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?

Poems, anyone?

One of my new favorite things to do in my class is write poetry. The kids love writing poems, and it is a quick and easy go-to writing assignment. So far we have almost two poems under our belts. The first one we wrote was to piggy back off of a lesson we did on sensory language. My AMAZING teammate came up with the idea, and I loved it so much I am sharing it with you! It worked really well and I got some of the best writing I have seen from 5th graders since I started teaching!

The first thing we did was talk about how authors use sensory language to help readers feel immersed in their "world." A great book for teaching this is Smokey Night by Eve Bunting. This is the story of the Los Angeles riots told through the eyes of a child. We talked about what one would have seen, heard, smelled, and felt during this monumental event. 

After that, we talked about how colors can be described in a way that makes you see, hear, smell, feel and even taste them. We read part of the book I Love You the Purplest by Barbara M. Joosse for this activity. Joosse creates wonderful imagery through her use of descriptive sensory language. I got goosebumps! 

Finally we got to the writing. To complete their activity, the students picked a crayon with an interesting name from my box of 64 Crayola crayons. (I imagine this could be much more interesting if you had the oh-so-epic 120 count box...but alas, I don't.) We discussed how some colors were "cool" and some "warm." We talked about the mood that could be created by different colors. 

Using their crayons as inspiration (who wouldn't be inspired by colors such as "Purple Mountains Majesty" or "Tickle Me Pink"???), the students began drafting their poems using this outline from

After going through the writing process, we finally published the poems in Microsoft Word. I thought it would be neat to use the "outline" text feature for the color names so that the students could use their crayons to shade in the words. I also had them illustrate their work with pictures of what they had described. Below are some of the poems the students created:

Monday, October 17, 2011

Shoot for Three!

Having trouble finding a way to get your students to put forth their best effort on written responses? (Let's be realistic, we have to do them and they aren't always the most fun for our little matter how hard we try.)

Here is how we motivate students at our school to do their best when completing "Brief Constructed Responses" (a.k.a. BCRs): 

We teach the students what every good BCR needs in order to earn all three points that they are worth. Then, whenever someone scores a three on their BCRs, they get to shoot a hoop. If a particular activity has more than one BCR and they score three points on each one, then the student gets to take that many shots. For example, if one of my kiddos get two threes on their test, they shoot twice. Whether they make the basket or not, they get to add a sticker to the sticker chart. If they make the basket, I give them an extra treat, like a piece of candy or a pencil...whatever I have on hand. 

The poster above the basket and sticker charts says:
"Shoot for Three

We shoot for 3 points when writing our BCRs!

What am I thinking? What have a read?
What's in the text? What's in my head?
Put them together and you will see...
Thoughtful readers earn a 3!"

I am not sure where the poem came from, so I can't take credit for it. However, I loved this idea when I came to my school, so I am sharing it with all of you! Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Grammar Giggles

Today was a good day. I had one of those moments in teaching when you just stop, smile, and think to yourself: "This is what I am meant to do." It. Was. Awesome.

I recently decided to ditch my county grammar text books for another book I discovered in our professional library. It's called The Giggly Guide to Grammar, and my kids LOVE it! It takes the oh-so-boring topics of nouns, verbs, sentence structure, etc. and turns them into entertaining lessons that keep the kids engaged. And best of all...they actually look forward to our next lesson.

Today's activity was a wrap up of our study on nouns. We haven't covered all the information about nouns, but this addressed their ability to determine if a word was a noun. It also allowed them to show me that they know the difference between a common noun and a proper noun. It went like this:

The students were to create a list of 20 nouns. They could be ANY noun, as long as they did not use the name of a friend, teacher, or family member. I told them to mix it up between common and proper nouns, and person, place, thing, and idea nouns. When they were finished, they swapped papers with a friend and checked over the list to make sure each word was, in fact, a noun. 

Then (this was the fun part!) I gave the students a copy of a short Mad Libs type story with 20 blanks spaces. They were to fill in the blank spaces with the nouns from their friends' lists without looking at the sentences. After that, they read their completed stories to one another. My room was FILLED with the wonderful sound that is the laughter of children. They enjoyed themselves and I enjoyed listening to their crazy stories, too. The highlight was when of my students asked, "Can we do this kind of thing for our next unit?!?" Who could say no to that?

Friday, October 7, 2011

♥ My Classroom ♥

Here I am about halfway through the first quarter and I realized...

"I should share some pictures of my classroom before it's too late!" (You know, before the newness wears off)

This is the front of my room. Excuse the fact that some of my teaching materials are still out..
Our Reading Focus Wall. I got this great idea from another blog called "Dots-n-Spots."  
Word wall pocket charts. I have a total of 5. We keep current words from stories we are working on in the charts, then they get moved to the permanent word wall above the board. The different categories are: W.O.W. Words, Character Traits, Relationship, Feelings, and Theme.
My writing corner. It could use some sprucing up to make it more exciting. I also use it for small groups and conferences during reading time.

I utilized the space on my closet doors to hang some great posters for writing.
On the left are my "Make Up Work" files for students to check when they return from an absence. Each child has their own folder. Work is collected in a file folder throughout the day and then transferred into their personal folder. This is also where students go if they need a pencil, tape, to staple something, or a 3-hole punch.
Student work board
Job Chart! The kids are still helping me think of one more job to add. The folders below say "Had a Job" and "Needs a Job" so I can make sure everyone gets a turn.

My always growing classroom library. I would like some matching bins, but right now I am just thankful that I had enough to house all my books!

Close up of the book bin labels I made

Reading strategies and genres bulletin board located in the libary area. As we discuss more genres I will add more posters. Click here to download these great genre posters for your classroom!

Book boxes! Since I have two classes, my desks and book boxes are labeled with numbers. Students  in both classes share book boxes, so I gave each child a Ziploc bag with his/her name on it to keep the books in each box separated. 
My desk area. I am sure some book somewhere would convince me that this is clutter and unnecessary, but I need my own bulletin board space to tack up reminders and important info. I separated it with ribbon and use the top half for displaying student work. We're still working on filling this one up :)

Another view of my desk area.
Our school's version of a clip chart system. This is school wide and pretty useful. Students receive a consequence befitting of their "crime" on red, and if they move up to silver, they get a stamp in their planner to let parents know. Other colors are recorded in planners as well.

This is by the door to my room. Just my calendar, important info, band folders and cones for whem my kids have band. Basically, they choose a "Band Buddy" to give a folder to. That person collects the work while the student is out, and then explains what was missed when they return. The cone goes on their desk as a reminder to me of where they are (in case of any emergency drills, and so on). I also have a bathroom sign-out sheet on this table, along with the famous Red Emergency Binder.

Baskets for handing in completed work

I used some of the leftover scrap paper from my magazine holder project to decorate my binders and help tie the room together a little more.

My curtains that I love! And our classroom's timer. 

This is one of the desk tags I made to go with my "Polka Dot Owl" theme. I made a lot that were in varying combinations of teal, lime, and brown to match my bulletin boards.

Well, that's it for now. I'll update as I add/change more...which is inevitable! 

Getting Crafty!

In an effort to theme-ify my room, I thought I would get a little crafty this year and make some things to add to my d├ęcor. I was really sick of looking at the ugly brown magazine holders we are given at my school so I thought I would improve those first. I went to Ikea and bought these great blank,white, magazine holders...perfect canvas to for creativity! Then , I started searching the net for ideas on how to go about decorating them! I found this idea (which I improvised a little) on a great blog called Not Just Paper and Glue.  

Here are my materials:

In her post, she doesn't really say what she used to glue the paper onto the holders...I used mounting glue. I also highly suggest working outside (hello happy fumes) and covering your work area with a trash bag or some other material you don't care about. Also, make sure your "drape" is secure. Nothing worse than a freshly painted project being swept into the grass by the wind...

First, I sprayed each holder. This was tricky. If I sprayed too much, they had drip marks. If I didn't spray enough, they looked blotchy. It took a few tries, but I eventually got the hang of it.

Next, I let them dry overnight (which really stunk up my house something wicked). I cut pieces of scrapbook paper to fit along the spine of each holder. Then, I sprayed the mounting glue to the paper and carefully placed it onto the magazine holder. 

Voila! Here is a picture of the (almost) finished project. **I still need to add labels so I know what is IN them.**

Afterwards I was feeling very bold, so I had another thought...

Pencil holders!

I decided to use some recycled cans to hold my “Broken” and “Sharpened” pencils in my class.
(The kids in my room trade out a broken/dull pencil for a sharp one instead of sharpening their pencils...this reduces the amount of time they are out of their seat, as well as distractions.)
I basically used the same process, but with cans: paint, dry overnight, adhere a strip of scrapbook paper with with mounting glue. The mounting glue didn't work as well on the cans, so I ended up taping them. Finish them off with some labels and you have some lovely (and very green!) pencil holders!

What are some things you have created for your classrooms?