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.