Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher: October 2015

Take a Look at my Lesson Plans!

The week of Halloween can be very stressful in the classroom but it can also be a great week to get kids engaged in their learning. I thought I would share a peek into my lesson plans for this week. I don't do this every week because many of the activities stay the same (such as centers) because I am all about constant procedures. I often get questions about how I use my products (and those that I purchase) in the classroom. I hope this peek at my week will give you an idea or two!

We use the Eureka curriculum and will be completing Module 3, Lessons 5, 7, 8 & 9 this week. These lessons focus on strategies  students can use to solve some of the tougher facts. We will continue to explore the commutative and distributive properties. 

Guided Math Groups & Centers:
In my guided math groups, we will be doing some activities from my Multiplication Interactive Notebook. I am especially looking forward to the distributive property activity. During their independent center, students will be working on my Addition & Subtraction Centers. I like to make my independent center activity a spiral review of skills we have already covered. This helps students to be successful and to review skills throughout the year. Students will also go to centers to work on their online i-Ready lessons, xtramath for math facts and Zearn for extra practice on our Eureka lesson. (I will be blogging more about my technology centers next week.)

Reading Whole Group:
We are starting on informational text unit this week. My primary goal is to teach students the procedures I want them to use while close reading. I will spend some time modeling how to find the main idea. I decided to use this free passage about bats. In vocabulary, we will be starting my 2nd unit of Vocabulary Builders. The 2nd unit is not available yet. I want to test it with my class first. You can read more about how I teach vocabulary HERE

Guided Reading Groups & Centers:
In our reading groups, we will be starting our informational text book clubs. I got several Magic Tree House Fact Tracker books for our brand new Kindles. We will be using the K-W-L and main idea graphic organizers from my Informational Text Book Club unit. In their centers students will be completing i-Ready lessons, reading to themselves and completing reading responses from my Reading Response Menus unit.

We are continuing on informational writing unit this week by working on organizing facts into paragraphs. I love using sticky notes to teach student how to categorize their facts. We will be using my FREE Pumpkin Life Cycle Sticky Note Report unit. In language, we will be starting the 2nd unit of Mentor Sentences

I am going to be introducing the scientific process this week. We will conducting my Pumpkin Seed Science Experiment. Students work to determine if the size of a pumpkin relates to the number of seeds in the pumpkin. It is lots of fun! 

We won't be getting any social studies in this week due to a school-wide  literature parade and a Halloween party. I still think that it will be a very productive week!

5 Multiplication Models You Should Teach

When we were in school, we were taught to memorize algorithms, rhymes and math facts. For some people, this worked. But for most- they hated math, thought they weren't good at math, didn't understand numbers and/or forgot the rhythms and algorithms. Math education looks so different now is most classrooms. Teachers are showing kids WHY and giving them multiple strategies that focus on place value. Students are being taught to make models, or simple drawings, to show or prove their work. These drawings don't always come naturally and often require lots of concrete practice with manipulatives. But the times is well spent. Students remember what to do and, more importantly, why they are doing it. 

One of the biggest skills taught in the 3rd grade is multiplication. I love teaching it using all kinds of manipulatives and models. Here are five models that I teach my 3rd graders.

This is probably the most basic multiplication model. It really helps to reenforce the concept of multiplication as a collection of equal groups. The first factor in the math fact tells how many groups there are. Students draw a circle for each group. The second factor tells students how many objects are in each group. They can draw Xs inside each of the circles. Now students can count each X, skip count the circles or use repeated addition to solve for the product.

I think that it feels very natural to teach the number bond model after teaching equal groups. Again, it makes it easy to see the repeated addition. This model is easier to draw because the student uses numbers instead of Xs. However, this is a bit more abstract and your intervention group may need more time before jumping to this model. The large circle represents the whole or the product. Each of the smaller circles represents a part or a group. The number inside the small circle represents the number inside each group.

I call this model a tape diagram because of the math curriculum we use. If you are familiar with Singapore Math, they call this a bar model. Either way- it is an amazing model. It typically becomes my students' favorite because it can be used with any operation and with multi-step problems. It also is a good precursor for fraction models. The entire tape represents the whole or the product. The tape is then divided into equal groups. The number inside represents the size of each group or unit.

This model quickly becomes my students' favorite model! If you want to read more about it, I HIGHLY recommend the book Step by Step Model Drawing: Solving Word Problems the Singapore Way . It has tons of samples and ideas for teaching the model for every operation. It's a game changer!

I teach arrays because it really helps students to best understand how and why the multiplication  chart works. It will also help lay the foundation for solving for area. An array is also easy to use when demonstrating the distributive property. You can have one large array and use a line to break it in half to make two smaller arrays. The only downside is that the students must draw all the Xs and sometimes they are a bit sloppy with this. Graph paper makes it neater! The first factor tells the students how many groups or rows to draw. The second factor tells how many are in each group. When it is all drawn, students can skip count the rows to solve. 

A number line tends to be a bit more abstract than the other models. I like to use it though because I believe it lays the foundation for using a number line for elapsed time. The first number tells the student how many jumps they will make. The second factor tells the student how large each jump will be. They will need to be able to add or skip count to make this model efficient. If they have to draw in every line and count- it takes far too long. 

Some final thoughts....

Teaching math models requires lots of modeling from the teacher. I typically use word problems when teaching math modeling rather than just a fact. However, students do want to draw bananas if the problem is about bananas. That is why I always call them models instead of drawings. I remind students that this is not art class!

Not all of my kiddos will master all five of these models. And that is ok! I have given them several tools for their toolbox and they can choose the one that they are most successful with. Most of my kids will master several of these models and will have a strategy to use when checking their work. 

I require that my kids use some sort of math model for every math problem. We have a problem solving routine that helps them to be consistent. You can read more about that by clicking on the picture below.

Red Ribbon Week FREEBIES!

Red Ribbon week is just around the corner! With Halloween on my mind, sometimes I feel like Red Ribbon Week sneaks up on me! 

In my classroom, we will be celebrating in three different ways.

Classroom Door Decorating Contest: Each classroom is asked to decorate the front of their door in celebration of Red Ribbon Week. Judges will go around and choose overall winners and winners for each grade level. It is fun to see the creative ideas that teachers have! This was my door last year.

Spirit Week: Every day students are a asked to show their Red Ribbon Week pride with a different theme. Students always love to dress up! You can grab my flier for free by clicking on the image.

Brag Tags: After making their drug free pledge, my students will be given a Drug Free brag tag. We usually only wear our brag tags on Friday, but I want them to see just how  important Red Ribbon Week is, so I will allow them to wear the tags all week. The tags will be a sign of their commitment to stay drug free. 

You can read more about how I use brag tags in the classroom, but clicking HERE.

You can grab the Red Ribbon Week brag tag for FREE by clicking on the image below.

Looking for more Red Ribbon Week ideas? Check out my Pinterest board! Click on the picture below.

Teaching Meaningful Vocabulary Lessons

Every year I am shocked by my students' underdeveloped vocabulary. They struggle with reading comprehension because of their limited understanding of words. Their writing can be very drab because of their limited word choice. And when it comes time for standardized testing- they often struggle with even understanding what is being asked of them because of the tier two words that can be found in the questions.

I have always known that I needed to make my vocabulary instruction more meaningful, but I struggled with how to teach it and when to squeeze it into an already packed schedule. Early in my teaching, I would assign the five words  from the weekly anthology story. I would tell them what they meant on Monday and then give them a multiple choice test on Friday. The kids passed the tests, but never truly learned the words. Also, the words from the basal rarely ever appeared in other literature that we were reading. It was terrible, but it was the only resource that the curriculum provided. I knew that if I was going to make vocabulary meaningful for my students- I was going to have to start from scratch with my own words, lessons, activities and assessments.

I did lots of research! I read blog posts and books about vocabulary and word acquisition. My very favorite resource is the book Word Nerds. I loved all of her ideas, but I needed to make the entire process simple and manageable in my busy classroom. After lots of brainstorming and trial and error- I finally have a vocabulary system that works, is easy to implement and that gets my students excited about word study. Here is a look at my week...

On Mondays I introduce five new words for the week. I have chosen tier 2 words that third graders are most likely to see in literature. I do teach tier 3 (math and science words), but I usually teach those during units of study in those particular subjects. Our vocabulary time is dedicated solely to words that will increase my students' reading comprehension, writing and language skills.

I introduce words one of two different ways.
  1. I give the students a sentence with the word in the sentence. I ask students to use  context clues to determine possible meanings. After getting some student responses, I write the correct definition on the board and discuss the clues in the sentence that would help you to determine that meaning. This helps my students to practice context clues and inference.
  2. Sometimes I give the the students the definition and part of speech and then ask students to try and use the word in a sentence. This helps my students to practice using the proper tenses, meanings and sentence writing. 
Students record the definition and a sentence for each word in their vocabulary journal.

I keep our words posted on the class focus board all week.

It is not enough to just talk about the words on Monday. On Tuesday we spend another 10 minutes on our words. As a class, we come up with two synonyms and two antonyms (or non-examples) for each of our words. This process has really helped my students to expand their vocabulary and understand multiple meaning words. The examples and non-examples help to make the new vocabulary words more concrete for my students. I also like to throw in some unique or fancy antonyms and synonyms from time to time.

Tuesday is really all about talking about words and why they are or are not good examples. We have conversations about parts of speech and verb tenses. Students start to see that the best synonyms are the same part of speech and tense as the original word. Sometimes the kids will start debating a bit about which synonym or antonym we should choose to record. Since I have taught them to be respectful, these debates really just deepen their word understanding. It is magical!

On Wednesdays, we actually take a break from the discussion of our weekly words. Students need to practice using word parts to determine the meanings of new words. Each Wednesday, I give my students a "wow word." It is just a word that has either a prefix or a suffix. We will break the word apart and identify the root and the affix. We will define the root and the affix and we will brainstorm other words with the same root and/or affix.

Students have aha moments when they realize how affixes change the meaning of a word! We are still actively talking about vocabulary, but we are also hitting the reading and language standards associated with prefixes and suffixes.

This whole activity takes 5-10 minutes!

The human mind is so very visual. When I was in college I learned the art of color coding my class notes. If I made each category a different color- I could recall the information easier. I use this same sort of idea on Thursday. By this time, my students understand the meaning of the five new words for the week, but I want to help make it memorable. I don't want them to just be words that they learn for the week and then forget.

On Thursday I give students time to draw a small and simple representation for each of their words. The drawings must somehow show the meaning of the word. For example, when the word was gallop- one of my students drew a horse running. When the word was clutch- one of my students drew a hand holding a purse.

The picture dictionary activity is one of my students' favorites. I do it whole group and point out great examples for the students who struggle with this modality. The same activity could be bell work or a center. I just advise that you wait to do the picture  dictionary until students have a good grasp of the word meanings. You may also want to give a time limit or students will want to make elaborate drawings.

My kids LOVE our Friday vocabulary actives! Fridays are all about having fun while reviewing our current and past words. We do one of three activities on Fridays:

  • Vocabulary Social: This is such a fun and simple activity. I give each of my students a lanyard (you could also use safety pins, clothes pins or sticker paper) with one of our vocabulary words on it. I give them a minute to review their word in their vocabulary journal. They will pretend that they are the word and walk around the classroom introducing themselves to their classmates. The conversation might sound like, "Hi, I'm literal. One antonym for me is figurative." "Hi, literal. I am redundant. A good synonym for me is repetitive. Can you use yourself in a sentence?" The conversation will go on for a couple minutes as each student shares what they know. Then they will move on to talk to different students. This is a fantastic way to review before an assessment and it is a great way to practice all those speaking and listening skills! The kids like it because it is a little goofy! And that is ok, because we tend to remember things that make us laugh. I typically spend between 10-20 minutes on this activity.
  • Game Board: Kids love to play games! I have a vocabulary game board that I have printed and laminated. It works for any set of words. I add word cards to the board from our current list and some of the past words. The students work in groups of four. Students take turns getting a word card off the top of the pile. They roll a die and move their game piece. The color that their piece lands on tells them if they need to give the word definition, synonym, antonym or use it in a sentence. I do the game whole group so that I can walk around and listen in and offer any needed corrections. It could also be used in a center. This activity takes approximately 15-20 minutes.
  • Class Game Show: This is certainly my students' favorite Friday activity! I like to use it as we get closer to the end of unit summative assessment. Give each student a 3x5 card (or scrap piece of paper) with one of the words from the unit. Students must write one question about their word. It can ask for a definition, synonym, antonym, use the word in a sentence or even part of speech. Students must also record the correct answer on their card. They give me the cards and then I split the class into 4 teams: cows, roosters, horses and dogs. I give them these animal names because we use THESE buzzers. They make the animal sounds! 
Teams stand in a single file line behind their buzzer. I will ask a question from the student generated questions. The first team to push their buzzer gets to answer. If they are right, their team gets a point. If they are incorrect, I will allow the other three teams to buzz for a chance to answer. Then those four players will go to the end of their team line and four new players move up to the buzzers. We continue like this until all the questions have been answered. The team with the most points is the winner. The kids love being competitive and they adore the buzzers! Of course, if you don't have buzzers, you can have each team have a sound they must make. It is still a blast! This activity take 30-45 minutes.

You can read about more fun vocabulary practice games by clicking on the post below.

I am always informally assessing students as I listen to them during our daily vocabulary lessons. I formally assess students every other Friday. They are assessed on two weeks worth of words. I have found that testing over ten words, rather than just five, makes the assessment more meaningful and requires students to remember the words longer. Questions are multiple choice and fill in the blank. It makes it easy for me to grade and doesn't take long for students to complete. The questions ask about definitions, synonyms, antonyms and using the words in sentences. The varied skills still challenge my students.

At the end of our unit, during the 9th week, we review all 40 of the words from the unit. At the end of the 9th week, students take a summative assessment. I want to be certain that my students are retaining all of this information and not just learning it for the week. This same assessment can be used as a pretest at the beginning of the unit as well. It is challenging, but my students have been very successful!

Throughout the course of our vocabulary unit, I think it is very important to track each student's progress. This helps me to decide what students need extra help or which word cards to use during the next game or social. I can strategically give a student the word that they missed on their last assessment! I also want students to know which words they need more practice with.

I make two copies of the data chart for each student. One page is used for the entire unit! I keep a chart for myself and ask students to keep a chart as well. As I am grading the bi-weekly assessments, I highlight any word that a student misses. This only takes a few minutes. I pass back the assessment to the students and quickly go over the correct answers. Students will then circle any missed words on their chart. A student who misses a lot of words on a regular basis, will receive flash cards and extra practice. A student who misses a couple words here and there is asked to review the missed words throughout the week using their journal.

Students are generally missing more words at the start of the year and as we study words, I am noticing an improvement in our overall ability to learn new words. The chart helps students to see that they getting better! It can also be shown to parents during conferences.

I knew that I didn't want to spend time every week looking up words in the dictionary and thesaurus, writing sentences and creating assessments. Who has time for that?! So I put together an entire unit that is simple and ready to print and teach. The unit includes:
  • a vocabulary journal with graphic organizers
  • 5 words for every week
  • vocabulary print out for students to take home
  • teacher guide with definition, sentence, synonyms and antonyms for each word
  • wow words for each week
  • cards for each word
  • extra practice task cards
  • game board
  • bi-weekly assessments
  • student and/or teacher data tracking form
  • end of unit summative assessment
I have these materials available for 3rd, 4th and 5th grade. Just click on the picture to learn more.

Camp Share-a-Story (and a FREE brag Tag!)

I am always looking for ways to get my students engaged and excited. As the quarter was coming to an end, I wanted a fun way to celebrate my students' writing. That was the beginning of Camp Share-a-Story. I have done camping as an end of the year activity. But why not during the year?!

My son made and painted this sign for me. Pretty awesome, right?!

My husband made several of these little "fires." They are just battery operated lights and foil. The kids loved them.

I also created the camp atmosphere with a you tube camp fire video. You could hear the crackling an the bugs in the background. I displayed the image on my smart board. Amazing!

I completed the feel with sleeping bags and lanterns on the floor.

Throughout the day students shared their favorite story that they wrote during the quarter. I offered a brag tag for any student who shared. Every student shared!

You can grab this brag tag for FREE by clicking on the picture below.

Besides sharing our stories, we also spent lots of time reading together. It was very relaxing! Every 15 minutes, I would ask the students to share something from their story with a nearby friend.

No campout is complete without s'more. I made a little snack bah with Golden Grahams, marshmallows and chocolate chips. 

After snack, I surprised the kids with some stories that their parents had written about them. (I had secretly emailed parents.) The kids loved being the center of the story and hearing their parent's great writing style.

I was also able to surprise my students with 25 new books that I ordered with our Scholastic points! They were thrilled!

It was a magical day that my students will not soon forget!