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The Common Core Classroom

Emily Stewart, M.Ed.

Guest blogger Emily Stewart, M.Ed., is a third grade teacher at Murch Elementary, a public school in Washington, DC. During the 2012-2013 school year, Emily will be sharing the real-world strategies, challenges, and successes of implementing ELA Common Core standards in her classroom.

Cel-e-brate test times -- C'mon!

March 21, 2013

Yes, the old Kool and the Gang song rings true — even for state testing! One of the things I feel very successful about as an upper grade teacher is my ability to kill test anxiety! Even though this doesn't have too much to do with Common Core tactics and struggles, I find that anything that lightens the testing mood always helps every classroom!

On our "Team" we always see testing as a celebration of Learning … because that's what it is! We have spent the last eight months working diligently to master everything in third grade and finally get to SHOW WHAT WE KNOW! I know state testing is very controversial in "teacherland." But that's neither here nor there, because the truth of the matter is that it's not going away, and our kiddos have to embrace it — so we should, too! Here are some ways we "test prep."

Wanted: Fred

A long time ago, there was a boy in elementary school, and he was a nerd. All of the kids made huge fun of him, so he wanted to get back at them. When he grew up, he decided to write questions for state tests, in order to trick all those elementary students! So, all of those tricky questions — they're Fred! Yes, this is the story I tell my kiddos every year, and here's what they say:

"But that's not fair, Miss Stewart! It wasn't me who made fun of him!"

"He's not very nice, I bet he doesn't have many friends."

"Eww … I'm going to trick him back!"

They crack me up! I always keep up the story. Making sure to let them know that I have seen Fred's office, and although I haven't seen him, there has been a sketch done (in case we ever come across him). I usually just print a "nerd" photo from Google and put it on a poster like the one below. This way, when we find tricky questions, the kids have someone to blame it on and they can spot the tricks more easily!


Breakfast & Snacks

We make a big deal about what we eat for breakfast. Some of the best brain foods are oatmeal, cottage cheese, peanut butter toast, eggs and tuna sandwiches — yes, you heard me right! We sit around and everyone tells what they had for breakfast, even if it's just a school breakfast. The conversation puts an emphasis on eating right and the kids take it very seriously. We also organize snacks for testing. I often use SignUpGenius to have parents sign up for healthy snacks. Some of the best options are string cheese, yogurts, fruit, peanut butter (unless allergies, obviously), granola bars, etc. When I taught in a Title I school, I would buy boxes of graham crackers and bananas, which were cheap and still filling. I also sneak Jolly Ranchers® and mints to the kids throughout the test to help keep them awake.


I create a playlist on my iPod that gets the day started off on the right foot. It has upbeat songs like:

Celebration (Kool and the Gang)
You Make My Dreams Come True (Hall and Oates)
Poprocks and Coke (Green Day)
What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger (Kelly Clarkson)
Sweet Pea (Amos Lee)
1234 (Feist)

I play the music until just before the test. It gets all of the kids pumped up and excited!


I print off little pictures that I give my kiddos each day to make them laugh and again, to lighten the mood so they know I'm not worried and believe in them wholeheartedly. Here are a couple of examples:

Angry Birds




This was the first test strategy I ever tried. I have each of my kids decorate a poster with a Great Job saying and their name. We put these posters all around the classroom so everyone has a positive message just for them.

We also decorate huge pieces of butcher paper with positive messages and put them up over the classwork and posters on the wall that we are supposed to remove or take down for testing.

Bubble It Up!

Finally, we have root beer floats to celebrate all of our bubbling! It's exciting and fun, and always makes a great end to a great week!

There are all kinds of great testing strategies. I am ALWAYS looking for some to share, in case you have any in your bag of tricks. I created an Animoto video to share what all of these strategies look like when they come together in a giant testing celebration! Take a look at our Smashing the CAS! video.


Thanks, Melissa! Hopefully I can mirror your amazing enthusiasm!

Love this blog post! Keep blogging girl! You can guest blog for me anytime! :) Melissa

Thanks, Cheryl! It definitely re-energizes the kiddos, too! SO glad you enjoyed the strategies!

Thanks for sharing. Love your songs choice so I'll be using them. My 10th graders will love making and decorating Good Job posters. I'm re-energized. Thank you

Thanks, Stacy! LOVE the idea of different tables...the kiddos would LOVE it, too! Thanks SO much for sharing!

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