December 11, 2015

Christmas Scoot FREEBIE for you!

Just a week and a half left before those kids are loose again.... They're getting antsy, but I'm not letting up. There is still lots of learning to be done prior to that crazy last carpool of 2015. But I promise we'll have fun on that last day. A movie, pajamas, apple cider and a party.
Born from the need to offer active, fun (and slightly educational) games during Christmas parties over the hills and through the woods, I created and just posted a FREEBIE for you. Click here to get the FREE Christmas Scoot game for your room.
Expect singing, call and response, movements and some academic stuff in there too. Plus some laughing. Oh yeah, don't forget some laughing.
Check out my store for a FREE How to Play Scoot download and a host of academic Scoot! games as well.
Immigration Scoot!
Pioneer Oregon Trail Scoot!
Civil War Scoot!
My kids are hooked.

December 6, 2015

Planning a Personal Narrative - YOU need a plan!

Personal narratives are a great way to get kids writing. Students just need to tap into their own experiences and they have a story "nugget". Over the years, I've found a great way to get kids revved up about a personal narrative. Ask them to write about a time they got hurt. A personal tragedy. Those stitches. That scar. The cast. Oh, the trauma!  Little do those cuties know, as they explain their story, you'll be plugging in all sorts of writing practice! Frankly, this project has supported some of the best writing to that point in the year. Like all writing projects, quality writing begins with a plan. Note: Everything I'm sharing today is directly from one of my favorite personal narrative projects, Ouch! A Time I Got Hurt, a Personal Narrative. Click to check it out in my TpT store.

Before beginning ANY piece of writing there has to be a plan. YOU need to plan. YOU need to be prepared! When teaching writing YOU must model everything you expect your students to do.
For this project, remember a time YOU got hurt? If you have some scars to share even better! Tell them the basic story to generate enthusiasm. The next day remember some more details about the story. (Don't have a story? Make one up!)
Ask your students about a story they have. Tell the story to a classmate. Assign it as homework to talk to their parents to gather more details about their horrible trauma. The goal is getting your writers to commit and get enthusiastic about their story.
YOU fill out the OUCH! planning graphic organizer and share it with your kids. Model writing in note form and talk about how/why you did it. Modeling how to plan the story you've shared is key. Pass out an OUCH! graphic organizer to each kid.
Give students about 10 minutes to plan their story and that's it. Quick notes and a quick sketch.
Now stop. Do not go on. Supporting students to craft quality writing is a step by step process. Trust me, some students will begin writing the entire story on their planning sheet - but you don't want that! Walk and redirect as needed. It is helpful to have another adult during this stage to help. To achieve the desired end result, planning is critical and YOUR plan will set the stage.

July 23, 2015

Things to (heart): Book Bins that last

Do you use Book Bins in your classroom? Critical to implementing Reader's Workshop/Daily 5 , finding durable book bins is a must -  and that should be an easy task, right? Yet, it's not. Book Bins take substantial abuse. In many classrooms, by the end of the year, cardboard and many plastic versions are held together by duct tape and looking really bad.

I'm very picky about my Book Bins. My criteria is (1) they have to be easy for smaller hands to manage (2) they have to be tall enough so the books don't fall out (3) they must be clear so it's easy to see what is inside and (4) they need to be sturdy enough to last for many years.

Here is my recommendation for the best Book Bins. Head on over to The Container Store and get these.

My entire classroom set of bins is five years old. Yes, five. Five separate voracious readers have toted and manhandled each one of these for nine months each. My enthusiastic cuties have not been kind to them. They have been plunked on the floor, accidentally kicked or tripped over, and roughly hauled from the shelf. Think of the stories each of those bins could tell...

 Medium size Multi-Purpose Bins.
 Only ONE in five years has a crack - and frankly it's not bad enough to replace.

 Each kid has their own bin. Setting it up was a bit of an investment @$5 each. But they are DURABLE and adaptable to any classroom theme.

I did wait to buy mine on sale but The Container Store as a teacher discount program you could look into. Any other long lasting book bin recommendations out there?

July 8, 2015

Resources for a GrowingRoots Core Knowledge Social Studies Unit

When I moved to a new state and was hired at a Core Knowledge school, I was thrilled. However, if you teach the CK curriculum then you'll appreciate my panic upon reviewing the VOLUME included in those social studies units. Although a classroom veteran, my first year in a CK school had me feeling like a newbie again. Fast forward five years; I'm really familiar with the content and have streamlined how I teach social studies. Moving from loose papers  and scattered ideas, I designed comprehensive and teacher-manual aligned student booklets (or in some cases "packages") for my social studies units.  It made my life easier and my teammates are fully on board. These units keep us focused and its so nice to have everything in one place.

I have many second and third grade Core Knowledge social studies units in my TpT store. Perhaps they can make your life easier too. Each is sold individually but you may want to check out the grade level bundles to save money.  

To implement these units you'll need these two resources.  Both are the social studies materials recommended on the CK site published by Pearson. 
Core Knowledge website

You will need the appropriate Teacher's Manual/Guide and the student text

I took the Teacher Guide out of the 3-ring binder. I've seen the student text in two formats - as individual student readers and bound together in a larger book. The text is the same. All the activities and information correlate with these. (A few units do have enrichment or additional materials. In those cases, I've created and included them.)

The second grade units are teacher-directed. Content delivery relies heavily on listening skills - those readers aren't too meaty. As the unit progresses I've found that 'retelling the story' using the reader as a memory jog is great. After a lot of modeling the kids love to take over! Much of the booklet is completed as a whole group. I always project my own copy and work along with them. Kids of all abilities need a model! Doing so shares correct information, proper spelling and, if someone is absent, it's an easy way to get caught up.
The third grade units are still teacher-directed but content delivery requires student reading. Do you find, like me, some concepts are rather abstract for an eight or nine year old? At times I know a few ideas can remain "muddy" at the end of some units, yet this is what I love about CK. They don't dumb it down. Instead they plant the seeds to support learning the following year. 

Given the varied ability of third grade readers, at the beginning of the year we do a lot of whole group reading and sometimes I pull the text into my Teacher Time/Guided Reading. This is ideal literacy/content area integration since you will teach students how to think and learn from their reading. This is followed by rereading the text with Read with Someone and Read to Self to practice fluency and comprehension. Last year I asked a parent volunteer to record the chapters so my kids have a Listen to Reading option as well.

As the year progresses, and kids become more independent readers, I modify my content delivery and pull back a bit, focusing on "who needs what" to be successful. Maybe some can handle it on their own. Maybe some need the support of a buddy. Some still need a lot of guidance. 

I still model the student booklet, but toward the end of the year most students are able to do a lot of the work in groups. Many of my third grade units have task cards requiring them to read the student text and complete work.  I often will ask a volunteer for support person to circulate around the room to answer questions or help troubleshoot. We come together as a group to share ideas and make adjustments as needed. 

Perhaps you've decided a complete CK unit is not for you..... that's ok. Check out these links. Inspired by the CK content, these are more generic and do not require CK resources.

Still have questions? My store's Q and A section is the perfect place to ask! Enjoy summer! 

July 7, 2015

Currently 7-7-15

Listening to my cat snore. It's surprising how LOUD he is. Tail twitching, lip curling... there must something dramatic going on in that little brain.

Loving a cold, misty day. Unexpected and much appreciated. 

Thinking how the 4th of July can trigger so many bittersweet emotions. Is the summer have finished or half started? Hummm.... will need to ponder.

Wanting to finish the basement clean out. I did as much as I could handle in one day. Oh.... it felt good to get rid of all that JUNK. The issue now is that I ran out of steam to complete it.... must. complete. soon.

Thanks to DH for arranging a fun evening with food, music and friends. 

All Star Long Range Plans! New grade. New curriculum. New teammates. I love making LRPs!!! No kidding! Anyone else love  making 'em too?

February 7, 2015

Authentic Writing Experiences: Student-Created Birthday Book

Writing is a craft and a life skill. Aren't we lucky to teach young writers "tools" to creatively bridge the gap between what develops in the mind to what ends up on the paper? I hope you've witnessed a child who struggled with writing and then turned the corner.

As kids work on paragraph writing, providing authentic reasons to write become a big motivator. In my opinion, an authentic writing experience is writing for someone other than me. I must be someone the child cares about - and cares about them -  who will enthusiastically read what they've written. That is a 'real' purpose and puts your efforts into context.

This Birthday Book is a simple way to incorporate authentic writing.

At the beginning of the year I mark each child's birthday in my planner. Summer birthdays are celebrated as a half birthday. I make unbound copies of a book for each child - cover and blank letter templates for the number of kids in the class - and paper clip those together. On the Word Bank I plug in my current class' names and copy on bright card stock. This allows me to pull a birthday book and easily find a word bank as indicated in my planner.

When it's someone's birthday I make my Work on Writing rotation "Write a nice birthday letter to ________". Each child gets a letter template and goes to town writing a letter to their classmate. I expect my students to incorporate compliments, specific things they respect or admire about the child and a wish for them. Along the way I expect kids to use the Birthday Word Bank as a spelling resource and proofread for spelling, mechanics and structure.They will quickly (or slowly) internalize parts of a letter.

At the beginning there is lots of coaching and instruction. Over the year, confidence grows and the process helps with writing fluency and word choice.  An illustration box and caption is a non-fiction text feature allowing the birthday child to get lots of 'gifts'. The two examples below are middle of the year second grade Birthday Book letters.
 Second grade work

As Editor-in-Chief I scan letters before binding 1. to be sure they are all appropriate and 2. to hand back letters for improvements when needed.

I'll admit some years there is a lil' stinker in the class. Hopefully you'll know in advance when classmates will be at a loss for compliments. To be proactive, those occasions are great opportunities for a mini lesson on word choice before the birthday letters. Together we brainstorm things the lil' stinker is good at - then discuss words to describe them. This way you have compliments written on the board ready to go and your writers have an easier time.

What does the birthday child do during Work on Writing? They design the book cover and do a birthday word find.

What started out as an experiment during my early teaching years turned into a huge success. Kids love reading their classmates' letters. Parents tell me their child's Birthday Book is going in the Memory Box. The Birthday Book is an authentic writing experience builds classroom community and motivates kids to improve their writing skills.

January 31, 2015

Building Independent Spellers with a Spelling Word Card

Having access to a kid-friendly spelling resource is key for elementary writers. For a long time  I purchased a small spelling booklet for each student. I taught how to use it and modeled frequently. But here's the thing - kids rarely used it independently! Flipping through a booklet to find the correct spelling took more time than most kids were willing to invest.

During my Master's program I tackled this problem and created the Spelling Word Card - a simple, one page, kid-friendly spelling resource for middle and upper elementary kids. Over a four month period, I collected words students frequently asked how to spell. I combined those with their common spelling errors. I also picked words from the Dolch list my students had not yet mastered.

I've been teaching a while and have found it is the most efficient way to build independent spellers. The cards quickly become a well-used resource. Bent edges. Small rips. Lots of 'personality'. Love it!

Each child has his/her own card stock copy. There is a spot for a name so kids add words throughout the year. It becomes a personal word wall.

The following ideas help kids use them independently.

1. Introduce the card then play lots of games. Kids need to know the words included.
2. Expect students to have it out for any writing assignment in any content area. If you have a classroom economy, silently pass out 'cash' to anyone with the Spelling Word Card on their desk.

3. When a child asks how to spell a word ask "Did you look on your Spelling Word Card?" Most return to their desk and use it.
4. Some lil' stinkers will say "yes" - even when they didn't. But, you'll get a sense pretty quickly of the words included. Just smile and say, "Bring me your card and show me where should that word should be." Usually they don't come back.
5. If a word is not on the card I write on the white board and have them copy it onto the card. The helps create ownership.
6. Tell parents about the card and send a copy home.

Click the Spelling Word Card to get your own copy. Happy teaching!

January 29, 2015

Why is this Desk Backwards?

One of my adorable little friends has a problem with organization. I bet you have a student like this too.
Her desk was so jumbled and cluttered she couldn't find the materials she needed. From the simple things - like a pencil or ruler -  to the more critical - a writing draft or her Reader's Notebook - it all eluded her in the 'Black Hole' that was her desk. She was stressed out. I was frustrated and, quite frankly, the other kids were beginning to pass judgement.

I realized this child needed help and resorted to a strategy I learned when I was a student teacher (oh, so many years ago). I turned her desk around. She is still part of a table grouping, yet only has a desktop.

I didn't make a big fuss as we sorted her desk contents and put it all in a basket to the side.

This has been a lifesaver for this child. 
I'm not going to fool you, the basket is a disorganized mess, BUT everything is contained. Most importantly, my little friend can find what she needs because it is all visible! I'd love to hear your ideas on how to help disorganized kids!

January 24, 2015

Student-Created Anchor Charts with Reward Coupons for Big Kids

The process of integrating a Reading Workshop approach (a la Daily 5) with our new basal series has been interesting, challenging - and sort of fun too. Now, at the half year point, the concepts and skills are circling back for the second (and for some, a third) time.
To freshen things up, I've introduced my class to a new Rewards Coupon for Big Kids. It's called "Create Learning Poster For Wall" and it has been a hit! You only need a piece of chart paper and a set of markers.
Typically two kids choose this reward and the task is to make educational anchor charts to share and post. I give them the idea and they are expected to complete it in about 15 minutes. They share their poster and love it when I refer to it in class. This is a win-win. The kids are making learning concrete, and it brightens the room.
Main Idea and Key Details

Root Words

Student-created anchor charts do not always have the style I would choose, but the kids 'own' it and they love it. I'll add other student-created anchor charts using Rewards Coupon for Big Kids They make everyone happy.

January 22, 2015

Signing up for Reading Rotations: How to Keep Your Sanity

Since embracing the Reading Workshop Literacy Block format I've tried a LOT of systems to manage the whole process of signing up kids for literacy rotations. The management systems I tried held students accountable, but they just about put me over the edge. Calling out each student's name and waiting for a response... Signing up on the SMARTboard.... Moving clothes pins to posters... I tried it. I really did. All variations of it.  It was time consuming and tedious. Are you with me?

I'm happy to share the system that (finally!) works in my classroom.
At our school, the first bell rings at 8:00. This is what my whiteboard looks like. It's empty except for the students' names I've put under Teacher Time. I do this before leaving the day prior.

I greet kids at the door and as they trickle in they know to sign up for rotations. Some days I have three and some days I have four.  Based on where their name is 'locked' in Teacher Time, they decide where to sign up for the other blocks.
Here are the two tricky parts:
1. If I have three rotations, one Teacher Time has two groups at once. An assistant takes one in the hall at the same time I'm working in the room.
2. If a rotation  has a star in front that indicates work is done on the laptops. I have access to 8 laptops. So.... only 8 kids can sign up in that block.

Announcements are over at 8:20. This is what my board looks like. My Lit Block is ready to rock and roll!

Following my strategy reading lesson I show and explain what the required work is for each rotation. As we progress through the Lit Block a student erases the rotation as it is complete. Students know where to go next because now it's at the top.

At the beginning of the year it took roughly three days of modeling and practice before they could do it independently. Now they are masters. Students participate. Classmates help classmates if there is an issue. The cuties know what they should be doing!
Finally a Lit Block rotation system that works for me.The kids do the work and I just supervise. Love that!