November 23, 2016

Reinforcing Genre with Book Club Flyers

Throughout the year I've maintained a genre wall. We talk about genre all the time during the daily read aloud and mini lesson.  It feels at times, however, no matter how many times I've refer to our wall chart, it doesn't sink in well. While most can identify fiction vs. non-fiction, picking apart different sorts of fiction can be tricky.
On the day before break I had a roomful of antsy kids. What do to to keep them engaged and learning? I pulled out my book order stash and integrated them into my literacy block. I want to see how well they could identify genre on their own. I explained their three options prior to letting them loose cutting, sorting and gluing:

Giving kids the freedom to create their own book sort allowed them to 'buy into' the project.  The kids took all sorts of approaches for the 'create your own genre sort' option. One was Harry Potter vs. other chapter books I'd consider reading....
It allowed for differentiation, collaboration and independent thought.

No matter the genre they chose, regardless of their reading level and confidence - those cuties were actively talking about books. There were so many teachable moments that arose. Book blurbs aren't just for the back of books. Kevin Henkes wrote that too?! Is the Who Would Win series fiction or non-fiction?

During the 30 minute activity I was easily able support both those struggling with the basic concept of fiction vs. non-fiction and those who pushed themselves to go beyond. I referred to my genre bulletin board over and over when kids had questions. It was also great to see kids using it independently and talking to friends about the genre of a specific book. 

I also love bringing out book orders during my math block:
We round prices, estimate the total of a wish list, put books in order according to price, add prices, subtract items. It's fun, engaging and real world thinking.

Book club flyers arrive in my mailbox on a fairly regular basis. I don't send home the orders as often as I once did, but they remain a valuable resource for incorporating real life skills in the classroom. On occasion I'll pick up additional grade level or focus flyers from the community table so I have a variety of flyers on hand.
Yes, the room was a disaster when we were finished but it was engaging and worthwhile. The clean up was quick and we got through the afternoon prior to a break with authentic learning in place.

October 18, 2016

6 Ways to Support Beginning Researchers

Just in time for Halloween, my students researched bats last week. This is our first research project of the year - there are more to come - and the kids loved doing it! Overall I'm pleased with our first formal research efforts and I'd love to pass along ideas I incorporated making the process smooth with built in success for beginning researchers.

1. Model every aspect of what you expect students to do. Don't assume they know! For this bat research I declared vampire bats off limits because I used it for my research example. When our Scholastic News packet came in a few weeks ago I was so pleased. They had an entire edition on vampire bats! I pulled some book resources and two days before assigning research groups I demonstrated how to collect vampire bat facts. I showed the kids how to safely Google for additional information and how to record their resources. At each stage it is critical to explain what you are looking for, and how to be organized. After students collected their information I modeled how to thoughtfully create a vampire bat brochure so they could see the quality and elements I look for.

2. Have beginning researchers work in groups. I posted a list of different bats and asked each child to write their top three choices. Using their requests (gotta have buy in!), their reading level and what I know about their personalities I was able to make groups of 2 or 3 students. It was a thoughtful process and I was sure the group combinations supported my low readers and pushed my high achievers as well. I ensured my IEP students collaborated with the special ed team and my identified Talented and Gifted worked with the most advanced resources.

3. Collect resources prior to research. I wanted my students to use both print and online resources. This meant raiding our school and public library for bat books. I kept them all in one bin and did NOT allow students to put any of them in their Book Bins. It meant Googling different bats to see which ones had the most information at my students' reading levels. Based on the resources available and student needs I tailored the bat choice list.

4. Ask parents to come and help when kids are doing the research. I collaborate with my Technology Teacher when kids have done research before, however, I get as many adult helpers in the room as I can during the fact collection process. The adult helpers listen to my instructions then circulate, troubleshoot, assist and encourage all the groups. Whew! I would have a massive headache if it were just me in that room with all those hands up!

5. Expect kids create their own end product. Although students may be working from the same collection of facts as their research teammates, expect each kid to create their own end product. It was easy differentiate and see where some students need reteaching.

6. When finished, show kids the rubric. Discuss how the class, as a group, would score the vampire bat research model. After that allow kids to review and revise their own brochure to get the score desired. Allow kids to reflect on the process too. Beginning researchers may need a bit of coaching on this piece but it give you valuable insight.

Looking for other great research project for your class? Click on the links below. All are appropriate for both the seasoned and beginning researcher!

National Park Research Project
U.S. Landmark Research Project
Native American Tribe Research Project
Country Research Project
State Research Project
Explorer Research Project
Planet Research Project
Penguin Research Project
President Research Project

October 2, 2016

Read to Self Anchor Chart


This is a quick follow up post to this one. Voila! It's my Read to Self anchor chart complete with photos of my students doing Read to Self the way I have trained them.
While the kids are practicing their stamina I get out my cell phone and take photos of what Read to Self looks like. I have yet to figure out the way to turn the sound off when I snap the picture. Unfortunately that can cause them to look at me. No worries - I just do the quiet signal and they get back to the task. Kids love to see themselves 'in action' and it is a super easy way to reinforce expectations.

September 25, 2016

Introducing and Reinforcing Read to Self

No matter how many other tasks I'm required to do the first week of school, I make introducing Read to Self a priority. I want to get the process started early and begin establishing expectations. Plus, those kids need to get reading! I use end of year testing data to get a sense of each students' reading level and prior to the start of school I phone each of my new families to find out what sort of books those kids like. Using all that info, I become a personal librarian and populate each student's book bin with books I feel will be a good fit. Building stamina begins on day 1!

I have yet to find a better explanation outside of the Daily 5 book to introduce Read to Self. I follow The Sisters process closely. My kids' favorite part is being a "star" in the example/non-example process! I make an anchor chart and put it on the wall. Prior to each session we go over expectations. Many kids have not had so much freedom selecting where and what they'll read. What a treat to watch kids get excited about choosing a book and finding the perfect spot!

This year I have a room full of wiggle worms, therefore I'm spending a bit more time than I have in the past actively monitoring the group while they build stamina. Although it has delayed starting one-on-one conferencing, I feel this is time well spent. Nipping issues and bad habits now will help the rest of the year will go smoothly.

The second week of school I brought out the Read to Self Habit Sort for Lower Elementary (I actually printed out a couple of the Upper Elementary version too for differentiation.) I recently revamped it and am excited about the improvements and additional pieces. In addition to a new font, it also includes a second page with the same habits but in a larger font for wall anchor charts or on a whiteboard. I expect my students to recreate the sort in their Reader's Notebook after we do it whole group. As each element is introduced we do the other sorts included in this BUNDLE

The third week I copied and send home Read to Self Routine Homework! I do love this. The half page includes specific questions for an adult to ask the child about Read to Self. Students get to become the experts at home, further reinforcing expectations. The notes I get back from parents range from "Jace understands what to do." to "Kaelyn has never been so excited about reading before! Thank you!" to "It's good to get a glimpse into the class." The sheets include homework for the other Daily 5 elements as well.

The fourth week things run pretty smoothly. It is at that point I get out my camera and start taking photos of the kids who are doing exactly what I expect. I print the photos and post them around our Read to Self anchor chart. This keeps it fresh and kids are always hoping to have their picture added throughout the year. It's such a simple way to reinforce the habits and recognize children at any reading level loving books. One piece of advice - kids start to ham it up when they see a camera. If a child suddenly changes what they were doing to smile, I whisper "I take photos of kids who are working hard." then circle back.

Ironically, one of the favorite photos I've taken for this purpose was of a girl with a furrowed brow and a down-turned mouth. She was leaning her head in her hand, her book just inches from her face. When I posted that one, the girl called out, "That is a terrible picture of me!"
"What book are you reading now?"
"Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes"
"What was going on in the story when we did Read to Self today?"
"Sadako is very sick. They had to put her in the hospital."
"Did you know I took this photo?"
She shook her head no.
"That is why I wanted to show it. Your worry for the main character is on your face. You know how scared you are by the way you hold your head. You didn't know I was right next to you because you were so focused on Sadako's story. This is what being lost in a book looks like! I LOVE this picture!"
I just about started to cry when all the other kids cheered for her.....

September 18, 2016

Popcorn Fun!

Due to a miscommunication I found myself with 40 minutes of unscheduled time the other day. Opps! I pulled out one of my favorite cross-curricular activities, Popcorn Fun: A Hands-on, Integrated Learning Activity, and saved the day! I've used this resource for years and it's always a hit with the elementary crowd. I make copies to have on hand at the beginning of the year for occasions such as this.
In order to be prepared I keep a 99 cent bag of popcorn in my cupboard. I'd be scared to tally up how many times the popcorn in that bag has been handled, drawn and counted by my students.
There are several reasons why this unit is a hit with kids. First, everyone has an opinion about popcorn - and most kids like it. Second, there are no wrong answers. Third, kids get excited to learn new facts about something they are really familiar with from both book and video resources. Teachers like this unit too! Kids are actively engaged and and there is a lot of sneaky learning that goes on -- how to take notes, generating parts of speech, non-fiction text features and math. Popcorn Fun can be completed in an afternoon (fine for older kids) or divided into smaller chunks (better for younger kids). Each year is a little different but this is how the lesson went this year...

Day 1 1:00 - Panic!! The art teacher left early. I've got the kids for 40 mins. What am I going to do? Deep breath. Calm. Get out Popcorn Fun papers.
1:05 - Gather in a group and discuss the variety of ways to prepare popcorn. Make a list of background knowledge facts. Students record their own background knowledge on the paper.
1:15 - Pass out popcorn kernels in cups. Draw diagram. What a great time to discuss labels!
1:30 - Make popcorn kernel predictions. Watch kids count the actual number of kernels in the cup is always fun to watch. Since I do not give instructions on how to do it those kids come up with a variety of problem solving solutions.
1:45 - Back to the regularly scheduled program
Day 2
2:00 Read book about popcorn - as a whole group, we remember new facts we learn from the book. I project a word document to record the facts, modeling note taking skills.
Show video about popcorn - as a whole group, add additional facts to the word document
2:30 - Teach kids how to cite their sources
2:35 - Students choose the facts they find most interesting to write on their paper. Differentiate as needed.

Day 3 - In small groups, complete the popcorn parts of speech sections.
Later in the day, eat Kettle Korn - using the included recipe. Yum!
Popcorn Fun: A Hands-on, Integrated Learning Activity puts many skills and strategies into motion with an authentic experience. Fellow teachers have used this a regular back to school activity and is great for observations. Happy popping!

September 11, 2016

Books about India for your Elementary Classroom

A quick look at four books I love when sharing India with elementary students. Not only do these texts share facts and information, they are ideal for teaching literacy concepts in context. All four are good for quick mini lessons!
Look What Came from India
Kids will be familiar with many of the items. Great for making text to self and text to world connections. Also ideal recognizing and discussing text features.
I is for India
Beautiful photographs, many featuring elementary age children. Great for reinforcing main idea and key details.
Ruler of the Courtyard
This realistic fiction includes great word choice and is a good review of story elements. It also integrates nicely with identifying theme.
Same,Same but Different
A story told through pen pal letters, this books is great to highlight the letter writing format and ideal for compare and contrast.

Looking for more elementary lessons on India? Check out India's Taj Mahal - Reading Passage and How to Drawing. Looking for other ways to teach key skills in context? Grammar and Writing Mechanics in Context.
Note: I do not get any financial incentive to promote these books. I use them. I want to share them with you.

September 5, 2016

A Simple and Meaningful Constitution Day Celebration

Constitution Day is coming up. I used to get a bit anxious since my lower elementary kids never seemed to "get" it. The concepts and ideals are abstract for a kid. Over the years, however, I've come to accept that although students may have limited reference to what our Founding Fathers wrote, it remains a valuable experience to discuss the main ideas and the KEY is putting it into kid-friendly terms. Below are the main pieces of our Constitution Day event. They are simple, meaningful and easy to implement. Plus, you'll get lots of credit from parents because they love short presentations when their child gets to preform.

We make hats. It's just a basic tri-corner hat made from construction paper. Tracing and cutting a template is easy and students create it themselves. Sometimes they're lopsided and that is part of the charm so it's not an issue. Our art teacher helps transform them into amazing patriotic accessories! We keep them safe in our cubbies until it's art day.

We practice and put on a performance. Some years we have done it in the classroom. Other years we have been part of a whole school assembly. Regardless, kids love performing and the adults love to watch their cutie up on stage.
Our performance has two pieces and while it does take some advance planning, it doesn't disrupt our days. There is no scenery or drama. The hats are the only costume. One involves students learning about and sharing information about the Constitution in kid-friendly terms. We use the Constitution Day Classroom Performance. It lasts just a couple of minutes and it's really easy to put into place. All kids participate and it has built in flexibility. The lines vary in length and complexity allowing
for differentiation based on student need. There are 24 lines total - the exact number in my class this year. That doesn't always work out so perfectly. In the past when I've had fewer students, I assign two lines to a couple of kids. When I have more students I ask a student to write an introduction. Some kids insist on memorizing their line while others hold on to their line for security, while others read directly from it. Whichever they choose is fine.
I copy two sets of the the Constitution Day Classroom Performance - one set is on white paper which I glue in my student's planner. Notice the homework is written. "Practice constitution line."
I make a second set on a bright card stock to use for practice in the classroom. It takes a few days to perfect where I want each student to stand, how to stand patiently and how to project our voices. I like to serve as their coach, kneeling on the floor in front. Pointing from one student to the next in the order the lines should be read helps keep everything running smoothly.

We also sing the Preamble to the Constitution.
Oh how I love good ol' Schoolhouse Rock! Youtube has both the original and a karaoke version. We listen to the original several times. The cartoon graphics help explain the basic concepts in context. Often I'll turn the volume off and we discuss just the graphics! Once when have the tune down, we move to the karakoe version. I serve as the 'bouncing ball' following the lyrics, yet the kids get it down pretty quickly. For practice we sing during most of our transitions.
I use the Preamble to the Constitution: Posters and Activities to Support Learning as well. I glue a small version in student planners, post a larger version to hang on the wall and the Fill in the Box with word bank and Puzzle is good during some down time. I've also found that some years the kids have a tough time memorizing the words. In that case I pull down the larger, wall version and hold it up while kneeling on the floor. It helps with their confidence.
The last step is creating the invitation for the event. After establishing what sort of information should be included (literacy in context!) kids decorate the cover with American symbols. Oh when the kids wear their hats and perform for their parents you'll be smiling - and so will they!
Happy Constitution Day!

August 30, 2016

6 Ways to Get Your Morning Meeting Routine Started

Morning Meeting. It's the backbone of a rich classroom community. When possible, start it on Day 1 - before all the supplies are put away - before that first read aloud - before the icebreaker games - you won't regret it. If Morning Meeting is new to you and the school year has already started, it's NOT too late! Give your kids the chance to get to know each other better and learn some basics about social interaction. Morning Meeting, like greeting students at the door, creates a cultural shift in the classroom. You'll facilitate friendships, respect and ultimately working together as a team. This, in turn, makes teaching academic content a much easier and effective process. "The way to a child's head is through their heart."

Here are six ways to get your Morning Meeting routine started:

1. Begin with just passing the Greeting. Looking for a great collection of Morning Meeting Greetings? Click HERE. When that is perfected, add on one of the other elements - Sharing, Activity or Message. Some years my kiddos are ready to move on the next day. Some years it takes a couple of days but don't rush it. Wait to add on until kids have mastered the procedure. You'll reap the benefits later.

2. Tell people where to sit. At the beginning I write each child's name on a card and place them in a circle on the floor. Students find their card and sit there. This prevents jostling, saving places and hurt feelings those first few days. Once kids know what a Meeting circle should look like, ask them to form it on their own. Not as easy as it sounds...just sayin'..... Typically their first attempt will be a very oddly-shaped, sort-of-brokenish oval. Allow them time to scootch back and forth to make a 'real' circle. Notice how the leaders (and perfectionists) step up for this task! When kids begin taking ownership of the circle, friends will sit next to friends - but the goal is to get to know everyone. Every single day I do a couple of quick switches to keep things fresh. "I want Emma and Jaylen to switch spots."

3. Actively teach how to ask someone their name. Most elementary age kids will freeze if they're expected to greet someone and they don't know their new friend's name. It brings the Meeting to a complete halt. Be proactive and teach it before passing the Greeting. "Let's pretend I don't know my friend's name. This is what I'll do. I'll lean over and quietly say "I forgot your name." Watch me do this now." Do the process with kids sitting on both sides of you. Now open it to the group. "What did you notice I did when I didn't know my friend's name?" Talk through the process then tell the kids to make sure they know the name of the friend on each side of them. Quickly review the expectation for the first several days.

4. Model correct voice volume and eye contact. Morning Meeting requires kids to talk to each other and in front of a group. Everyone needs to be heard and involved. "Laila. I couldn't hear your voice when you greeted Tawnya. A little louder please. Try it again." Lots of smiling from you.

5. Don't let any expectation slide. Stop and correct as needed. Keep it fast and specific. Kids running across the room during the Activity? "Michelle, we walk when playing Find your Family. Go back and I'll watch you walk." Does a student raise their hand during Sharing to tell their own story - instead of asking a question? "Colton, this is Sharing time. Do you have a question for Michael?" Any correction should be followed up with a genuine smile and a quiet, "nicely done!"

6. Highlight the great things you saw happening. Regardless of how disjointed or rocky the first Meeting was, always end with a positive, upbeat evaluation. "This was a really great Morning Meeting my friends. I noticed everyone's eyes following the greeting around the circle. We asked questions before beginning the Activity so we knew what to do. When correcting the Message we explained our thinking using the word 'because'. Nice job today!"

A collection of ready to go Morning Meeting Greetings and 2 Minute Group Activities keep the Morning Meeting interesting and fresh throughout the year.

Each has a simple design and an easy to read font. As needed, there are simple implementation instructions and photographs too. Copy the Greetings and Activities. Laminate for durability. Put a hole in the corner so you can hang them on a ring for easy reference. Looking for more organization and support? Check out this Morning Meeting Bundle.

Looking to get more insight on crafting a daily Morning Message? Check out this post.

Best of luck starting your Morning Meeting Routine. Go slow and don't give up. It will transform your classroom culture.

August 20, 2016

The Power of Greeting Students at the Door

One thing I recommend to all teachers is to greet their students at the door. Every day. Without fail. This simple task takes just a little time, yet reaps huge rewards. Greeting students will have a positive impact on your classroom culture by establishing a one-on-one connection. When your students get a friendly smile, handshake and short interaction they know you've 'seen' them. You've given them the gift of affirmation and it's powerful. Looking to make a change? Try this one!

Now, greeting students at the door does NOT mean calling hello and waving from across the room while pulling papers for the day's lessons. Putting this concept into practice requires you to be organized and ready to go before that bell rings. You need to be 'on' and smiling.

Start simple. Stand in the doorway so you can keep an eye on the hall and your classroom at the same time. As each child approaches shake their hand, make eye contact, smile and say "Good Morning _______". Some kids need specific coaching on how to do all of those things in response. This is a great time to explain what a comfortable, firm handshake feels like... voice volume... what does eye contact mean? Those few moments give you the chance get a read on the general class mood - and connect with those needing some extra attention. Once you have established this classroom routine students crave it and you will too!

Ready to take it to the next level? Revisit concepts or prep for the day with a Good Morning! Message. Print and cut the Good Morning! Messages. Hang a plastic sleeve and slip a message inside for students to read. They're automatic conversation starters. These are short and open-ended messages so all can be successful. Good Morning! Messages are meant to get kids in the school mode, promote positive and joyful interaction and are fast. Some messages require simple materials like coins, a clock, or something written on a whiteboard yet all are flexible. It is easy to differentiate based on ability or grade. I've used these messages with second, third and fifth graders! You may have some emerging readers unable to be independent with these messages. This is not an issue. Point at the words as you read it out loud to them. They then think and respond. As students get more confident in reading they grow more independent.
This collection has over 210 messages organized by literacy, math, holiday, special events and just plain fun tasks. The cards are not meant to be used in order, but rather mix and match depending on what is going on that day. Students look forward to variety! You can also create your own Good Morning! Messages focused on curriculum content by adding onto the blank page at the end of the General Messages.

Ready to take it even further? Save precious classroom time by expecting students to make their lunch choice and have their homework in hand while waiting for you! Post the lunch choices and sign up sheet in the form of a class roster next to the door. While waiting in line (teaching kids how to wait in line may be necessary too) students read the menu and put an x next to their lunch choice - both those who are buying and bringing from home. Everyone must sign up so when the tardy bell rings you'll have lunch AND attendance count ready to send to the office. Write the homework that is due that day on a whiteboard. Train kids to get those papers out of their backpack and collect their homework on the spot. Keep a homework completion roster on hand to easily identify kids needing encouragement, support or a note home. This is a huge time saver!

Using Good Morning! Messages has also helped my students put part of the question in their answer! It allows daily oral practice and I can quickly model/reteach in seconds. Students know once they enter it is time for Morning Work and getting settled in. Reinforcing behavior expectations is key – and doable.

Greeting students at the door is almost guaranteed to change your classroom culture. Let me know what you think!

August 7, 2016

Setting Up a Classroom for Cultural Appreciation

Throughout the year I expose my students to a variety of world cultures. I try to give my little guys hands on experiences as much as possible so they'll grasp that there is a whole world waiting for them beyond our little town! What a joy when members of our school and community come to our room to take us on a little tour of their country. Most visitors share elements of their native foods, ideas and traditions. Could this passion project of mine make a global impact in the long run?

Here is how I set up my students to be open to new cultural ideas. First, I prime my kids to be curious. I tell them straight out that they could learn about some habits and beliefs that may seem unusual. My enthusiasm and sense of wonder is authentic and contagious. "Are you ready to learn some really cool things about _____?" Their heads bob up and down. Yes. Yes.
Second, my students are banned from saying "That's weird." Apparently in elementary school anything different is weird.... and I want to meet it head on. Certainly they are not allowed to say it when our guest is present, but it holds true for the follow up discussions as well. A mind is less open, curious and appreciative if something is labeled as weird.
Third, I give them an alternative phrase - "Wow! That's interesting. That's different."
"Today we are going to learn about _______. You'll find there are many things that are different from what you are used to. You may want to think, "That's weird!" but instead, in our classroom we think, "Wow! That's interesting. That's different." Please keep that in mind as we begin our lesson today. I hang this mini chart and point to it during the year. It's free in my store!
Finally, we reflect on the experience. Thinking about new ideas and making connections make concepts stick. We write a thank you letter to the presenter. I use this set. At the beginning of the school year the thank you is modeled and completed as a group. Toward the end there is usual a group that likes to take on the thank you responsibility then shares with the class.
Perhaps this will help you instill cultural appreciation as well.

On a side note: I had to chuckle toward the end of last school year. I wear glasses and one time I took them off. My students had never seen me without them on. "Wow. You look weird." one of my cuties said. Suddenly, another student jumped in. "No she doesn't! She looks different and interesting!" Gotta love that!

July 31, 2016

Making Grammar Lessons Stick

My school is firmly tied to a basal series and I am expected to use just about every piece of that curriculum. Yet I run my literacy block as a Reader's Workshop/D5 model! How does that work? Sometimes it isn't easy, yet I'm very grateful to have flexibility on how I put the pieces together. Also, I have freedom to supplement as I see fit, and I supplement a lot - especially when it comes to teaching grammar and mechanics.
Oh how dry and boring are isolated worksheets. Here is a way to teach grammar and mechanics so it is applicable, meaningful and 'normal'. Teach it in context.

I look a week ahead in the basal scope and sequence. The week prior to it being taught in the basal, I introduce that concept via my daily Morning Message. I blogged about how I integrate content in my Morning Message here. For example, if I know that writing book titles is coming up, I'm sure to cover it in my Morning Message this week. I think of it like dripping information on my students. It gives kids exposure and practice for two weeks instead of one.

I share and explain a correct model. Keep it simple. "Look here. I underlined Little House on the Prairie? This is because we always underline the title of a book. It lets the reader know it is a title."

Later in the week I'll make a mistake.
"We have a problem here. Can anyone spot it?"
"Yes. I must underline When I Was Young in the Mountains. Who can explain why?"
A student will find, correct and explain the error in my message.

In addition, we discuss the concept as it relates to our daily mini lesson and read alouds.
"If I were to write a letter to my mom recommending this book, how would I write the title of this book?"

During the second week (the week it is targeted in the scope and sequence) I project a few worksheets from the basal during a writing mini lesson. We do it whole group so kids will become familiar seeing the concept presented different ways. In addition, I want them to know the format for assessment day.
Throughout the week however, I use these activity sheets.

I love these because they can be used with ANY text at ANY level and, most importantly, they focus on noticing and understanding the skills in context.

The top left is a skill anchor chart. It reminds students of the overall skill concept in bold. There are one or two examples to practice the skill.
The top right is a task card. This gives students instructions.
The bottom is an area for student interaction using their own text. A quick check lets me see who has mastered the skill and who needs reteaching.

These Grammar and Mechanic Sheets are very flexible! There is built in differentiation and are super for informal assessments.
1. Model a new sheet during a mini lesson after the skill has been introduced and taught. Work as a whole group.
2. Explain the three key pieces of the sheet whole group. Depending on student need, students work independently, with a partner or with direct instruction in a small group setting.
3. Use with the basal anthology or the basal readers or self-selected text.
4. Complete during guided reading, Word Work or Writer's Workshop.
5. Students project their 'findings' and share with the class.
6. Keep as a whole sheet or cut and glue into a Reader's Notebook.

If you'd like to try out a sample for free click here
Teaching grammar and mechanic skills in context helps concepts stick better with kids. How do you authentically engage students when tied to a basal series?

July 23, 2016

Back to School Ideas - Who Am I? Activity

School is beginning to creep into my thoughts. I have a few weeks left but am itching to plan out my first few days. Here is one thing I know will be on my schedule! I'll plan in roughly twenty minutes on the first day to do a "Who Am I?" activity. It's easy, fun and kids are guaranteed success.
It's a simple two-sided paper with fill in the blank questions on one side and an illustration box on the other. It is straightforward so kids can work independently and help each other with reading if needed. Add this to your plans on the first day of school and pull it out again on the last. A fun and flexible time filler!

As with any project I expect students to complete, I create my own model. Most of the kids don't know me well so they like to see my answers and illustration. Note: I try to put in some pretty unique answers to the questions. Kids in my age group are easily 'inspired'. My first year I showed that my favorite place was the beach. Guess what everyone else's favorite place was?

Since it's the first day of school I don't worry about spelling - but I do want them to spend time on the illustration. Every moment of that first day (no, I take that back, every moment of the first month) is an opportunity to model expectations. In addition to being a fun and relaxing time of the day it serves several purposes. First, I talk about filling the WHOLE box when working on an illustration. This is also a great time to bring in the correct (and incorrect) use of crayons and how to sharpen a pencil. Seriously, never assume they know! Describing those basic procedures sets the stage for the rest of the year. I don't let them use markers because I don't want it to bleed through.
I let my students read their answers out loud to the class to give some public speaking practice then I take the papers and tuck them away in my LAST WEEK OF SCHOOL file.
On the last day of school I project the Q & A side and let the class guess who it belongs to. I do it in small chunks throughout the day to keep it fresh and we laugh a lot. Kids are amazed at their beginning of the year answers answers and how much they have grown. There always seems to be one kid who guesses that their own answers belong to someone else.

This is easy enough to make on your laptop but if you're looking to save time and have an attractive, "hall ready" item (updated since these models)
The simple and fun First Day of School and Last Day of School Who Am I? activity is available in my TpT store. Best of luck on YOUR first day!

July 17, 2016

Building a Classroom Library - 10 Ways to Get Books for FREE

I bet you're reading this because you know access to a wide variety of age-appropriate, attractive books can open the world of reading and learning to a child. Some lucky teachers walk into schools where there is a Reader's Workshop/Daily 5 instruction model in place and have a classroom library ready to go. Most of us don't though - and most of use have limited (read that as no) funds to purchase books. How did I get literally thousands of books for my classroom library for FREE? Read on. Here are 10 ways I started and grew my classroom library collection for FREE. You can do it too.
1. Tap into your friend circle.
Tell all your friends you're looking to grow your classroom library. Let them know if they clean out their kid's book collection you'll save them a trip to the donation center. One friend told her family members at their weekend BBQ. I ended up with a great variety of picture books the next day.
2. Tap into your friends' friends.
Post on facebook. This gets the word out fast and to an audience larger than your immediate social circle.
"Hey your town friends. I'm actively looking for books to add to my your grade level classroom library! Do have any unwanted picture books or chapter books? It would be a win-win-win if you give them to me! You win by getting rid of books taking up shelf space. I win by giving my students easy access to great literature. The books win in the hands of kids who want to read and learn. They get a new life. If you ,or anyone you know, in the your town area has recently cleaned out their child's book shelf please message me.
After writing a similar post on my Facebook page four years ago, my friend from church reposted it with the comment "I'm collecting for this on Sunday! Clean out your shelves!" I end up with seven boxes of books!
3. Get to know your neighbors.
Along the lines mentioned above, ask your (or nearby) neighborhood association if you can post on the community website or be included in their newsletter. The side benefit is you get to meet new neighbors!
4. Love the Goodwill
Gift certificates to Goodwill are GOLDEN
When I spend money on classroom books this is usually where I spend it. I have found so many high quality, barely used books here I've lost track how much of my collection is thanks to Goodwill! At 25 to 50 cents each, you can't get a better bang for your buck. But we want FREE! In your newsletters periodically ask parents to donate Goodwill gift certificates to your room. Another option is to ask if a parent will purchase a collection you set aside. Goodwill is a great place to get hardback books.
5. Hit the road.
Visit garage sales and yard sales
Here are two things to know:
1- there are A LOT of kids' books out there.
2 - the owners WANT to get rid of their stuff as fast as possible.
Take advantage of both by going later in the day. When you find books that interest you tell the homeowner that you are a teacher looking to build your classroom library. Be bold and ask if the books don't sell by the end of the day would they give them to you? More often than not, the homeowner has said take it all - now - please - and you won't need to come back! This is how I got the entire The Magic Tree House series for free.
It is also possible you have friends or a student's parent who spends their weekends at yard sales so more legwork for you. If you tell that person what you are looking for s/he may text you pictures asking "Is this what you want?"
6. Reach out to former students
Dig out that old parent email list and ask if their family has any books they could donate. Offering to have the former student fill out and attach the donation book plates adds a personal touch. Two things usually happen with this method. First, the books are usually grade level appropriate since kids will remember what they liked to read when they were at a specific grade level. Second, books will usually be delivered right to your classroom door!
7. Check out Craigslist
Every so often I'll search for 'kids books' or 'childrens' books' on Craigslist to see what comes up. Send a message to get more info about what's being offered. A few things about Craigslist. One, you'll have to act pretty fast. Two, if you're not comfortable with Craigslist don't do it. Use common sense. Three, this method is hit or miss, but the payoff can be big. Through Craigslist I met a family whose business is buying and cleaning out abandoned storage lockers. They now call me to pick up the children's books recovered.
8. Good old book orders
This is how I started building my library collection. The thrill of turning in the points, choosing the free books and then opening the box! Given the online process these days, this is an easy one. Click here to see how one teacher has the whole process streamlined and maximizes getting the free books. Wow!
9. Amazon wishlist
Start an Amazon wishlist for books you really want. Let parents know about your wishlist!
10. The librarian is your friend!
Each year my school librarian purges books that haven't been checked out after a certain amount of time. A coffee every so often can work magic because guess who she notifies first when those books are up for grabs? A side benefit to befriending your librarian is s/he may ask for your input or recommendation on new purchases. Those books may not end up housed in your classroom, yet you'll know where to find them when needed!
As you go through this process you'll find that people want to help you. Most empathize with the challenges teachers face. Quality literature is out there for FREE. Yes, you'll get books that are inappropriate, trashed and just plain junk. But you'll also get books to proudly share with your classroom.
Here is my BONUS tip - don't start this process alone. Collaborate with a few other like-minded teacher friends at different grade levels. You're going to get duplicate books, books better suited for older or younger readers. Working as a team means you'll get more books to work with and find homes for them faster.
Do you have other strategies to share? Please leave a comment below!

July 9, 2016

Indoor Recess - How one picture can SAVE 1,000 words

In my neck of the woods we end up with a LOT of indoor recess. Snow, rain, hail, extreme temperature.... In addition, the weather can change with very little notice. I can't tell you how many times we've got outside and turned right around to return to the classroom. Oh the sadness....the noise...the MESS. Is anyone an indoor recess fan? Given this necessary evil, I'm passing along how one photo may help keep your sanity by making the clean up process quiet and fast.
So I'm not an indoor recess fan, yet I do not adopt the 'put on a video' philosophy either. (Ok, on the rare occasion I will. I'm human.) I've found I pay the price the rest of the day with behavior. Those kids need to be active and move - so while we may be confined in a small space, I do all I can to keep their minds engaged with open-ended activities. I blogged here about indoor recess. It's what saved me last winter. I also recommend my set of Indoor Recess Activity Cards and this Letter Set gets lots of use during recess but is used in many other ways as well. Here, I'll share a great way to keep that "down time" easy to clean up.

First, I like to keep all my recess materials hidden. Out of sight = out of mind. If you have a closet or built in cupboards in your room consider devoting a shelf to recess stuff then close the door. I don't have any of those conveniences in my room so I've taken to using this odd bottom 'drawer' in this stand alone cabinet.
This area is where I do my read aloud and mini lesson - and kids love to read there too! This odd spot has also worked out great because it's a pain for me to get down there, it has a weird lift up lid - yet the kids can access it easily.
Before school starts each year I sort through the recess games and organize it so everything fits neatly. Everything is visible. Everything has a spot. Note that (most) bins are labeled. All boxes are facing forward. Then I take a picture of the neatly put away recess games. I print a color 8x10. I laminate it and put it in the front of the drawer.
That first week of school I share my photo and explain this is EXACTLY how I want the drawer put back together anytime we have indoor recess. Then I take out each activity, show how to work with it and leave it out. We practice indoor recess. (No one wants to practice when it is actually indoor recess so this is time well spent.) We model expected behavior and discuss how to join in an activity and how to move to a different activity.
The other key piece to a happy indoor recess happens at the end. The whole class works together to put everything back in its proper bin then they reassemble the drawer EXACTLY like the photo.
Now, you're a teacher or a parent. You KNOW this doesn't magically happen! Of course, you have to train your students. But you'll all be happy because the process is fun, fast and there is a sense of urgency. I take it one step further by insisting that it all happens in SILENCE.
Step 1: Announce silent clean up has started and set a timer for three minutes. Students are 100% silent as everyone works to put the things in their correct bins. Give the "stink eye" to anyone not helping or throwing stuff. That usually works. If all materials make it over to the drawer area before the timer goes off do a silent cheer.
Step 2: Again in silence, designate two students to work on putting the items back referring to the photo. Set the timer again. It is a challenge to see how fast they can do it! Only those two are allowed to whisper to each other. Once complete, give the final approval and the moment the door is shut the class should give a rousing round of applause! (Often, those two students will bow or curtsy.) The photograph places responsibility on the students and they get fun praise. Plus, since I don't have to explain or verbally direct, it saves me 1,000 words each time. Please comment below if you have a system that works well for you!

July 1, 2016

Make the Final Draft FUN - Illuminated Letters

Our final writing project last year was an original fairy tale. Inspired by this Fractured Fairy Tales unit, my students ended our time together with some really fun and creative pieces. Engaged from beginning to end, it allowed for differentiation and flexibility. Even my most reluctant writers were gung ho. We started by watching several Fractured Fairy Tale videos from the 70's and then we picked apart some mentor texts. This process got me buy in and served as an inspiration springboard. Check out the link to my Fractured Fairy Tale Resource Pinterest board below.
I wanted to make the final draft unusual so, inspired by our art teacher's suggestion, I whipped out my lettering sets. These have come in handy so many times over the years! The art teacher had been sharing illuminated manuscripts to go along with our study of the Renaissance in social studies. The kids knew illuminated letters were typically done in gold or silver and they came up with the gold glitter addition. Look at these end results! How fantastic!
Incorporating illuminated letters in the final draft did take some planning. First, kids had to leave enough room on the paper to add in the letter. After that final edit they were ready. Using the lettering sets, kids worked in pencil to create a fun and funky letter with an illustration surrounding it. Next, they went over the illustration in color. These examples are done in marker, perhaps not the best tool because many didn't get the crisp lines they wanted, but it worked. We all agreed that next time it should be done in colored pencil. After the marker, kids used a fine line of glue to trace the letter. Sprinkling the glitter and letting it dry was the final step.
Illuminated letters could be incorporated into many writing projects. You can pick up the lettering sets here. You can follow my Pinterest fractured fairy tale board here.