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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sight Words Games

What is the point of sight words games? Are the kids actually learning anything, or just playing?
First, a brief explanation of sight words. These are words that kids need to be able to recognize at a glance—by sight—as part of learning to read fluently. These are words that occur very frequently in written English (words like can, will, and), some of which are also phonetically irregular (for example, buy, come, talk). Once a child is able to read these high-frequency words quickly, he can focus his attention on the more advanced words and on understanding the meaning of what he’s reading.

The way to learn sight words is basically to memorize them one by one through repetition—seeing the word, hearing the word, saying the word, spelling the word, and even writing the word. But how to do this without boring the pants off your active, fidgety kid and without driving yourself crazy? I recommend short, straightforward lessons, reinforced with plenty of game time.

A word of caution: sight words games are a great way to reinforce and practice a sight words lesson, but games are not the way to introduce new words. A child should have a pretty decent grasp of a word before you use it in a game. Especially if you are working with a group of children—the last thing you want is to embarrass a struggling reader in front of his classmates by stumping him with a word he’s not yet familiar with. Games are for reinforcement, not for introducing new material.

At, we have developed twelve great sight words games for you to play with your children or students. All the materials are free and fully customizable. Just print out a game board and/or set of cards, and start playing (and learning)!

One of my favorites is Book Land, a sight words version of the classic board game Candy Land. In Candy Land, a player moves forward according to the number and color of the squares on the card they draw. In Book Land, each card has a sight word on it, and the player must read the word correctly (and quickly) before they can move their game piece. A child can play with a parent, or 2-4 children can play on their own with a teacher just checking in as needed.

One set of Book Land cards can contain up to 54 different words. You can use this game to review a bunch of already-learned words, or customize the cards to focus on just a handful of words with lots of repetition. We also provide pre-made cards using the two most-used sight words lists: Dolch and Fry.

One feature that parents love about Book Land is that younger, non-reading siblings can join in the fun! They just play according to the traditional game rules, while Big Brother has to read the cards. (Some parents also like that our game board graphics reference different types of literature instead of different types of sugar!)

If your child isn’t a big fan of Candy Land, try Bingo, Fly Swat, or Dominoes instead. Just find a game they like and start practicing those sight words!

Margo Edwards is the Director of Content Development at, a website dedicated to the promotion of child literacy through a variety of free online resources. is proud to be sponsored by the Georgia Preschool Association. 
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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Magic Square Puzzles -- Telling Time, Four Syllable Words, & a FREEBIE

I finally got some new Magic Square Puzzles created!
Read below to learn about each one!
(And make sure to stick around for the FREEBIE!)

Here is a Magic Square for students to practice their four syllable words.

This Magic Square contains 60 pages of puzzles! There are five puzzles for hours 1-12. You can get it by clicking here or on the picture below!
(This puzzle helps teach CCSS 3.MD.A.1)

Not wanting to commit to 60 pages just yet? Then try out this FREEBIE!

What Magic Square Puzzles do you want to see in YOUR classroom?
I'm always looking for new puzzles to create!

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Teacher Loan Forgiveness vs. PSLF: Which to choose?

Thanks for joining us for the last installment of Heath enlightening all of us about teacher loan forgiveness options. This entire three part series started because of my blog post about my experience with loan forgiveness. Then Heath wrote Part 1 and Part 2. Make sure to check them all out to get the most information you can! (And potentially save yourself some money in the process!!)

Hello, Heath from Student Loan Insider again. So far we’ve covered both Public Service and Teacher Loan Forgiveness programs. However as it doesn’t make sense to do both, which do you choose?

Honestly, there are 3 things that will affect your decision on which to choose.

Your loan to forgiveness ratio. How much your forgiveness is for your Teacher Loan Forgiveness versus your overall loan amount can sometimes make your decision a no brainer. Here are 3 examples:

-If your account is A LOT more than your TLF forgiveness amount. If you have $60,000 in debt, it would make more sense to go for complete forgiveness after 120 payments than $5,000 after 5 years, right?

- If your loan debt is less than your TLF forgiveness amount. If you can get it taken care of in 5 years, why wait 10? If your interest and principal combined are less than your forgiveness at the end of five years, go with the Teacher Loan Forgiveness.

-Your loan can be paid off in 10 years or less. While basing your payment can save you some money and stretch it to say 11 or 12 years, it probably makes more sense to just do the five years of forgiveness and then take care of it. I mean you don’t want to keep it around like a pet if you don’t have to right?

Your marital status. This is the thing that can really make the decision hard. Because as we may recall, if you file Married Filing Jointly you must include you and your spouse’s income in determining your payment. While you can have it based on just yours if you file Married Filing Separately, there are a lot of tax benefits you miss out on while doing so and it may not make sense. 

So if you enter into this then meet Mr. or Ms. Right and they make a lot of money, your payment can change by a lot. There are worse problems to have but it may make PSLF no longer make sense.

Your career aspirations. Or perhaps you will be the one bringing in the money. What if you go from a teaching job to an administrative one with a 20k pay raise. This will not only severely change your payment amount (or make you ineligible possibly) but would make you ineligible for TLF because you are no longer a classroom teacher.

However don’t let this deter you. A $20,000 raise with no change in lifestyle is better for you in one year than either forgiveness program. So go for that job and love it, just beware of the consequences. 

You may also want to move closer to home. If this new job is not a Title I school, you will no longer be eligible for TLF. So this would be a case where PSLF is the way to go. 

So what should you do? Well if your situation isn’t obvious, then I have a couple of suggestions for you.

First off, set up your loan like you doing Public Service Loan Forgiveness. You can still go back and apply for TLF later if it doesn’t work. So get on an income plan and act like you are going to 120 qualifying payments. If it works out great. If something changes, then you have something to fall back on.

But remember that life does change. You don’t want handcuffed to your job in either situation just because you decided you need forgiveness. So if you are able to save some money and make payments to yourself as if you are paying for your loans, I would suggest you do this. What this allows you to do is have the freedom to pursue other opportunities and still be able to pay your loans. You can earn this money through extra jobs such as tutoring. It’s a bit of a rogue way of looking at it, but it will certainly give you some freedom. Also if you do achieve forgiveness, now you have a huge funds to do whatever else you want with! While I realize this is easier to do for say $30k in debt vs $70k, it is a plan to consider if feasible.

So it appears we have reached the end of our student loan journey together. If you have any other questions, we can talk about them in the comments. I really appreciate Heather giving me a chance to give you some tips on common student loan assistance programs and hope it has been helping to you too.

As a final thank you, I want to give you one more offer. I offer a complete analysis of your student loans where I help you from beginning to end figure out how to achieve student loan success. But I realize this can be cost prohibitive at just under $200.00. So through May 5, 2015 I am offering 60% off this service. That will take it to under $80! If you are interested, just use the coupon code HOJO60 at checkout. You can find the Hojo’s Teaching Adventures exclusive page here.

Again it has been my pleasure to assist each and every one of you. If you need anything else ever you can contact me, leave a note in the comments, or let Heather know if there is another pressing issue I can be of assistance with. Have a great day and here is to student loan success!    

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Educents Introduces Stores with a GIVEAWAY!

You all know how much I love my Magic Squares! That's why I have so many of them for free! Now you can find some of my freebies and products on the Educents website. Don't know what Educents is? Now is the time to check it out!

Click here or on the picture above to get your Summer Magic Square freebie. It's great for grades K-6!

Not sure how Magic Square Puzzles work? Check out this You Tube video!

Now for the really awesome news {as if a freebie wasn't enough!} -- Educents is giving away $50 credit just for following our stores! It's their second anniversary, so they are celebrating with a bang! Click here or on the picture below to go directly to my store! Look for the red-ish heart to the right of my name that says "Follow Me". Click it, enter the giveaway below, and keep your fingers crossed! =)

Get entered below!

Educents Marketplace $50 in Edubucks Giveaway #8 - 3rd & 4th Grade Stores

Click on any of the links below to view our Educents stores!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Highlighting Public Service Loan Forgiveness and How It Can Benefit Teachers

Here is the second part of a three part installment regarding student loan forgiveness for teachers. The first post can be found here. The original blog post I wrote about this topic can be found here.

Hello, it is Heath again from Student Loan Insider. A quick review of who I am and where we were. My name is Heath and I helped over 25,000 borrowers achieve student loan success. I worked for a student loan servicer and as a coach now. I love helping people figure out their situation and want to help you too!

So when I saw this article by Heather, I realized there were points of confusion that needed addressed. So we first looked at Teacher Loan Forgiveness. Now we are going to look at another popular option for teacher forgiveness, Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).

This is also popularly known as “the Obama forgiveness program.” Before we begin, a lesson for us history enthusiasts. Despite being nick-named for President Obama, it was created under the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 (CCRAA), before he took office. But Greenland is icy and Iceland is green, so weirder things have happened.

So here is the major difference between PSLF and TLF. To qualify for TLF you just have to have the right employer, the right loans and wait. For PSLF, you have to have the right employer, loan types, and repayment schedule made within the proper payment window.

It’s not just making 120 payments as often advertised. It is making 120 QUALIFYING payments. So what makes a payment qualify? Let’s break down the different parts one by one.

In terms of employment, it has to be one of the following:
-Federal, State, local or Tribal government agency
-Public child or family service agency
-Any non-profit organization that is a 501(c)(3). This includes most not-for-profit private schools, colleges, and universities and why most of you will qualify!
-A tribal college or university
-A private non-profit organization that is not a labor union or partisan political organization that provides a public service such as Emergency management, Military service, Public safety, Law enforcement, Early childhood education, etc.

In addition, you must be full-time at this employment. Full-time is considered at least 30 hours a week. You can also hold two part-time jobs as long as both jobs qualify and equal 30 hours or more total.

Your payment must be made with the proper payment window. This window is 30 days before the due date and 15 days after. This is done as a bit of a safety net as the Department of Education is trying to avoid someone (such as a doctor) realizing their payments are low up front but will raise over time, making multiple payments to stack up on their qualifying payments.

While it has to be made in a certain window, it can be broken up as long as the full payment is received within that window.

Some quick examples: 

Your payment is due on the 26th of the month. We are going to assume all 30 day months for this example. So your window is the 26th of the previous month and the 11th of the next month.

Your payment amount is $125.00 a month.

Example 1) You pay $50.00 on the 12th of the month due and $75.00 on the 29th of the month due. This payment qualifies.

Example 2) You pay $100.00 on the 10th of the month due and can’t pay the rest of the month. To “catch it up” you pay $150.00 on the 12th of the following month. This would count as one payment for the second month but the first month would not count. This is because the $150.00 was not received within the window for payment 1 (by the 11th). In addition it would only count as 1 payment even though you made enough money to count as two because you can only have one qualifying payment per window.

Example 3) You pay 50.00 on the 11th of the first month and can’t afford to pay the rest of the month. To “catch up” you pay $200.00 on the 10th of the second month. In this scenario you get two qualifying payments.

This is because payment 1 the full amount was received within the window (the last part being received on the last eligible day) but also it fell 30 days before payment 2 due date meaning it would count as well. So the criteria for both payments are met. While you can only have one qualifying payment per window, this clearly shows the windows do overlap.

Next you must have the right payment plan. This is the one that screws people up the most. You must be on one of the following plans:

-A plan thats payment is equal to or greater than what your payments would be on a Standard 10-year payment plan.

-A plan based on your income. The plans include the Pay As You Earn, Income-Based, and Income-Contingent Repayment schedules.

The first one makes no sense as after 10 years of payments (or less) you will have nothing left to forgive. So the only logical plan to qualify for PSLF is something based on your income. And because you have to include both incomes if you are Married Filing Jointly, often times this plan has a higher payment than if a borrower is doing a consolidation that stretches out his or her term to as long as 30 years or on an Extended Repayment schedule.

As a result, people can pay for a long time on the wrong payment plan and never have any of the payments count.

The final thing is your loan type has to count. The key for this plan is all loans must be Direct Loans. Direct loans are loans that are originated straight from the government rather than a bank. The loan type on these would start with DL. So if you have an older FFEL loan, it would not qualify.

This is where consolidation can come in. All consolidation loans are now Direct Loans. So if you have an FFEL loan that doesn’t qualify you can consolidate it and it will become an eligible Direct Loan. Please be careful to only include ineligible loans in your consolidation though, as any loan that already has qualifying payments on it will be reset by consolidation.

So those are the four criteria. If all four are met, your payment counts. If one of the four are not, it doesn’t. After you make 120 of these qualifying payments, you qualify for loan forgiveness. This forgiveness is not considered taxable by the IRS.

Now lastly let us talk about how you apply. To apply you must complete an Enrollment Certification Form (ECF) for any qualifying employers you’ve had since October 1, 2007. Once your employment is approved, you will be transferred to FedLoan Servicing, as they are the exclusive servicer for PSLF. They will then do a count of how many qualifying payments you’ve had since 10/1/07. Any payments before this date do not count. Any time you want your payment count updated, you must submit a new ECF form. While not necessary, it is recommended you do this annually. You can find the ECF form here.

So while once again this is a quick overview, it will give you the information you need to know to successfully navigate Public Service Loan Forgiveness. If you need further assistance from me I offer a service where I give you a complete review and analysis of your loans in addition to a PSLF Bundle. This Bundles includes a guide of the most common PSLF questions answered, a webinar on PSLF, a Deferment and Forbearance Guide, along with a step-by-step guide on how to complete the Income Plans and Consolidation application.

While this is a great deal at $39 (especially because you get unlimited email access to me in addition regarding your forms!), because I am so appreciate of Heather letting me talk to you guys, that I am offering a special discount as her reader. Just use the coupon code HOJO at checkout to receive 40% off any service or bundle. This offer is only good till April 14, 2015. Once again, you can visit the exclusive page for Hojo’s Teaching Adventures here. 

I will be writing one more post about which is better for you between PSLF and TLF. If you have any other questions before then, you can contact me or I’d love to carry this conversation down to the comments, so let me know what you think. Also if there is another topic you would like for me to cover and Heather allows me, it would be my honor to help in any way possible. So let her know if you want me to help in any other way and I really appreciate your participation in the comments!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Clarifying Confusing Points Regarding Teacher Loan Forgiveness

I'm sure many of you are aware of my blog post on Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness. I was recently contacted by Heath of Student Loan Insider. He has WAY more information about student loans than I could ever imagine, and I asked him to share this expertise here on the blog. Here is the first of three installments he is going to share with us.

My name is Heath and I have a problem.

It’s not necessarily a bad problem, but it is why I am writing this at almost one in the morning. I love helping people with student loans. It is a passion that has luckily become a career.

 Let me give you a ten second backstory and then explain why I am here. I was lucky enough some years back after being a bit of a drifter to get a job as a student loan counselor at a major student loan servicer where I handled everything from repayment plans to forbearance and deferments, consolidation, forgiveness and more. Then seeing a need in the market, I started my own coaching program to help people with student loans.

Everyone loves forgiveness. It’s what over ⅓ of my questions received are. My sister-in-law included. She sent me the link for the article written by Heather in 2013 about teacher forgiveness programs. After the unfortunate task of having to explain why she didn’t qualify, I began to read the comments and realized there was confusion on some common forgiveness issues.

So because of my aforementioned love of assisting, I emailed Heather and she instantly offered a chance for me to write to you. So here we go. Now I could write a big book on this stuff, so I’m going to hit the highlights.

The basics was already covered in the previous article. In order to qualify for Teacher Loan Forgiveness, you have to teach full-time in a Title I school that serves low-income families. To know if your school qualifies, click here.

You can qualify for either $5,000 or $17,500 in forgiveness depending on your subject matter. If you teacher at an elementary or secondary school as a highly qualified Special Education Teacher or as a Secondary School Math or Science Teacher, you may qualify for up to $17,500 in forgiveness. There is small print that goes with this such as the disability must correspond to your training, but this gives you a pretty good overview.

If you are full-time in a secondary school in a subject relevant to your major or in an elementary school where you demonstrated knowledge and teaching skills in reading, writing, math, etc (see almost all elementary classrooms), you may be eligible for $5,000 in forgiveness. You must be a classroom teacher, so things such as librarians do not count.

So before we move on, let me answer the question I know you are wondering. Yes you can do both. Problem is if you qualify for the $5,000, to qualify for the remaining $12,500 (if you meet the criteria) you must teach an additional five years. This typically doesn’t make sense if you qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (which we will cover on another day).

Where everyone seemed a little bit confused though is what loans are eligible. So let us go over what loans are eligible and not eligible. Please remember that we are only talking about Direct Loans and FFEL (Federal Family Education Loan) Program Loans. Perkins and private loans are different ducks that go by different rules.

So let me first tackle the three things I saw that people were most confused about and then I’ll hit all other points. First off, PLUS loans are not eligible. Ever. What PLUS loans are are Federal Graduate Loans or Parent PLUS loans (loans taken out by you for your children’s education). So for those of you asking what about your Graduate Loans that you are currently taking, the answer is forget about them, doesn’t apply (however give you a hint to the next piece on PSLF, they do qualify, so not all hope is lost!).

Secondly, it was asked whether you should keep paying if you are applying for forgiveness. The answer will almost always be yes unless you owe less than your forgiveness amount is.

However make sure it is less than what it will be after interest is added. Here is the easiest way to do that. Interest accrues daily. So if you have a loan amount of $4,000 and an interest rate of 6%, your yearly interest rate (since you won’t be making any payments to offset it) will be $240.00 (that is 4,000 x .06). If you are only in your first year $240 x 5 years is $1200. In this situation you would owe $5,200 after 5 years and would still have to keep paying after forgiveness if you qualify for 5k in forgiveness. But if you have only 4 years left, which is $960, then you could apply for what is called a Teacher Loan Forgiveness Forbearance since $960 + $4,000 is under $5,000 in our example. Simple right? Just remember you must apply for this yearly and can apply as soon as you will be eligible for this forbearance.

Lastly, in the comments, people kept stating that consolidating your loans will make them ineligible. This is not true. But let me tell you this: consolidation will never make it better for you ,only worse. 

Here is why.
A consolidation loan is only eligible if ALL the loans you included in that consolidation are eligible. So let’s say you have a loan that is too old, or you added a Graduate loan to it, etc., it would disqualify all of it. But if all the loans are eligible for the consolidation, the consolidation loan is eligible as well. So it’s not the consolidation that makes it ineligible but what loans you consolidated.

The good news if you still want to consolidate is two fold. One is you don’t have to include all the loans for consolidation, so you can separate the bad apples that are giving you problems. Also you can consolidate an already consolidated loan with another eligible loan so you can even do a new consolidation down the road after forgiveness if you are still eligible!

Now the other qualifications:
-You must not have any outstanding balance on your Direct Loans or FFELP loans as of 10/1/98 or on the date you obtain a Direct or FFELP loan after 10/1/98. Put into English that means if you had loans that was given out before that date and you didn’t pay if off before the magical date, you don’t qualify.
-Loans disbursed after the fifth year of teaching are not eligible for forgiveness. So let us say your fifth year qualifying ended in 2010 and you have a loan that was disbursed in 2011, you cannot put your forgiveness towards this loan.
-Loans disbursed during the 5th year of teaching are not eligible if the term end date is prior to the end date of the 5th complete academic year. So let’s say our loan has a disbursement date of March 8 but your term doesn’t end till December 16. If your year end date is 6/15 of the same year, it is not eligible because it overlaps.

There is more information I could go into in regards to turn around times and how the forgiveness is applied, but I believe we have covered the main points. But before I make my exit, there is one more thing I want to tell you about. 

If you are considering doing PSLF also, I would advise you to choose. This is because while you can do both, it will take a minimum of 15 years (5 for TLF, 10 for PSLF) because the dates cannot overlap. As a result, it is rarely beneficial to do both. I will discuss which to choose in my final installment

So before we go, let me leave you with a present. I have created bundles for both how to best navigate PSLF and TLF in addition to a plan where I will give you a full analysis of your student loan situation. Because we are focusing on TLF today let me tell you about this. It will include a guide of 27 questions about Teacher Loan Forgiveness Answered, a guide on how to complete common Forbearances and Deferments (such as the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Forbearance mentioned above!), exclusive videos you can only view with this bundle on Teacher Loan Forgiveness and how to complete the TLF application and TLF Forbearance application along with unlimited email access to me if you have any questions about the forms, what box to check, etc.

You can get these bundles for only $39, which I think is pretty awesome, but since I appreciate Heather giving me this chance, I am offering her readers 40% off any service or bundle for the rest of the week. (Offer ends on 3/22/2015!)  There may be a discount after this, but it won’t be anywhere near this great offer! Just use the coupon code HOJO at checkout. Visit the exclusive page for Hojo’s Teaching Adventures here.

Also if you have any additional questions use my contact information or let’s talk in the comments below. I am planning on doing two future posts on Public Service Loan Forgiveness and which to choose, along with talking as much about whatever you guys want as long as Heather will have me. So if you want to know more, let her know and I’ll be glad to help. Until then leave a comment and we can start the conversation there!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Test Prep - Ideas for Prepping for Math, Reading, Dealing with Test Anxiety, and MORE!

It's that time of year again - high stakes testing! Whether you love it or hate it, it's here. With that, I wanted to highlight some of the blog posts I've shared here before, as well as a couple new things I think you'll enjoy!

Do your students sometimes struggle with following directions when it comes to testing? Maybe they rush through? Or they don't explain themselves thoroughly enough? Whatever the case may be, you can click here or on the picture below to see how I created a simple note card to help keep my students on task the entire testing time! 

Want more specifics about test prep for reading? I am absolutely in love with Rachel Lynette's task cards! Look at this blog post by clicking here or on the picture below to see how I used her task cards to help my students prepare for the "big test"! (And there's even some FREEBIES included in the blog post if you need them!)

Looking for math test prep ideas? This blog post is chalk full of FREEBIES! Seriously, there are over 30 of them - so you're bound to find something that'll work in your classroom! Click here or on the picture below to go check everything out!

Do you have students with serious test anxiety? I recently heard about these amazing resources from Counseling with Heart. The first is a story of how one boy overcame his fear of math tests by playing Mathsketball. This digital story will help guide your students as they struggle with test anxiety. Share this story, along with the activities, in the weeks prior to state testing to see your students relax and realize they aren't alone when it comes to test anxiety!

Erainna's story is something students at many different age levels can relate to! She also includes a nine-page activity booklet to go with the story. This activity booklet is something students could work through individually, as a whole class, or even in small groups. 

Here's the story synopsis directly from Erainna:
Ethan excels in almost every subject, except math. When it comes to test time, the numbers turn into some kind of alien language. His best friend, Jack helps him to relax by playing a quick game of mathsketball. With each shot Jack asks Ethan a math question, the one with the most correct answers wins! With help from his teacher, Mrs. Alexander, who gives Ethan tips on how to relax before and during a test, can Ethan take his mad mathsketball skills into the classroom and learn to overcome his test anxiety?

Interested in this for your classroom? There is a digital file available at Teachers Pay Teachers. Click here or on the picture above. Or you can use the link below to buy a paperback copy from Amazon.

Another product from Counseling with Heart is an activity book entitled "Conquering Text Anxiety Activity Book". This 40 page guide uses both therapeutic art and writing activities to help students process their feelings about taking tests and overcoming test anxiety. This book will give students the tools necessary to learn study skills and test-taking strategies

You can click here or on the picture above to purchase your copy right now from Teachers Pay Teachers. 

Do you need even more test prep ideas and freebies? It's a good thing I have this Pinterest board devoted to just that! 

Do you have more test prep ideas? Shout them out in the comments below!

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