliate links which means I make a small commission off your purchase.*

Flexible Seating Favorites!

Flexible Seating Favorites!

I launched flexible seating in my classroom three years ago. There wasn’t really an “AH-HA” moment when I decided to make the switch…coming from a career in early childhood education, the use of flexible seating in my elementary classroom just seemed like a no brainer. With the help of Donors Choose projects, local grants, and my inability to put things back on the shelf once I’ve touched them in store, I’ve added a lot of my collection of seating options. Below are some of the options that I’ve gathered throughout the last couple of years along with links so you can add them to your classroom too!


These are an easy addition to any classroom. They are inexpensive and kids love them! I have these cushions from IKEA and for $3.99, I’m actually surprised at how well they’ve held up. They are now three years old, are used daily, and we’ve only had one casualty (and I’ll admit…it was my fault). If you don’t live near an IKEA, Five Below has a bunch of pillows and seat cushions for around the same price!

Squishy Mats

These are one of my kids absolute FAVORITE seating options and I need to buy more so they’ll stop fighting over them! They are actually memory foam bath mats from Amazon but they’re soft and provide some nice cushion for the kids when they’re working on the hard tile floor. Amazon sells a bunch of different sizes but I find that the 20”x32” are the perfect size for my third graders and are still easy to store. Check them out here. And as an added bonus, they’re machine washable! I’m not sure they’re technically supposed to go in the washing machine but I did last summer then set them on my deck to dry without any issues!

(Photo from Amazon)


I bought these stools when shopping at IKEA a couple years ago. I don’t actually live near an IKEA and by that I mean I’m not even in the same state as IKEA so I grabbed a bunch of them because even if they didn’t hold up, the price was couldn’t be beat. My first year of teaching, I used these for seating at my small group table and I was honestly surprised that for $5, they were still standing at the end of the year. We’re on year three of using these and they’re sat on daily in our Makerspace. I’ve only had to tighten one loose screw so I’d say they were a good buy! Five Below has similar stools and I didn’t see a price but I’m going to guess that they are $5 a piece too.

Bath Rugs

Personally I don’t think these provide as much squish and comfort as the memory foam bath mats but my kids love them. Since they’re the ones who use them, it’s their opinion that matters! We use the Mayshine brand rugs. They’re soft, durable, and machine washable! They also come in a wide range of colors. You can grab them by clicking here!

Hokki Stools

This is one of the items that I’ve been DYING to have in my classroom but couldn’t afford to purchase myself. I started out by requesting five stools through a Donors Choose project last year and it was a great introduction for my class. This year, I was lucky enough to be awarded a grant that covered the cost of purchasing stools for all of my students. Since they all have a desk as their “home base”, they sit on these instead of regular chairs. Yes, they are expensive so it’s an investment but they last! You can often find me sitting on one during small group time. These 18″ stools from Amazon are the ones that I have.

(Photo from Amazon)

Bouncy Bands

So, when I said that everyone sits on a hokki stool at their desk instead of a chair, I didn’t exactly mean EVERYONE. I do have a handful of friends who either don’t use the stools appropriately, damaged their stool, or are too stimulated by the movement. These friends have regular chairs with bouncy bands attached. For classrooms that don’t have stools, I think these are a great option. They keep little feet busy and bodies focused. These are the ones that I requested through my Donors Choose project last year.

(Photo from Amazon)

Yoga Ball Chair

Flexible seating isn’t just for kids, ya know! I have this A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. yoga ball chair for my small group table and I love it so much that I’ve not only considered getting one for my desk but one for home too! As someone with knee/back/hip issues, I can’t say enough good things about the comfort of sitting in this chair!

(Photo from Amazon)

Wobble Cushions

These cushions are amazing and I can’t say enough good things about them. They were another item that I got through a Donors Choose project and not only are they great for flexible seating around the room but they are great for wiggly friends. One of my students carries a cushion around with to all specials and even lunch. It provides less wobble than the hokki stools but just enough that my friend can shift their focus from maintaining a still body to learning. I also love that they are incredibly durable and they don’t break the bank! Check them out here.

Yoga Mats

Who knew something so simple could bring so much joy to a classroom! I started out with a couple mats that I bought from Five Below for $5 a piece. A full sized yoga mat is great for an adult but honestly, they take up a lot of space and are really big for a third grader so I cut them in half. They’re now the perfect size for my students to sit or lay on. If you’re like me and don’t live near a Five Below (I stopped in to buy mine while on a trip), you can check out stores like Walmart, Target, and TJ Maxx. I also have these mats from Amazon that I ordered when I knew I needed more seating but didn’t have time to stop in at a store. I’ve noticed that both the Five Below and the Amazon mats have held up well and they’re both machine washable!

I will admit, these are not the only seating options in my classroom. You may be wondering why I didn’t write about the others but honestly, they aren’t my favorite and I don’t want to recommend something that I’ve tried and either didn’t love or haven’t had success with. I’m always looking to add more seating options for my students so if there is something that you love and I haven’t mentioned, let me know!  

How to Set Up the ULTIMATE Sub Binder!

How to Set Up the ULTIMATE Sub Binder!

Teaching. The only profession where it’s more work to not go to work than it is to show up. I kinda thought that was a joke…until the night before my very first day with a substitute. I’m pretty sure I spent more time putting together my sub plans that night than I did writing my own lesson plans for that entire month. And if we’re being really honest here, I wasn’t smart enough to SAVE all of the notes that I left for my sub, therefore I had to re-do it again the next time I was out. And again the next time. And again the next time…

I have finally learned from my mistakes and not only have I started saving all of my documents but I’ve finally put them together into one sub friendly notebook. Since all of the important information is in one place, I’m able to just focus on lesson plans when prepping for a sub. I’m usually able to get that done in less than an hour because all I have to do is print/copy lessons and type up the directions.

Want to know how I set up the ULTIMATE sub notebook and how you can save time when putting together sub plans? Keep reading!

I use a 1″ binder and Iris project cases for my sub notebook and plans. The project cases can be found here and the binders can be found here. (These are not affiliate links.) I have tried using folders, clipping papers and writing on the table, and a “sub tub”, but I find that having one place for important information and containers for student work not only helps me while preparing my plans but it helps my sub locate everything when they arrive. 

The first thing you should have in your sub binder is a welcome letter. Mine simply greets the sub and gives a couple reminders about the class and ensuring that they read everything in the notebook before the day begins.
In my binder, directly following the welcome letter is a sheet with some information about the classroom. The very first thing that I make sure to point out to subs on this form is where to find the things they will need for the day. I also include a paragraph about not touching things in filing cabinets, closets, and my desk. While that seems like it shouldn’t be necessary, I’ve had subs go through those things and help themselves to my snacks, my coffee, and other materials/supplies that I purchase for the classroom with my own money.
This page also includes information about different areas in the room including the classroom library, book boxes, Makerspace, and classroom jobs. Make sure you add as much detail as possible! Although it will seem like overkill at first, I’ve found that the more specific you are, the less you scratch your head and think, “What in the world happened here?” when you return.
The next page is all about classroom procedures. This is one of the most important pieces of information that you can leave for a sub. I include every single procedure from our classroom on this page. When I say every single procedure, I mean every.single.procedure. This includes but is not limited to snack time, classroom management, DEAR time, getting drinks, using the bathroom, transitions, lining up, and walking in the hallway. Once again, this may seem like overkill but the more detail you provide, the easier it is for your sub to run your class like you would.
I also include a page about emergency procedures. (For confidentiality reasons, I have not included a photo of this page from my binder.) This page is so important. Your sub should have clear instructions on what to do in the event of an emergency. My emergency procedure page clearly outlines what the sub should do if there is a lockdown, fire/fire drill, or if my school needs to be evacuated. You should include these procedures as well as any other emergency procedures your school has.
Here’s a glimpse of the other sections in my sub binder. For privacy reasons, many of them have not been photographed. I use Post-It tabs to separate the sections of my binder. I prefer these over dividers because they are inexpensive and repositionable. I can easily add or take out a section if need be.
Since our school requires us to submit attendance electronically, I leave a stack of attendance sheets in one section of my binder. The sub simply pulls a page out, marks absent students then sends it to the office with a student.
Another helpful form to include in your binder is a teacher contact sheet. Choose a handful of teachers and staff members who are familiar with the way you run your classroom and would be willing to answer any questions that your sub may have. I like to include the staff members role in our school so if the sub has a question about something specific such as an IEP, they can reach out to the appropriate staff member instead of going through the list trying to find someone who can help.
A couple other helpful forms to include are a schedule of classroom support staff as well as an out of room schedule. These come in handy during the times that you forget to add these bits of info to your schedule and a random adult walks in the room or a student insists that they are supposed to be going somewhere.
Now, another incredibly important form that I was unable to photograph is the student information sheet. This acts as a cover sheet for IEP’s, 504 plans, and behavior plans. You must leave this information for your sub. Despite the fact that they are only teacher for the day, your sub is still legally responsible for following those plans and ensuring that your students needs are being met. My student information sheet not only includes a list of students with specialized plans but it also has a list of helpful students and students who need frequent check-in’s.
The feedback form section is quite possibly one of my favorites. This two sided form includes spaces for student attendance, nurse visits, student behavior, lesson reflections, and other notes. I leave a note on the first page of my notebook that asks my sub to fill this out. Substitute feedback forms are a great way to communicate the happenings of the day. My students know that this form is left for the sub every time I’m gone. They know what it looks like and I’ve found that it increases positive behavior because my students know that I’m going to be filled in on what went on while I was gone.
Now that we’ve covered the sub binder, where do the lesson plans go?!


I LOVE these project cases. I have a million of them and use them for just about everything in my classroom. One way that I use them is to store lesson plans for my sub. I trimmed down a page protector and taped it to the top of the case. Using a page protector makes it super easy to change out the subject covers if I need to.
These bad boys can hold a lot of work so I never have to worry about the assignments not fitting. When writing my sub plans, I just slip the assignments in the appropriate box with step by step directions on top. I find this to be easier than typing up the instructions on the schedule. Everything the sub needs for the assignment is inside the box (unless it’s something big and bulky and in that case, it sits on the table right next to the box).
Not only are these a super easy way to organize work for the sub to find in the morning but it makes it really easy to locate assignments that need to be graded when you return. I just make a quick note at the bottom of the directions page that asks the sub to collect the work when students are finished and return it to the box.
The last thing that I leave for my sub is a substitute teacher toolbox. I use this divided organizer from Sterilite. I fill it with Cates Cash (my classroom management tool), writing utensils, sticky notes, kindness tickets, k-cups, and some chocolate. It’s just an organized way to make sure that all of the little things that the sub may look for are right at their fingertips!
On every feedback form, my subs have commented on how organized and user friendly my plans were. It makes me happy to hear that they were able to use everything I left for them and that they were able to run my classroom just like I would if I were there! It took a lot of time to put together but it was well worth it.
 If you’d like to put together your own sub binder, GREAT NEWS! I’ve done almost all of the work for you! You can get my EDITABLE substitute teacher binder by clicking HERE!

BE WHO YOU NEEDED – Life Lessons from the First Week of Third Grade

BE WHO YOU NEEDED – Life Lessons from the First Week of Third Grade

Year three began on Monday. If you want to be really technical, it’s actually year ten. I have six years of preschool, a full year of student teaching, and two years of third grade under my belt. I’m tired and slightly overwhelmed, but I don’t feel like I’m drowning. I have a sweet new third grader to thank for that feeling and so much more. Although I met this child on open house day when their family walked into my half finished classroom, it wasn’t until the same child came into my room on the first day of school that I saw an eight year old version of myself and finally figured out why I do what I do.
I was “that kid”. Despite the fact that I decided at age four that I wanted to be a teacher, I hated school. For me, being in a classroom as a learner was like living in a nightmare. A six and a half hour nightmare that reoccured every weekday from September until June. You would think that as I got older, school would get easier but that isn’t true. As I got older, the content that I was expected to learn got harder and the harder the content got, the more anxious I felt. The more I raised my hand and shared the wrong answer, the more my peers thought I was stupid. The kids were mean. So mean that I reached the point where I’d argue with my parents to stay home and if I couldn’t convince them, I’d fake sick. I would do whatever I could to not have to go to school.
Around the age of eight, I was diagnosed as multi-handicapped because it was the the only diagnosis that could provide me with all of the accommodations and support that I needed to learn. I have multiple learning disabilities, a non-verbal learning disability, depression, and anxiety. I am a struggling learner. I say am instead of was because it’s still who I am and it’s how I got here. I didn’t grow out of my disabilities, I learned to live with them. I learned that success looks different for everyone and I created it for myself.
It wasn’t until high school that I was able to form a relationship with a teacher who I grew to admire. Although I didn’t reach a point where I loved school or learning, she made me feel safe at school and that in itself was HUGE. One day during my senior year, I was eating lunch with a group of people that I thought were my friends. We were discussing our plans for after graduation when one of the girls turned to me and said, “Why are you even trying to go to college? You aren’t going anywhere in life.” I was inconsolable for days after that conversation but it was during that school year that I learned the most valuable lesson about my future. Teaching isn’t about the color coordinated supplies, fun picture books, and pretty pens. Teaching is about making a difference.
Seven years later, I completed a nine month graduate program with a 4.0 GPA. Eight years later, I completed my first year of teaching. Nine years later, I cried on my way home from the last day of didn’t want to return to the classroom. I took the summer to focus on myself (which was really just two and a half months of sleeping until ten, drinking coffee and watching Netflix…) and ultimately made the decision to give teaching one more chance. 
“How is your school year going?” It’s my least favorite question because my school year is actually going REALLY well. That sounds weird, right? The beginning of the year last year was great too but then in addition to the obstacles of that came with an extremely hard class, I took on the shared responsibility of caring for a sick family member, went through two knee surgeries that left me with multiple complications, including the inability to walk on my own, and finally, trying to find time to grieve after losing my grandmother unexpectedly. Last year, things fell apart faster than I can fill a cart at Target so you can understand how the fear of that happening again has been overwhelming.
On the first day of school, a sweet child walked in my classroom. For this darling child, the first three days of school were spent asking endless questions (often the same ones over and over again), throwing papers on the floor, squirming in their seat, crying, and telling me that all of the work is too hard. I spent the first three days of school answering the same questions over and over again, picking up the papers off the floor, drying tears, and reassuring my little friend that they are in fact, a very smart and capable person. Every time I looked at this tiny human during those three days, I saw an eight year old version of myself and on the fourth day of school, I overheard the child say to a friend, “Aren’t you glad you’re in Miss Cates’ class? I am. I like school now because she makes me happy.” 
That was it. That’s all it took for me to finally figure out why I’m here.
Every child deserves to have someone who believes in them. Someone who makes them feel safe and happy. Someone who makes them feel like they are capable of doing anything they want to do. I’m here because although I eventually found the teacher who made me feel like that, it is impossible to undo the damage done to a student who spends years falling through the cracks. I’m here because I don’t ever want a student to feel the way that I felt when I was a child. I’m here because I believe that teachers need to be who they needed. I’m here because teaching makes a difference and I want to be who I needed.
So, tiny human, thank you. We still have nine months left in the school year but I will never be able to teach you as much as you’ve taught me in the last four days.

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