Saturday, December 31, 2011

Catching the Bug

As a reading and writing teacher, I do my best to stay "in the loop" when it comes to books that my kids are or will be reading. If you haven't already noticed, this means I read a LOT of children's literature. In fact, I have not read a book for "grown ups" in quite a while. I guess you can say I fianlly caught the "reading bug" when it comes to children's literature (aka "kidlit"). This, however, is the way I prefer it.

When I was younger, I was "genre-ist". In other words, I was prejudice against all books that were not Babysitters Club, and anything not written by R.L. Stein. Although I was a reader, I had tunnel vision. A big reason for this was that I never had a teacher that helped steer me towards other genres as I developed my reading preferences. Of course I read the occasional Science Fiction and Historical Fiction books, but usually it was under the circumstance of needing to complete an assignment of some sort. In fact, the only time I remember stepping out of my comfort zone as an independent reader was when I read A Wrinkle in Time. I didn't like it...until I was in my early 20s and decided to read it for a Children's Literature class in college. Looking back, I feel like I missed out on a lot of really great books.

The reason I am giving you a peek into my reading past, is because it is a big part of what drives me to push my students into as many different genres as possible. In her book The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller explains how she tries to do the same with her students. It's important to expose them to as many different kinds of books as possible. Will they latch on to one genre for the majority of their reading lives? Maybe. But at least they will know what else is out there, even discover additional genres they are willing to delve into now and then.

In order to help guide my students, I read as much as I can. It is so much more meaningful to a child when they receive a recommendation for a book, series, or author from someone who has actually read those books. It also gives you the upper hand because you can discuss the books in more depth with students. Is it feasible to read every book in your library? No. I would not have time to teach or have a life if I did. However, it IS feasible to read at least few children's books a month. A while back I emailed Donalyn Miller to see how she gained so much knowledge about the books in her library to make quality recommendations to her students. Here is what I gleaned from her response (and began to do myself):

Reading one book by an author will help give you a sense of their writing style, which in turn will give you some ideas about which students may respond well to that author. Reading the first book in a series accomplishes the same thing. It is also helpful to get to know and follow blogs that review children's books (see the list of blogs I follow to find some great ones). This is a quick way to find out about books that provides more information than you may get from the back cover or inside flap. I have also found that following other teachers, librarians, and authors on Twitter is an amazing resource for keeping up-to-date on trends in reading, as well as hearing about great new books.

Here is my final piece of advice: find a way to get your hands on some Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) of books that are not yet published. This is a great way to not only be more informed about current books, but also stay a step ahead of your budding readers. NetGalley is a site I joined for this exact reason. The copies I get are digital, but if I really like a book or think my kids will, I make a note of its publication date so I can get a copy for my classroom library. The best part is I already know the content, so I do not have to hesitate when bringing it into my classroom. Getting books is super easy. All you have to do is sign up if you are a teacher or blogger, browse through their books, and request the ones that seem interesting to you. Then, NetGalley contacts you when your request has been granted. Once you get your copy, you can either download it using Adobe Digital Editions or (get this!) some titles can be sent directly to your Kindle! How cool is that?!?

I am very much enjoying my rekindled love of children's and young adult books. I feel like I am making up for all I missed as a kid, and it helps me to be a more effective teacher. Not only am I better at helping my students select books, but my love of reading is very apparent (and hopefully somewhat contagious) when I talk about books. I highly encourage you to also catch the bug...if you  haven't already.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Delicious Holiday Craft!

Ok, so this really doesn't have anything to do with reading OR writing...but it was fun, so I am sharing!

We all know that the last day before Winter Break is a wash academically (admit it, you know it's true). However, it is a GREAT day to spend time having fun with and getting to know your students. In fact, I really enjoy this day because I get to do things with my kids that we all enjoy. I spend the day talking and laughing with's a fantastic day of building and strengthening teacher-student relationships.

This past "Day Before Winter Break" (which was the day before Christmas Eve...lucky me!), we did a variety of holiday related activities. However, I saved the best for last because, let's face it, holding something over their heads has it's advantages on this particular day. :) We had a party, but during the party we made...

HOLIDAY TREES! (We all know why they were dubbed with this name...)

This idea was born from my usual go-to craft: Ginger Bread Houses. However, I dislike making these in the classroom. If you've made them before, you know why! They never stand up, they are incredibly messy, and extremely difficult to transport home. I wanted something similar, but more classroom friendly- enter the Holiday Tree. I got some ideas from the net (click here to see the site I referred my Room Mom to) and they turned out so nicely! Set up and clean up were a breeze, the kids loved them, and to transport home all we needed was a quart-sized plastic storage bag!

All you need are:
  • Sugar Cones
  • Vanilla Frosting
  • Green Food Coloring
  • Candies of different shapes and sizes
  • Sprinkles (aka "Jimmies")
  • Plastic knives
Mix up the food coloring with the frosting, apply thick layer to cone, and decorate to your heart's content! Allow to dry for at least an housr before attempting to place the trees into baggies.

If you ever thought of ditching the tried and true Ginger Bread House, give this craft a whirl. I bet you'll love it as much as I did. Take a look at some of the masterpieces that my kiddos created below.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

It's Monday...What are YOU reading? 12/26/11

Hello again friends! With the busy holidays, had I had to pare down my reading goals last week. However, I did meet my goal of finishing the second book of The Hunger Games trilogy: Catching Fire. This book was fantastic and the ending left me I IMMEDIATELY had to get the third book: Mockingjay. I thought when I finished the Harry Potter series, I was going to be lost. However, I am pleased that I was able to pick up this incredible trilogy to help me fill my Harry Potter void. I thoroughly enjoy these books, despite my prior belief that I was not a "SciFi" fan. (I guess I have my husband to thank for my new found interest in all things geeky.)

In addition to finishing Catching Fire and starting Mockingjay, I also read a couple of picture books. These books were accessed through NetGalley, a site which allows reviewers, educators, etc. to request Advanced Readers Copies (ARCs) of books to preview before they are published. All of the books are digital copies, which is quite convenient because you can download a lot and take them with you. I currently have 17 books that are awaiting me. 

The first picture book I read was Mooshka, A Quilt Story by Julie Paschkis. I really enjoyed the artwork in this book. Although it's not a folktale, it had the feel of one. The story is simple: A little girl named Karla loves the comfort she gets from her quilt made of fabric scraps. Each scrap represents an event in her family's history. However, when a new baby comes along, Karla passes on the stories and comfort of the quilt to her new sibling. It was very sweet.

The second one I read was The House on Dirty-Third Street by Jo S. Kittenger. I think a lot of children will relate to this story. It is about a girl and her mother moving into a new home, but the home is in serious need of some TLC. At first, the girl is upset and never thinks it will feel like home. But, with some help from their community, it becomes the house of their dreams. I liked the art in this book as well. I read that they were originally photographs that were turned into illustrations. This is a neat concept and made the illustrations that much more interesting.

Well, that's it for how! I am planning on finishing Mockingjay this week and moving on to another book that I have hear a lot of great things about... Monster Calls. Now that I am enjoying my Winter Break, I may be able to read quite a bit more.

What are YOU reading this week?

Monday, December 19, 2011

It's Monday...What Are YOU Reading? 12/19/11

Hello again! It's time for another weekly update on my reading life. I am a tad disappointed as I was unable to get my hands on the picture books I so desperately wanted to read this week.

However, I DID finish reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It was wonderful! There were a lot of twists and turns that I was not expecting...which is something I really value in a book. The ending has left me wanting more, so I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series. I am not sure I would recommend it to my 5th graders, as there are some romantic scenes and a lot of death/gore. However, I would recommend it for students in grade 6-7 and up.

Another book I read this week that I had not planned on was Press Here. It caught my eye when I was shopping at Barnes and Noble. Since I was standing around waiting for my husband, I read it. I enjoyed the simple artwork consisting of primary colored dots, and the clever way it was written. It gives children directions as they read that "cause" something to happen on the next page. For example, at one point it says to tilt the page to the left, and on the next page, all of the colored dots have magically grouped up on the left page. Cute! I think this would be great for teaching children patterns, counting, and relative direction.

I am still on the hunt for my previous picture books, so I am not adding more picture books to my list this week. I am planning on getting a hold of Catching Fire, which is the second book in The Hung Games trilogy.

So...what are YOU reading?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

These Books Really ARE "Great"!

You know those days when you teach a great lesson and you just feel...amazing? I had one of those days this week. It was sublime!

My principal recently ordered the intermediate teachers in my school a program (if you want to call it that) called Junior Great Books. I.Love.It. "Love" might even be an understatement. I was so sick of our county anthology/basal, that this was a welcome change. It comes with a "guide", but I also find there are so many ways to "make it yours"...which is why I love it so much. I always has trouble making the anthology "mine" and the kids hate the feel of a textbook in their laps as we sit on the carpet. The stories are very high interest (mainly made up of realistic fiction and traditional literature). The best part is they are regular "book size" so they have the feel of a novel. 

Students used sticky notes to keep track of
questionsthey had as they read. 
Actually...the REAL best part is they are designed to be discussed! We have had some great literature circles with these books! I have the students create their own "complex questions" for their groups (see photo). You know...the ones that can't just be answered with one word, or that have more than one answer. This was exactly the stepping stone I needed to help guide me in the process of transitioning from an anthology to reading workshop...which is what I am working on.

Anyway, now that I have come down from my soap box (I should get some compensation from the company for my little plug...), here is what happened:

We've been reading an African folktale called "Kaddo's Wall." Today we discussed how the character experiences both losses and gains as a result of building said wall. I was assuming they'd pick up on all the material things that he both gained and lost which sort of had to be inferred in some cases. Of course, they blew me away with all of the things that even I didn't pick up on. For example, one student explained how one of Kaddo's losses was his "loss of dignity." We discussed how his having to beg for food after being selfish would cause this to happen. Another student chimed in with how he "gained the king's pity" when he was given the food. Wowzers! Then this led to us discussing how some gains (such as pity) are not always positive...which opened up the flood gates for other negative gains and more discussion! I was in teacher heaven!

I ended the lesson by asking the students to answer the following prompt:

"Explain the effects of Kaddo's decision to build the wall of corn."

I am sure you can guess that they had PLENTY to say. Just had to share :)

Monday, December 12, 2011

It's Monday, What Are YOU Reading? 12/12/11

I am joining Jen and Kellee over at Teach Mentor Texts in their weekly posts about reading! I read a lot of "kidlit" (thanks Twitter) these days, and figured that visitors to my blog would benefit from posts like these...not only themselves, but also for their students. I have to admit that a the world was put on hold this week as I read the 7th and final book in the Harry Potter series...Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Simply was AMAZINGLY, SPECTACULARLY, WONDERFULLY FANTASTIC! This book was everything it should have been and much more. I laughed, I cried, I got angry and then felt bad about was rather emotionally draining. BUT, it was well worth it! 

Because I was so bound and determined to finish this 784 page masterpiece, I didn't read much else this week. If you have not yet entered into the world of Harry Potter so immediately. Put all other books on hold and jump in feet first! It was the best reading decision I have ever made and I wish I had made it sooner!

As I am still getting used to my renewed love of reading (thank you, Donalyn Miller!!!), I am setting small goals for this week. I am going to work on reading (and hopefully finish) the first book in The Hunger Games series. 

 I am going to try and get my hands on some picture books this week, too. So I also plan to read:

We'll see how it all pans out! So...

What are YOU reading?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

'Tis the Season of Giving!

What better gift to give than a book to a child who needs it most?!? I have been frequently visiting a site called "We Give Books." This site allows you to read a variety of childrens' books online (cool enough, right?). But that's not all! For EACH book you read, they will donate a book to a literacy campaign of your choice! It's such a wonderful cause! Not only do I get to add to my growing list of "read" books on GoodReads, but I am also making positive contributions through my love of reading. Win-win!

I thought this was so amazing that I am going to try it out with my students this week. I made a class login and plan on using the same login for each student. I will let you know how it goes!

In the meantime, head on over to We Give Books and give some books yourself!

Friday, December 2, 2011

It's a Bloggy Blog World!

This week, I had the most fun blogging with my students! Blogs are a fantastic resource because the kids forget they are "writing", therefore they enjoy it a whole lot more than when we whip out the pencils and paper! We have used blogs in the past to post book reviews and discuss stories, but this week we worked on expressing ourselves by playing "Three Truths and a Lie" in the blogging world. 

For our class blog, I use KidBlog. It's specifically designed for teachers to use with students. You can control comments and settings, which I feel is very important. 

The assignment for this blogging session was created by our Tech Integration Teacher (so lucky to have one!). We discussed the importance of choosing truths that were very unique and outrageous to match an outrageous lie, or picking a lie that sounded believable enough to be true and fit in with more "normal" truths. The kids did a great job! 

The kicker was that when they finished their own post, they then had to comment on at least five other blog posts. In their comments, students were told to single out the false statement and explain why they thought it wasn't true using thoughtful reasoning. 

Here are some of my favorite posts:



I joined in on the fun, too! Here is a screen shot of my post:


Not to brag, but I got the most comments! :) Once the kids get five or more comments on their posts, they are allowed to reveal the "falsehood" (yay vocabulary!). Can you guess which one was mine?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

I'm Thankful For...

One of my favorite blogs, What the Teacher Wants, is hosting a linky party about being thankful. What a great of course I had to join in!

1. What are you thankful for in your classroom?

My students. I have a great group this year. Not only are they brilliant thinkers (could I be partial?), but they are the sweetest group of kids I have ever had the pleasure of teaching. I am already dreading the last day of school...that's a first!

2. What person are you most thankful for?

My husband. It takes a special kind of man to understand and be supportive of how much time I devote to my career. Between late my nights at work, spending weekends grading when I'd rather be out gallivanting around, or just "talking shop" with him, my husband is there for me 110%.

3. What 3 blogs are you most thankful for?

This is a tough one. I visit so many so often!
  • I have gotten tons of ideas from Classroom Freebies. There is an abundance of idea for every grade, every subject, every season on this site! I visit it daily...even more frequently on some occasions.

    Classroom freebies

    • Great book reviews from my friends at A Year of Reading. This blog has inspired many book purchases in my classroom, as well as a very VERY lengthy wishlist. I also follow the writers on Twitter and have enjoyed the Professioanl Development I have gleaned from their wise words.

    • Great classroom tips and lessons from Clutter-Free Classroom, one of which I even blogged about last month. It's a great site to help you stay organized, as well as find ideas for teaching the intermediate grades.

    Clutter-Free Classroom

    I am so thankful for so many others though, I wish I could go on forever! (Check out "Blogs I ♥" on the right for more!)

    4. What guilty pleasure are you most thankful for?

    Once Upon a Time! This show is letting my relive my childhood obsession with Snow White and all of her princess friends in my adult life. If you haven't tuned in yet, you must!

    5. What are you most thankful for?
    I am most thankful for where I am right now in my life. I am healthy, and happy, and I feel like I am doing everything I was meant to do. I am thankful for having job security in an unsure economy. I am thankful for a roof over my head and food in the refrigerator. I am thankful for a loving family, good friends, and a professional support group beyond the walls of my classroom. I am thankful for my followers who give me support, guidance, and ideas! Life is good!

    Please share what you are thankful for by posting a comment below, or joining the party!

    Fall Linky Party!

    Thanksgiving time always makes me realize that fall is almost over and winter is on its way (brrr!). I decided it would be fun to share activities and ideas that you have found this fall, so that we could save them for next year.
    Here are 5 of my favorites:

    1. I think these Pilgrim Hat Treats would be so fun to do with the kids the day before Thanksgiving break!

    2. I had a lot of fun doing this Haunted House Ad activity with my kids. I got the idea from the Clutter-Free Classroom blog. My students loved it!

    3. This hand and foot print turkey is something I have done with my students in the past. I like having them create their turkeys and then write what they are thankful for on the "feathers." You can tailor it to any grade level, which is always a plus!

    4. Next year, I plan on reading Balloons Over Broadway with my class. It's a great nonfiction book about the Macy's Parade.

    5. I really enjoyed this Turkey Trotten reader's theater with my students last year and plan on doing it again next week. We talked about vocabulary (lot of W.O.W. words in this "loquacious"), it helps build fluency, and it was fun to perform in front of the class. I had another group work on The Meal Must Go On. For both skits, we used Promethean Board Flipcharts that I created as backgrounds.

    I hope you enjoy these links and try some with your students, too! Please join in so we can all benefit from one another's great finds!

    In order to join this linky party, follow these steps:

    1. Write a post on your blog about 5 activities that you found or used in your classroom this fall.

    2. Add the linky party button below to your post.

    3. Click the "Add your link" button at the bottom of this post to enter information about your blog entry so others can check it out!


    Monday, November 14, 2011

    Reading is WRAD!

    Photo of Milford Sound in New Zealand!

    Recently, LitWorld invited me to participate in World Read Aloud Day (WRAD) by being a WRADvocate. WRAD will take place on March 7, 2012. The goal of WRAD is to spread the word about the joys and benefits of reading aloud to children.

    I have LOTS of ideas for making WRAD successful in my classroom and my school. I am going to start by passing along the information to my administration. One idea I have is to ask one of our administrators to read a favorite picture book to the whole school via our televised announcements. I picture all of the students on the carpet in front of the whiteboard, listening to her read.

    Another idea is to invite parents and family members in to share favorite picture books or a chapter from a favorite novel. I've even thought about having the intermediate students take some time to read aloud to a student in a primary grade that day. The possibilities are endless!

    Please join me in celebrating WRAD by setting aside some time to read aloud to your students. Spread the word: WRAD is coming!

    What are some ideas you have for celebrating WRAD?

    Sunday, November 13, 2011

    Chance to Win Free Books!

    Chronicle Books is having its Second Annual Haul-idays of course I am entering. This will be my first time, though. I heard about this contest from my friends over at Teach Mentor Texts, so I had to join in. 

    Here's how it works:

    If I am chosen, then I get to donate $500 worth of books to any charity of my choosing. I was asked to participate in World Read Aloud Day in March, sponsored by LitWorld. LitWorld promotes literacy worldwide, which is a huge undertaking that could certainly benefit from some extra books! So, that's who will get my books! 

    Here is the list of books I plan on donating (which could also be yours if I win!) :

    If YOU wold like to win the $500 haul of books, become a follower and leave a comment below telling me about what you would use your books for. If I win, I will choose one of you to win these books, too! It's that simple! Good luck!

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    Read Aloud Reflection

    I have to write a quick post about what happened today during our read aloud time. This is the first time I have done a read aloud with a class (I know, I know...what's wrong with me?!?!?)

    I hate to admit it, but it was very wrong of me not to delve into the word of read alouds sooner. After only 3 days, I am wondering what I was so afraid of. I can already see the benefits of spending this time with my students has. It's great!

    Today was a real eye-opening experience. We just started reading The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. I had read this book over the summer and immediately upon finishing it decided I needed to share it with my kids. I knew right then it would have to be my first read aloud. I just wish I hadn't waited until the second quarter of the school year to get started!

    In order for you to get the real effect of today's event, I need to explain what has been going on in our classroom for the past few days.

    To launch the read aloud, I spent some time discussing the time period in which this book is set. It takes place during the Vietnam war (1967 to be exact), a time when many Americans were at odds. Not only we Americans at odds with each other over the war, but we also were struggling to accept Vietnamese refugees as well. I wanted my kids to understand this. Thankfully, our class carpet is a map of the world so I could "hop around the world" as I explained the events leading up to the war. Once I felt they understood how the war began and how America got involved, we dove into how people felt at the time. It was great! They had such good thinking that I was blown away. 

    In this story, the main character is Holling Hoodhood (my kids love his name because it's weird). He is in 7th grade at Camillo Junior High. He has just started the year and discovered on the very first day that his teach, Mrs. Baker, "hates his guts." This probably stems from the fact the Holling is Presbyterian and does not attend  Catechism or Hebrew school on Wednesday afternoons like the rest of his classmates. So, on Wednesdays, it is just Mrs. Backer and him. 

    As a result of her apparent frustration over the matter (at least, this is what Holling thinks), Mrs. Baker give Holling a ridiculously difficult sentence to diagram. Much more difficult than one she gave to his peers: "I read a book." Holling's sentence reads: "For it so falls out, that what we have we prize not to the worth whiles we enjoy it; but being lacked and lost, why, then we rack the value, then we find the virtue that possession would not show us while it was ours." My kids' jaws dropped when we got to this, they really didn't get it. So we talked about it, picked it apart, and came to paraphrase it as "You don't know what you've got until it's gone." But this wasn't the magic moment, oh no, there was more.

    A few more pages in we discovered that Mrs. Baker's husband was going to be deployed to Vietnam shortly, as the principal announced it over the P.A. system. In the story, Mrs. Baker doesn't show any emotion as this announcement is being made to the entire school. Suddenly, one of my kids' hands shot in the air. He was squirming around so much to get me to notice him, I thought he would pop! When I finally called on him ( a little exasperated because I was mid-sentence) he came out with this:

    "Mrs. P.! I get it! I know why she gave Holling that crazy sentence! She was trying to express how she feels about her husband leaving, but since she's a teacher she can't get all emotional, so she put it in words. Maybe she thinks Holling will understand."

    "Or maybe it's the author's way of telling us something really bad is going to happen to him," chimed in another.

    Then my jaw dropped. Those ideas had never occurred to me, and this was my second read-through. 


    What awe-inspiring moments have your read alouds brought about? What are some of your favorite books to share with your students through read alouds? Please comment below!

    Friday, November 4, 2011

    CRs Got You Down?

    I have got a solution for you! While I was grading the latest county mandated test (bleh!), I noticed that my darlings were really struggling with their constructed responses (CRs). Although they have been doing them since 3rd grade, I usually find that 5th graders need a few reminders when completing CRs in the beginning of the school year. However, my reminders did not seem to do the trick this time. You know, the usual "Don't forget to support your thinking with details from the text!" or "Make sure you connect your own thinking to your answer!"

    In an effort to help them improve their writing, I stumbled up this site. There are lots of resources for guiding your students through the tedious process of completing CRs. I really liked the revision tools that were tied into the 6+1 writing traits (2 birds, one stone!).

    Although I shudder at the idea of giving students a formula, I do believe they need some guidelines to help scaffold them until they are more successful. I will not present these as "rules" for wtiting CRs, but rather suggestions for helping them improve. Hopefully, this and our "Shoot for Three" incentive will get their pencils moving and the wheels turning!

    Do you have any lessons or tricks you use to help your students experience more success with CRs? Please share by commenting below!

    Sunday, October 30, 2011

    Twitter...Who Knew?

    Just a quick post to encourage all of my fellow bloggers to consider also using Twitter as a resource for collaboration and seeking out new ideas. I just had the greatest experience chatting with some of my fellow bloggers and Donalyn Miller herself about Read Alouds. I learned about a bunch of great titles to try with my kiddos, along with some information about how to use them effectively in the classroom. Hopefully this will be the beginning of the END of my frustration! Thanks to all who participated! Can't wait for the next #titletalk! 

    Saturday, October 29, 2011

    Reading & Writing Workshops, Oh My!

    Okay, so I am going to be honest about something. I.Feel.Frustrated. 

    When I first began writing this blog, I posted about how inspired I felt by Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer. I am still inspired by it, but inspiration in this case has let to frustration. As a relatively new teacher, I think I am tempted to cling to that which I am familiar with. Unfortuantely, what I am familiar with is teaching reading via an anthology (yuck!). I am so bored with the anthology, and I think know if I am bored then my kids are, too. 

    Here is the problem: There are so many resources on teaching reading and writing workshop, but I still feel like there isn't a clear cut "Hey! Start Here!" to be found for those of us who want to venture into this unfamiliar territory. My head is constantly swimming with ideas of what I should be doing, but the how is still missing. I am not asking for premade, scripted lessons. Quite the contrary. I would just like a little more diretion than I have found. I don't think that reading and writing workshop only work in "ideal situations." I want to make it work in my classroom because I feel that it is best for my students. I've also read The Daily 5 and felt so overwhelmed that I had to table it for a while. Is there a way to use the anthology (my comfort zone) to transition slowly into this type of teaching?

    There are so many great teachers out there...and I am reaching out to those of you have made this transition. How did you start? I know how the scheduling should look, it's the small details that I am unsure of. HOw do you decide what to teach for your whole group lesson? Is a mini lesson enough time for children to learn and understand a concept well enough to apply it independently?

    I am hoping some of you will comment and help me out. Thank you so much in advance for your wisdom!

    Friday, October 28, 2011

    Thank Goodness for the Sunshine State!

    This week, I was on the hunt for great resources to use with my students who are struggling with fluency. After spending too much time looking online for ideas, I suddenly remembered one that I already knew of (and had, sadly, completely forgotten). This particular resource was introduced to me a while back. Unfortunately, it got filed away into the "I have too many things on my mind right now. I will deal with it later" File in my brain. Luckily for me (and hopefully you, too) I was at my computer and suddenly, the file cabinet forced itself open to reveal *drum roll please*...

    The Florida Center for Reading Research

    There is a plethora of activities to help student practice not only their fluency skills, but also phonics, vocabulary, and comprehension. I am a big believer in begging, borrowing, and "stealing" (not in the literal sense!) when it comes to ways I can help my kids become better readers and deeper thinkers. I also believe in trying to find great resources before reinventing the wheel myself (although I do that from time to time, too...*sigh*). This site is perfect for that. And best of all, everything is F-R-E-E! 

    A word of caution: Don't feel like you have to grab everything all at once and then fluster yourself with visions of copying, laminating, and cutting until the wee hours of the morning. My goal is just see what matched up with what I am working on now, and finding ways to add to the activities so they can be used more than once. 

    If this is something you are laready familiar with, great! However if you aren't, grab a cup of coffee...hunker down...and prepare to be lost in cyberspace for a while because I sure was!Remember to bookmark it so it doesn't get lost in your "file cabinet" for as long as it was in mine! 

    P.S. I would love to hear about some of your "go to" resources for reading and writing small groups, etc. so don't forget to comment!

    Sunday, October 23, 2011

    Math Masters Freebies!

    As promised, despite the fact I do not teach math, I am sharing the "Math Master" activities that I described in my post about "Poem of the Week." If enough people seem interested, I will continue to post them periodically...just leave me a comment so I know you're using them!

    Patterns (Kindergarten)
    Harvest Time (Kindergarten)
    Harvest Time (Grades 1-2)
    More Patterns (K-2)

    Harvest Time (Grades 4-5)
    Harvest Time (Grade 3)
    Number Fun (Grades 3-5) *The answer usually comes up as "kangaroo," but out-of-the-box thinkers might go with Koala :) *
    Patterns (Grade 3-5)

    That's all I have for now. Remember, leave a comment if you would like me to continue posting these!

    Fantastic Finds Linky Party!

    I am really enjoying these Linky Parties! What a great way to share and collaborate with the fantastic teachers I have found in the blog world. Here are my "Fantastic Finds" of the week!

    1. Fabulous 4th Grade Froggies has shared some report card comments. I think these will help me avoid sounding redundant, and also save me from writer's block. With 40+ kids this year, I am sure these will come in handy!

    Fabulous 4th Grade Froggies

    2. Looking for creative ways to get your kids thinking while they read? Head over to A Teacher's Treasure for her "Reading is Thinking Thought Bubbles. These are great, and I know if they worked with middle schoolers, my 5th graders will be excited about them, too!

    3. Even though I don't teach science anymore (insert sad face here), I thought The Teacher's Chatterbox's idea for teaching the rock cycle would have been great to use. This concept is often confusing for my kids, and this lesson using chocolate and butterscotch chips makes it so much more concrete. I will probably DEFINITELY pass this along to my teammates!

    4. I don't know about you, but I LOVE lists. They are simple, easy to use, and often just what I need! Create●Teach●Share posted about a variety of lists she uses in her classroom. Hop on over and check them out...I guarentee you'll find a use for at least one (if not all) of them.

    Create Teach Share

    5. Finally my ultimate RE-find. About two years ago, the reading specialist at my former school told me about the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR) and all of their great reading centers for all grade levels. I had completely forgotten about it until I stumbled upon a Scholastic article about teaching main idea and details. In it I found a link to an activity from FCRR, and suddenly a thousand light bulbs went off! Long story short, I am sure you'll get lost in FCRR's links as well. 

    That's it for now. Thanks for tuning in! Don't forget to head over to Thinking of Teaching and link up and share YOUR great finds!

    Saturday, October 22, 2011

    "Poem of the Week" Freebies!

    At our school, our wonderful reading specialist provides a poem of the week every two weeks for both the primary and intermediate grades. She gathers poems and creates quick-writes to go along with them. The poems often have something to do with the season or an upcoming event/holiday. Each class works with the poems, and students hand in their work by noon on Thursdays. Then, our reading specialist chooses one primary and one intermediate students to share their response on our televised morning announcements. The kids all want to be picked, so they must make sure their responses are well thought out and well written.

     In addition to using the activities provided, I often use these poems for a myriad of other things: comprehension, practicing grammar skills, fluency homework, vocabulary instruction, etc. I have been given permission to share these wonderful poems and worksheets with you. Please see the links below, with topics in bold, to download the poems and activities.

    Back to School:
    Cleaning House in My Brain (Primary)
    Cleaning House in My Brain (Intermediate)

    Nightplayer (Primary)
    Victory (Intermediate)

    Autumn Time is Coming (Primary)
    Autumn Fires (Intermediate)
    Five Little Pumpkins (Primary)
    Haunted House (Intermediate)

    On the weeks that we do not have "Poem of the Week," our special educator provides us with "Math Masters." I am not a math teacher, but as soon as I get her permission, I will write about these as well because I believe them to be great resources for everyone...they sure do motivate our kids! 

    How do you plan on using these poems in your classroom?

    Happy Reading!

    A Fun Giveaway!

    Click on one of the buttons below to check out some great blogs I just joined AND a chance to win some goodies! Each blogger will be picking one person from the blog to win an item from their TPT/Teacher's notebook store! Good luck!


    Little Miss Kindergarten

    Ashleigh's Education Journey

    Tales of Frogs & Cupcakes

    Friday, October 21, 2011

    Spook-tacular Real Estate Ads

    This week, my students and I started a writing project that was inspired by a GREAT blog post/lesson from Clutter-Free Classroom. We're writing Real Estate Ads for...wait for it....


    My kids are TOTALLY into the idea! They really let their sick, twisted creative minds fly with this one!

    I basically followed the lesson created by Clutter-Free Classroom, but added some of my own pieces as well.

    We started out but reading a poem by Jack Prelutsky called "Haunted House." We talked about what they visualized when they read it. Next, we looked at some actual real estate ads and discussed how the writers of those ads try to make their home sound appealing. We talked about the various amenities homeowners look for, as well as the tone of the ads.

    After that, we discussed who our target "buyers" would be for a haunted house. They came up with things like ghosts, goblins, zombies, etc. One of my students pointed out that those individuals probably wouldn't be looking for the same type of house a normal human being would. This idea led me right into the next phase, which was reading a short story about a haunted house that my colleague found. We read it together to find good adjectives they could use to describe a haunted house.

    After we were all good and spooked, I set them loose to begin brainstorming rooms and amenities that would be found in their haunted houses, as well as "creepy adjectives" that they could use to describe their homes. They did a great job! Some ideas included a "slime pool," "bleeding ceilings," "undead butlers," and a "spell casting room." They came up with adjectives like "gory," "gruesome," "horrifying," "putrid," and "noxious" (which happened to be one of our recent "words of the day"...yessssss!). I then combined all of their thinking (TWO classes worth) into one chart to be displayed in the room.

     I can't wait to get them started on drafting!

    What reading and writing related activities are you doing/have you done for Halloween?

    Haunted House by Jack Prelutsky

    Here is a great poem I used recently to get my kiddos into a spooky writing mood:

    Haunted House

    Click Here For Images &
    Haunted House Pictures - Pictures

    Haunted House
    by Jack Prelutsky

    There's a house upon the hilltop
    We will not go inside
    For that is where the witches live,
    Where ghosts and goblins hide.

    Tonight they have their party,
    All the lights are burning bright,
    But oh we will not go inside
    The haunted house tonight.

    The demons there are whirling
    And the spirits swirl about.
    They sing their songs to Halloween.
    "Come join the fun," they shout.

    But we do not want to go there
    So we run with all our might
    And oh we will not go inside
    The haunted house tonight.

    *I used this poem to kick off my Haunted House Real Estate Ads. Click here for more information about this fun and unique writing project!*

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011

    My First Linky Party!

    This is my first time posting in relation to a "Linky Party" I hope I get it right!

    Book Search Linky Party

    This one is being hosted by Cachey Mama's Classroom and the theme is "Book Search." More specifically, sites or blogs you go to for book recommendations.

    Here are some of MY favorites...

    1. A Year of Reading This has to be one of my favorite blogs to go to! It's how I got the idea to infuse more graphic novels into my classroom library. Another thing I love from this blog is "Poetry Fridays." I always find poems that provoke thought about teaching and life in general in these weekly treasures. This blog constantly updates with well-written book reviews for all age groups.

    2. Donalyn Miller's blog on GoodReads is a great source, not only for book recommendations...but for ideas about teaching reading and writing in general. After reading her book (The Book Whisperer), I fully trust all recommendations from this inspirational teacher!

    3. The Book Dragon is also another great blog to check out. This site offers a very wide range of book reviews. Sometimes a great idea for teaching is sparked as I red these posts. I also use this blog to learn more about some of the books in my classroom library that I haven't read yet.

    4. The Nonfiction Detectives is the perfect blog for finding fantastic nonfiction books to use in the classroom. I like that this blog caters specifically to those in search of informational texts.

    5. Scholastic Book Wizard is a great tool for not only getting to know the books in your library, but also for finding books that have similar themes and styles. I use the "Book Alike" feature to find books for my students that will help them branch out a bit. 

    6. Harper Collins Children's Books has some really neat features. You can listen to excerpts of books and watch book trailers (similar to movie trailers) for some of their selections. This is also a fun idea for getting students interested in books...much more interesting that listening to your teacher talk a book up!

    How about you? What are some of your go-to resources for finding great books?