Sunday, October 26, 2014

Red Ribbon Week Door

Next week is Red Ribbon Week! This year, my school is doing a competition between classes and grade levels to see who can come up with the most creative Red Ribbon Week door decor. I wanted a theme that would coordinate nicely with my sports themed classroom. Last year I did a basketball door with the saying "We won't lets drugs ruin our HOOPS and dreams." (I would show you a picture, but I dropped my phone in the toilet last October and lost all of my pictures from the month.) I wanted something different this year. I don't have any cheerleader decor in my room this year, so I decided to go that route.





I was going to have all of the kiddos sign on the football field. But after putting it up there, I am not certain there is room for 52 kids to sign their names!

Good luck to all my teacher friends this week. The week of Halloween can be SCARY at school! ;-)



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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Literature Circles Made Simple



I love using literature circles, or book clubs, during my guided reading groups! I love them because they make lesson planning simple, they give me the opportunity to introduce new authors and series to my students, they give my students the opportunity to practice skills learned in a mini lesson and most importantly...the kids LOVE them! They cheer when it is their day to meet with me and they grumble if we have to cancel due to assemblies or fire drills. Having my students get excited about reading, puts a huge smile on my face.

I have written about literature circles before but I get lots of questions from coworkers and Facebook followers about my literature circles, so I thought I would share the answers here.

When do you find time for literature circles?
I meet with my literature circles Monday-Thursday during my guided reading small group time. My students are divided into four groups. I meet with two groups on Mondays and Wednesdays and the other two groups on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I have an hour to meet with my small groups, so that gives me 30 minutes with each group. I do my very best to devote the majority of every minute of small group to my literature circles. I don't use a text book and I don't use worksheets. Instead we get lost in our books!

What does the average literature circle look like in your class?
My group will come to the back table and get their books out of the box we keep them in. While I am getting other centers settled, my students know that they should go back to the chapter we read last time to review and remind themselves of what is happening in the book. We will then spend the next 20 or so minutes reading. We read many different ways. Sometimes we choral read. Sometimes we popcorn read. And most recently (thanks to my super smart partner teacher), we have been doing silent reading. While they silently read, I have been tapping one student as a time. When I tap them, they begin whisper reading right where they are at until I tap again. We will spend our last 8-10 minutes either discussing what we read or working in our interactive notebooks. Since our meetings are so similar every time, it makes it very easy to lesson plan!

How do you assess reading skills through your literature circles?
I assess through observation, discussions and interactive notebooks. I am able to assess fluency by listening as my students read. After reading a chapter, I ask questions of specific students that target skills we have been working on in our mini lessons. For example, right now we are working on RI.2 which is identifying the main idea and details in informational text. So after we read a chapter, I might say, "Please tell your shoulder partner what the main idea is and use the text to support your claim." Then I just listen in and make marks on my mastery checklist. Any student that didn't answer (maybe they did more listening), will be asked the question specifically the next time we meet and read a new chapter. I know that everyone won't get the skill marked off on the checklist at the same time, but as we continue meeting, I am able to assess everyone at some point.

I also like to use interactive notebook pieces to assess my students. I don't use one every day. I tend to use these more towards the end of our unit on a particular skill. I have taught my kids to cut and glue very quickly. I don't want to take too much time away from our reading. Sometimes, I will just observe as students are writing in their notebooks and make notes in my mastery checklist. Other times, I need a percentage grade to be able to add to a report card. If that is the case, I will grade them with a rubric later. These are the interactive notebook pieces that I use in my literature circles.


There are flaps in the product that can be used for nearly every literature and informational standard and they are simple to cut. I am not a big fan of interactive notebook pieces that include lots of frills and cutesy clipart that take lots of time to cut and glue. Once I teach my students how to cut and glue these flaps, we are set for the entire year.




Book Auctions
Ok, I know this wasn't a question, but these book auctions are so much fun, that I have to tell you about them! Almost anytime we finish a book in my class (a whole group read aloud or a literature circle book), I bring in the next book in the series or another book by the same author. Any child that wants to read that book can put their name on a raffle ticket. I pull one name (while the kids drum roll on their desks). That student gets two weeks to read the book. Then they return it to me and I choose another ticket. I just keep the tickets in  Ziploc bags and label them with the particular book they are for. Almost every week, we are raffling off books to read. My kids are so incredibly excited to read these books! Some of them can't wait to win the auction and so they are going home and begging parents to buy the book. Hello?! Kids begging for books??? This is a teacher's dream come true!



After auctioning the book a few times, I put in in our classroom library. Someone will get lucky and find it there!

Where do you get your books for literature circles?
I got many of my sets of books through Donors Choose. It's so easy to write a grant through Donors Choose. You get to pick the exact titles that you want to ask for. You can send a link to your project to friends, family and your class parents. However, many of my projects have been funded completely by strangers! After it is funded, a big box of goodies arrive in the mail!


How do you organize and store your book sets for literature circles?
I purchased two long and shallow plastic tubs from Walmart 9about $6 each). Each tub is able to fit two rows of books. And both of the tubs fit neatly on one shelf in my cabinet. The buckets are easy to slide out so I can look at the titles.



What are your all time favorite books for literature circles?
I teach third grade. I absolutely love children's books, so it can be very difficult to pick favorites. But I will try!
The World According to Humphrey (perfect for teaching point of view!)
Frindle (perfect for character traits and how they change during a story)
Amelia Bedelia Means Business (great for figurative language and multiple meaning words!)
Lemonade Wars (great for integrating math into literature!)
For informational text, I have lots of the Magic Treehouse Fact Trackers and Who Was? books. I like to choose subjects that align with our social studies and science units.

I hope this helps inspire you to make your literature circles simple and meaningful! I'd love to hear from you. Do you use literature circles? What tips have you found that make them simple to manage. How do you ensure that students are spending most of the allotted time reading? What are your all time favorite books for literature circles?

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Goodbye Fall Break. Hello 2nd Quarter.

Today was my students' first day back after a two and a half week fall break! After such a long break, I knew that my kiddos would need to review rules and procedures before starting into our normal routine. I did not want to just stand in front of my class and rehash the first two weeks of school. I wanted something more engaging. So, I came up with six topics that I wanted my students to review. I wrote them on the board and assigned a team to each topic.



I gave each of the teams ten minutes to work together. They brainstormed the things students needed to know and a way to teach it to them.



Finally, each group taught the class their topic. They were so cute and they sounded JUST like me! And the best part? I just sat and watched. They did all the work! And they liked doing it!

I wanted to hear all about the kids' fall break adventures (and I was excited to tell them about my cruise and swimming with dolphins!), so I made this simple and cute creativity for them. They loved making and sharing these books.





Don't make fun of my terrible drawing!

Grab this fun creativity for FREE from my store!


Now I need to get some R&R! Going back after a super fun break is very exhausting! 


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Friday, October 10, 2014

Tips and Tools for Interactive Notebooks with a FREEBIE!

This year I am using interactive notebooks in math, reading and social studies. I absolutely love them! It was a bit intimidating when I first started using them and I often get questions about them. Let me share a little about what I have learned.






If you want more tips and ticks for interactive notebooks, be sure to follow my Interactive Notebook Pinterest Board. Just click on the picture below.



Are you ready for a FREEBIE?!

Click on the picture to grab free notebook covers, table of contents, rubrics and student reflection forms.


Happy notebooking!



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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fun Way to Review for ANY Test!

As a student, I thought that teachers loved to give tests. Why else would they torture us with them? Now that I am a teacher, I realize that teachers get more test anxiety than students! What if they don't read the directions? What if they make dumb mistakes? Did I teach it well enough? What if they all fail? What if the parents get upset? Are they really ready??? I lose sleep with all this worry! Please tell me that I am not alone!

In an effort to help prepare my kiddos for tests and to relieve some of my anxiety, I like to give a practice test on the day before the "real" thing. I especially like to do this with math. We use Engage NY for math and the test comes in a word document. So I go in and change the numbers to make a second version of the test. You could always write some questions that are similar to the test you are giving. Or, use task cards! But just giving them this practice test would be boring. And, I am anything but boring!



Here is how I keep kids excited and engaged while doing the practice test...All students receive a copy of the practice test. They work on one question at a time. After they finish one question, they get in line. I check their work. If they are correct, I initial it and I give them a ticket. They write their name on it and put it in a container with the number one. Then they go back to their seat and work on question 2. They will do this until they complete the entire test. If a student has the wrong answer, I try to point them in the right direction. They go back to their seat and fix their errors. Then, they can get back in line.

At the end of the allotted review time, we go over the entire test together. Then, I draw a ticket from each of the containers. I give that child a piece of candy. I NEVER give candy any other time, so students are crazy excited!



When my kids take the test the next day, I know they understand the directions and the expectations! Now, they are truly being assessed on the skill that I have taught. Kids are happy. Teacher is happy!

How do you make reviewing for tests more fun?


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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Why I Don't Assign At-Home Book Reports

At the start of the school year, I promise my parents that I will not be assigning at-home book reports. They look surprised and then relieved.

I was not always this way. When I first started teaching, I was excited to assign book reports. I did them as a child and so it seemed natural that my children would do them as well. So I assigned the "report" that the rest of my team was assigning. This was not like any report I had even completed. It was more of an art project than anything else. And here is what happened...

I received no less than twenty questions about the report from parents. I was sending daily answers and reminders regarding the report. On the due date, two students didn't bring a report at all. Twenty students brought reports that looked professionally done. And four sweeties brought in hand-written, crayon colored, done by themselves reports. As the students presented their reports for what seemed like an eternity, my heart broke for the four who did the report themselves and therefore didn't have the fancy project to share. They had probably learned the most, but I would be the only one to know this.

Later, we displayed our reports for parents to see at an open house. Parents had already seen them though. So they went from desk to desk checking out what other parents had done. I am certain they were comparing their work to all the others. I could almost here them thinking "Wow! I did so much better than this kid's mom! They didn't even use glitter!"

After the open house, I spent hours grading the projects with a rubric. Could I even use these grades? I mean, how much had the students completed on their own? As I walked the room, I was asking myself "Did they learn anything about literature?" "Did they enjoy reading the book?" And to be completely honest...I wasn't sure I could say "yes" to either of those questions.

I had worked hard. Parents had worked hard. My four sweeties, who completed the project on their own, worked hard. But I don't feel much learning happened. Why work so hard for so few results? I realized that what I really wanted was for my kids to love reading. The book report was not the answer. If anything, it took time away that they could have spent reading. Not ok!

I never assigned another at-home book report. My parents didn't complain. My kids didn't complain. My class passed their reading standardized testing. They passed the third grade. Nothing detrimental happened because they didn't have crazy book projects to complete at home.

Instead, I have them complete SIMPLE book reports in class after we finish a book in our literature circles. Right now, my class is making a brochure for the book they just read. I am giving them a little bit of class time to complete it. They are happy and I am able to observe as they write about characters and setting.

When my kiddos go home they will have more time to be kids. More time to read, dance, play the piano, ride bikes and be with their families.

And that is why I don't assign at-home book reports.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Five Hand-On Ways to Teach Multiplication


As a student, I disliked math. Math was just a book that I had to complete a set of problems from each night. It was boring and I failed to understand when in life I would use the skills. The only thing that I can remember about learning multiplication was memorizing facts on flash cards. I think it is this experience with math as a student that makes me love math as a teacher. I vow to make math different for my students. It will be more than a math book full of homework. It will be more than flash cards. It won't be boring and you will know why you need these skills. Math in my class will be hands-on! Math will be fun!

The first unit that my third graders are doing this year is multiplication. I am used to starting the year slow with place value- so this has been an adjustment. I have been careful to spend extra time on the foundational skills of multiplication rather than skipping to fact mastery. Today I want to share some fun hands-on ways that I like to teach multiplication. 


I wrote about the equal group beads over the summer, but I love them so much that it is worth repeating. (After all, I am a teacher. I repeat myself A LOT.) This idea came from the Evil Math Wizard. I saw them once on her blog and she was kind enough to explain what they were and how to make them.

To make these beads you will need pipe cleaners, pony beads and a plastic storage box. I got all of my supplies from Walmart. 


All I did was cut the pipe cleaners in half. I strung beads on them for each number. So, for example, I chose purple to represent my groups of two. I made ten different pipe cleaners with two purple beads on them. I did this with each number through nine.


Now my students can use these beads as a manipulative to solve multiplication facts. For example, for the problem 3x7, students would get 3 groups of seven. 


Students can use the beads to count and solve. This manipulative helps to reenforce the idea that multiplication is just adding equal groups together.


My students practice their skip counting every day. When I first started teaching, I bought a  fun skip counting/multiplication CD. I use it all the time and think it was well worth the money. However, you can also use youtube to play fun skip counting songs. Play them everyday. I play them during snack time and other transition times. The kids love it! 




The day that I bring my hula hoops to school is one of excitement for the kids! They know that I am a little on the strange side  so their imaginations run wild as to what the hula hoops might be for. 

The hula hoops are a fun way to practice equal groups with the whole class! I ask students to make a certain representation. In the picture below, my students made two groups of two.


I will repeatedly call out different multiplication facts and students would grab the number of hula hoops needed and form the equal groups. Kids in their desk can stay engaged by drawing it on white boards. This technique really shows kids that multiplication is adding equal groups. Plus, it allows kids to get out of their seats. Win! Win!


Kids love food! Therefore, I love to use food to teach. It makes for a memorable lesson. 

Cheese-It crackers (or any square cracker) are perfect for teaching arrays and area in multiplication. 


I give a fact and students build it with crackers. It is a good time to introduce area! When we are done building a variety of arrays, everyone gets to eat their crackers! I like this square representation so much because it allows me to introduce area and the vocabulary involved. 


Interactive notebooks have become the heart and soul of my instruction. They are small group work. They are assessments. They are notes to refer back to throughout the year. And they are FUN! The kids love to add to their math journal!

Just check out some of the fun pieces that my students have added during our multiplication unit. They all come from my Multiplication Interactive Notebook unit.










While my students are adding pieces to their notebooks, I observe with my iPad in hand. As a student demonstrates that they can correctly complete a skill, I give them a check on my mastery checklist in Evernote. Performance-based assessments! 

I hope this gives you some fun ideas for teaching multiplication!

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