Sunday, November 23, 2014

12 Gifts for YOU!!!

Get ready for a little gushing and then an amazing announcement...

I can say this with complete sincerity- TpT has forever changed my life and the quality of living for my family. About five years ago, we were penniless and the creditors were calling repeatedly. My husband had just finished nursing school and I was in the middle of my schooling. We had four children ages 5 and under. And we worried about how to feed and clothe them.

Fast forward five years....

This was the view from my lounge chair on the beach in Grand Turk in the Caribbean. My family spent a week cruising the Caribbean last month. I shed a few tears thinking about how incredibly blessed we are.

I owe so much of my success to TpT and to all of my amazing fans and followers! You have encouraged me, pushed me and inspired me to make new and better products. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about how I can help a teacher to inspire a student. I am so grateful that you allow me to come into your classrooms through my resources. That means more to me than the money I make. Thank you for trusting me!

I wanted to give you an amazing Christmas gift. A gift that would express just how much you mean to me. But no one gift would cut it. So I decided to give you TWELVE gifts!

Starting this Friday, I will be releasing a new product every day for 12 days. Each of these products will be FREE! Some will be forever freebies and some will become paid products after the holidays. Be certain that you are following my TpT store and my Facebook page so that you don't miss out on a single one of these awesome gifts!

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

5 Ways to Use Task Cards in the Classroom

I LOVE using task cards. They are so much more engaging and versatile than a worksheet! I also love that after prepping them once, they can be used over and over in different ways! Here is a look at five of my favorite ways to use task cards in the classroom.

1. Scoot

I LOVE to do scoots in my classroom! In fact, we do one every Friday. I use task cards and a scoot to assess our weekly language skill. The kids are out of their seat and moving around. This increases the blood flow to the brain! Plus, the kids don't even realize they are doing an assessment.

When I do a scoot, I lay the task cards on desks. I ask students to answer the card closest to them first and then get up and move around the room to answer the rest of the cards. I tell students that they get to get up and move around, but they can't use their voices. If I wasn't using it as a formative assessment, I might let them work in corporative learning groups.

My kids are pros at scooting, so now I can leave them in my sub tub!

2. As a Center

Every month, my students have sets of task cards that they must complete in their math centers. I give them the recording sheets at the start of the month. I put the cards where students can access them. During their independent time, they work on the cards in any order that they choose. Since they are doing this center independently, this is a great time to practice skills from a previous lesson. It the perfect spiral review! And more engaging than a worksheet! It is simple to differentiate by requiring different sets of cards from different math groups.

3. In Interactive Notebooks or Journals

Most task cards will print perfectly in black and white. I like to print some and have students attach them to their notebooks/journals. Each month, my students are given four task cards that ask them to respond to their independent reading. This holds my students accountable during their read-to-self time and it allows us to have a conversation about their books. The same sort of thing can be done  using math journal prompts.

4. Paired with a Board Game

Nearly any popular board game can be paired with math or ELA task cards! Students have to answer the task card question correctly before they can take their turn in the board game. Some of my favorites are Candyland, Checkers, Jenga and Connect Four. You can find these games on sale during the holidays and many can be purchased at garage sales or second-hand stores. I like to use these as a Fun Friday activity!

5. Line-Up Activity

Let's be honest- there is NEVER enough time! We have so much to teach and only a limited time to instruct. I like to use every last minute of our day together. When we have just 5 minutes until specials or release time- this line up activity is PERFECT! I walk around the room showing a task card to each student. If they get it correct, they get to line-up. If not, I come back to them (if time permits). Such a simple way to get some review in!

All of the task cards shown above, and dozens and dozens more, can be found in my TpT store HERE.

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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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