May 30, 2018

DIY Privacy Headphones

I found a treasure pile in the hallway! There was a box labeled DONATE filled with old headphones.  You know the ones that plug into a junction box for a listening center - from, like, 15 years ago. You know the ones with the enormous jacks and the thick curly cords that are constantly tangled? You know the ones with sturdy plastic and comfy, padded ear covers?
I plucked them from the box, clipped the cords and voila, privacy headphones! No explanation needed. Kids love them and use them regularly. My only wish? I had one for each kid...
During Read to Self.
During a test.
During writing.
To get away from a classmate.
Saved from the landfill, and totally free,  privacy headphones are now a fixture in my room!

April 29, 2018

5 Ways to Organize Your Teaching on Pinterest

I have a Pinterest account and eagerly pin new, cool things I come across….. but seriously my boards are a mess. Sure, I can find that Colosseum Tour for Kids video link, my favorite tri-corner hat tutorial or the yummy ice cream in a bag recipe when needed. But – hold on - it’s going to take several minutes.
My colleague Bristlecone Backpack is young. She grew up using technology and therefore approaches her account in a totally different way. Check out her Pinterest boards. So pretty…so organized… so easy to find stuff. I’m an old dog. She’s teaching me some new tricks.  I’d like to pass along “Do this, Not That” advice to designing functional teaching-related Pinterest boards.

Do this: Create a board targeted for a specific unit – Not that: create a board for a broad skill
Place pins on the board where you know you’ll use them. It keeps you focused and reduces the total number of boards you work with. We teach the Core Knowledge curriculum so she organizes her boards by domain. Look at her Astronomy board. Point of use. It works.

Do this: Be picky – Not that: Pin indiscriminately because you think “ that looks good”
Check out the links you are considering. This means actually click the link! Does the link work?  Is the idea appropriate for your grade level? Are there photos of the end product? Is the website easy to navigate? Is using the idea or resource something you’d actually do? If you say no to any of the above, pass it over. It creates clutter. Boo on clutter.

Do this: Use the secret boards – Not that: Uh… Don’t use the secret boards…
Bristlecone Backpack told me she collects hairstyle inspiration, memes and recipe ideas like the rest of us. But YOU can’t see it. (She has equally impressive secret boards keeping her private life private.) Her public Pinterest profile is professional and makes it easy for others to use (like me!).

Do this: Unpin stuff you don’t like or use – Not that: Leave it all there, just in case….
Take a few moments to unpin the stuff that you would not use again. It’s slightly clunky, but hover on the pin and click on the pencil symbol. On that page press delete. Don’t keep the junk.

Do this: Bookmark the Pinterest board you are currently using on your school computer – Not that: email yourself links you think you’ll use to your school email (from home).
I would never would pull up my current Pinterest boards on my school computer because of the above referenced jumbled mess. However, if your Pinterest board is school-worthy, bookmark it!  If Pinterest is blocked at your school, talk to your network administrator. Show the Pinterest boards you want to have at your fingertips.

I’d love to hear best Pinterest practices for YOUR boards! Share the love below!

November 11, 2017

Reward Coupons for Big Kids - Adapted for Younger Kids

Although I currently work with younger kids, I can't give up all of the fun, free incentives Reward Coupons for Big Kids offer. With a couple of tweaks I've been able to make many of the Reward Coupons for Big Kids work with my current younger group. 
One coupon is in really big demand right now. It is Read to a Kindie. Students select a book and at a mutually agreed upon time with the kindergarten teacher, my students go and read to them. Can a teacher get any happier than watching a young student clamor  to read to someone? Frankly, I smile just a little bit wider when my student is a struggling reader! "Retro fitting" this free reward for younger kids isn't hard. Here are some tips.
1. We have a mini economy going in my room and I open my 'store' every two weeks. I post the Read to a Kindie coupon on the whiteboard, write a price next to it, interested kids sign up and then pay.
2. I can say to a fifth grader, "Go to the library choose a book you think a kindergartener will like and will take you n less than 8 minutes." That doesn't work with the younger crowd. I help out by selecting several books for them to choose from, keeping in mind my students' reading level.
3. I make the kids practice in class. A lot. Younger kids need coaching on voice volume, how to hold the book and fluency. We talk about what to expect when reading with kindies and how to handle it when they aren't perfect angels. An older child can roll with it when a kindie calls out or gets up to get a drink in the middle of a book. A younger kid does best when actively told what to expect.
4. Most Big Kids can take on reading to a whole class right away, but for younger kids audience size matters. At the beginning of the year I make sure my students are reading one on one with a kindie. If they make a mistake, a kindie won't notice and my students feel safe. By the end of the year they can handle small groups.
5. I require my students to share their experience with the class when they return. Without exception, they are enthusiastic and tell some funny stories about what a kindie did or said. This in turn inspires others to choose this Reward Coupon in the future.
Why does this Reward Coupon works so well with a younger crowd?  There is built in success. A kindie is excited for an older student to come read to them. My younger students are instant celebrities in the hallway! They are confident going in. They know the book. They've been prepped on what kindie might do. Rather than be thrown off by a kids behavior or comment they enjoy the process a lot.

Many of the other Reward Coupons for Big Kids are easily adaptable for younger kids too! Give them a try!

August 27, 2017

Calendar Questions: 5 Ways to Keep the Daily Math Review Fresh!

Do you have a daily calendar review? Knowing how to read a calendar and how that information is applied to life is critical, even for the youngest kids. As your students get older, however, many get "calendar fatigue" (OMG do we have to do this again???). You may be feeling the same way - but I urge you to keep the routine in place. Change things up by digging deeper with questioning. Bring a new level of fluidity to understanding. Internalize concepts about time.  If your calendar review could use a facelift, here are five ways to keep it fresh and meaningful:

1. Put students in charge. This is not an overnight change in process. You'll need to clearly model how you want questions to be asked and how you want them to be answered. You may need to work on voice volume and putting part of the question in the answer. A struggling reader may need to check in prior to being in charge to build confidence. But, once you've established expectations, kids love taking over the role. In my classroom, daily calendar review takes place on a smartboard. I have a student in charge of the computer too. Practicing public speaking skills in context  is a life tool.
    https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Calendar-Questions-24020792. Keep calendar time short and sweet. A three questions limit keeps the process flowing. Even though students are in charge, I monitor the process to keep a fast pace. If the leader is taking too long to choose someone to answer I do it for them. "Kayla, you need to choose quickly. Stephen, what's your answer?" If someone is taking too long to answer, I give them an out - if they want it. "Kara, do you have your answer or do you want Kayla to call on someone else?" When a child gives a wrong answer I step in, and whenever possible, I give nonverbal clues. "Jared, November is not the 10th month. Look here.Do you want to try again or call on someone else?" I could be pointing at a posted resource. Sometimes the pace slows down because of confusion and a quick reteaching is needed. In those instances we just answer two questions. The number of questions covered isn't as important as the amount of time spent on the review.
    3. Sprinkle in cross curriculum nuggets. Drip concepts and anticipatory info. It's not a time to actively preteach, but a great way to get those kids thinking.... and wondering. Oh, it's so easy to be sneaky. "Thursday is when we'll learn about one of the great conquerors, Alexander the Great." Move on.  "Do you think we'll get to the conclusion of Wonder before this date? I can't wait to find out what happens." Move on.
    4. Keep a handy resource of Calendar Questions. Behold my resource. Why the tattered corners? Why the slightly ripped holes? Because students are using them! Each day my leader chooses from the ten or so cards. In addition to basic questions like, "What will the date be on Thursday?" there are higher level questions too. "How does a calendar help know when to go
    to your grandmother's house for Thanksgiving?" Some questions lead to a right or wrong response, while others are open ended and could lead to a discussion. "What is something you do NOT like about a summer month?" The variety makes it ideal for different ages and ability levels.

    5. Rotate questions to keep them fresh. My Calendar Questions has 84 cards (plus a blank template to make your own), but I don't put them all out there. Once a week I rotate out half the cards on the ring.
This collection of Calendar Questions  has a clean design and an easy to read font. I laminate for durability, punch a hole in the corner and hang them on a ring for easy reference. Looking for more daily organization support outside of your math lesson? Check out this Morning Meeting Bundle.

Looking to get more insight on crafting a daily Morning Message? Check out this post.
Best of luck with a daily calendar review in your room. It's a fun, fast and a meaningful part of any math lesson.

April 2, 2017

Drawing the Taj Mahal when Learning about India

Integrating elements of world cultures across the curriculum is fun, natural and fairly easy. Teaching an appreciation for different cultures early on will, I believe, have a positive impact in the future. We just finished a unit on India. You can find a list of books I use HERE and a great FREE mini poster to promote cultural appreciation HERE.
A favorite lesson is learning about, then drawing the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal Reading Passage and How to Drawing is engaging for middle elementary students. It has two pieces. First is a reading passage sharing the history of this world treasure presented in two formats. One is ideal for small group instruction and the other is for fluency practice. Some kids read into a whisper phone and others will do it with a partner. Either way this fluency piece promotes smooth, natural reading of a text.
Second, kids get to draw the Taj Mahal with step-by-step instructions. They love the process. I project a photo of the Taj Mahal and post the steps on the whiteboard near by. I model the process using our document camera then let them get started.
The end results show a lot of variety. Some kids add in lots of details, others.... not so much. A couple of kids insisted on using a ruler, which was fine.
I like to do this lesson after we're comfortable with text features. Using vocabulary lifted from the reading passage, kids labeled some of the architectural features - minaret, dome, arch - and eventually added a caption at the bottom. These looked great in the hall.
Drawing the Taj Mahal allows for a different sort of learning experience. It helps us notice and interpret details. It helps us remember stories. Everyone can produce a different end result - and everyone is correct.
If you like the idea of incorporating a literature piece with an art project check out these units as well.
Native American Buffalo "Hide" Craft Project and How To Reading
Famous Immigrant Biographies
Greek God/Goddess Bundle: Mini Biographies, How to Drawings and Crown

March 22, 2017

6 Steps to Writing Great Opinion Paragraphs

Teaching elementary kids to write an opinion paragraph is sort of tricky and supporting an opinion takes time and practice. I started with my kids back in the fall to instill the structure. Although Thanksgiving is long gone,  this writing project The Best Thing on the Thanksgiving Table: Opinion Writing was a great success. It was truly authentic writing and the kids were excited to get started- even my reluctant writers were jazzed to share. I easily met several standards and the skills were taught in context. These pieces got a lot of attention in the hall as well. We have a dedicated writing workshop chunk of time each day so it took us four days to from when I introduced the project to the final drafts  hanging in the hall.

Step 1: Get Ideas Flowing. During Morning Meeting we shared a favorite Thanksgiving food and why we liked it so much. I always choose tomato gravy, a sweet, crimson-colored sauce from my childhood. Most kids have never heard of it so it gives me lots of possibilities to model my thinking throughout the project.

Step 2: Model First. how to choose a food and the topic sentence/concluding sentence on a graphic organizer. I modeled tomato gravy knowing no one else would 'take' it and shared the graphic organizer. You can get an opinion organizer HERE and and opinion writing rubric HERE for general projects, but a tailored version is also included in The Best Thing on the Thanksgiving Table. I like to have kids come up with their topic and concluding sentence right after they have selected the food.  Introducing an opinion topic sentence needed a bit of work because key is to keep it general. As a group we generated possible topic and concluding sentences I could use on the board. Keep them up. They serve as student inspiration as well. Whenever working on topic/concluding sentences I ALWAYS use the hand-dandy whiteboard manipulatives included in this BUNDLE. Kids need a resource and they use this one! I put both out both sets for differentiation. Students then return to their seats to write their topic and concluding sentences. My heart sings when a child takes a word from the board, uses it at their seat, then returns it.

Step 3: Finish the Plan. The 'meat' of the writing are reasons supporting the opinion. First, we wrote a list of ideas on WHY a food could be a favorite. I'm sure we include how it tastes and what it looks like, but also take a step further tapping into family traditions or memories they have of the food. Look closely at the example to the left. This little friend, a reluctant writer, did an amazing job. Again, model your plan before letting kids complete their graphic organizer and differentiate as needed. Some may push themselves to write just two reasons while others 'dig deeper' and explaining their ideas more fully.

Step 4: Draft. I project my organizer then demonstrate how I used my plan to write an organized draft. We use plain lined notebook paper and skip lines. For this particular project I used the included Thanksgiving Word Bank to hold kids accountable for spelling. Depending on your grade level we read the list in unison before writing so everyone knows the words.

Step 5: Edit. Self edit. Peer edit. Teacher edit. 'Nuff said. We don't catch every single mistake prior to posting in the hall, however, the process is what is important.

Step 6. Final Draft. I like to have several versions of final draft paper for kids to choose from. Room for illustrations are a great touch.

Here are some other projects that get kids excited about writing!
Halloween Candy Opinion Writing
The Ultimate Birthday Party Description Writing
A Time I Got Hurt Personal Narrative
How to Make My Paper Snowflake
Book Recommendation

February 26, 2017

Student Guest Reader

Meet Sam. Sam was my Guest Reader last week. He read The Amazing Bone by William Steig to our class. He read it fluently, added in voices for the characters and did not stumble on some pretty sophisticated vocabulary.  My cuties were a fantastic audience and when Sam was done with the story they all clapped.
Several years ago Sam was MY student - and he really struggled with reading. He tried SO hard. I gave that boy extra time, lessons and attention. His parents worked with him every night. Although he wanted to unlock the reading magic so badly, it hadn't clicked for him - yet.
Sometimes kids simply need more time than others. Sam is now, several years later, a Harry Potter enthusiast, one of the top readers in his grade and a solid student. He stops by my room a couple of days a week before heading home to chat. He talks about the books he's reading and what's going on in his life. Isn't witnessing this kind of academic growth and making a real friendship connection with a child what teaching is all about?
Do you have guest readers? I always have. Usually it is a student's parent or grandparent who comes in at the end of the day and shares a book. Sam remembered this - and asked if HE could be a guest reader sometime. We picked out a book, he took it home, practiced on his younger sibling and the next day said he was ready. Why had I not thought of this before?? Inviting a student to guest read was a win-win experience.
It was a win for my class - Many recognized him from seeing him in the hall or when he dropped by before heading home and felt like a friend was reading to them. They got to watch a kid, not much older, be a great reader. It was new and different. It was a win for Sam - he took on a leadership role and walked away with a great sense of satisfaction. Recalling his struggle many years ago, I took a video and some pics and sent them to his mom. The smile on his face when he was finished was priceless. You may want to invite a student guest reader too!