Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Most Fun Week of the Year!

Yes, you actually read that title correctly.  A teacher who loves Halloween week....can you believe it?? I don't know how you feel about it or how the teachers in your building do, but I can say I hear a lot of dread and complaining.  Come on people!  We loved Halloween when we were kids.  It was a magical night of dressing up and getting more candy than we had the whole rest of the year!  So teachers this is a friendly PSA--Let's not forget that excitement WE once felt....whether it was on a Saturday or a Wednesday!  Let your kiddos get excited....maybe even join in.

Anyway...the sisters and I have a fun week planned and I wanted to share a little overview with you!  Between beginning of the year stuff, reading testing, teaching behavior expectations and routines, and our rigorous math program, we haven't exactly had a ton of "free" time for fun things.  My room was looking B-A-R-E.  Let's face it, kids need some down time to have a little fun here and there between all the "must-dos" and my class needed a Halloween face lift!  So last week I squeezed in a simple craft of making pumpkins.  Believe it or not, the class loved the simplicity and were so creative when they knew they could do whatever they wanted!  I got big pumpkins, small pumpkins, pumpkins with baseball hats, and pumpkins with eyelashes!  I loved their creativity and they loved that there were basically no directions!  I hung these on a bulletin board in the hallway and titled it "We're a Perfect Patch of Pumpkins."  I was starting to feel more in the spirit of the upcoming holiday.  I decided to also squeeze in writing Halloween stories.  As Amy has been telling you, we have adopted a new way of teaching writing so far this year.  It allows the students to write about whatever they want....I just slightly encouraged them to try a Halloween story when we were learning about question leads.  Of course they all got super excited.  They weren't masterpieces of perfection but they loved writing them so we did a final copy and they made story toppers out of our Halloween unit.  You can find that unit here or by clicking on the picture below if you want to make these or incorporate lots of different Halloween ideas into your learning this week.  

Now that these are hanging in my room, it's onto the BIG week!  We decided to put the regular routine on hold somewhat to have THEME week!  Each day this week has a theme that goes along with Halloween. We made sure to include all of the things we were going to learn anyway, just put a fun holiday spin on them.  Nothing says "exciting" to 7 and 8 year olds more than "special days."  We used to do a huge bat unit that we worked on for a few weeks.  We loved it, the kiddos loved it.  But then we realized Kindergarten did it and so did 1st grade and we wanted to do something new for them.  So last year we did a shorter study of spiders.  We loved it, the kiddos loved it but now we see lots of those in the halls already this year.....trendy perhaps?!?  So we came up with a way to still do a little of each.  Check out our themes for this week....

Monday- Spooky Spiders
Tuesday- Batty Bats (including Bat'tastic activities)
Wednesday- Pumpkin Play (including pumpkin science activities)
Thursday- Witch's Brew (including Room on the Broom strategies)
Friday- Halloween Fun

We will check back in with you to show you a little of what we did for each theme day....and include some pics!

I have not been more excited about a Monday since last June! :)

Now you tell us....what's your favorite way to incorporate Halloween into your classroom learning?


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Writing Lessons

Happy Saturday!

We've known our writing lessons needed an overhaul but we just weren't sure where to start. When I found the book, No More, "I'm Done!" that all changed. This is a must read for all lower el teachers.

Here are few of our favorite writing lessons we've taught so far this year...

Adding Details

This lesson starts with the story, A House For Hermit Crab, and a big empty square drawn on chart paper. Read and enjoy. Then discuss all the details on hermit crab's house. By now, kids are wanted to know what the big square is for on the paper. Invite each student to come up and add one thing to the "house." Then write a story that includes each and everything that was added.

Story Structure

We have taken a look at numerous ways stories are arranged and by far the two favorite have been ABC stories and stories arranged by days of the week.

We absolutely LOVE the book, The Z Was Zapped by Chris Van Allsburg.  The kids have a great time trying to guess what will happen to the next letter. This prompted TONS of ABC books to be written.

We also read, Cookie's Week. This book is very simple but is wonderful for showing a different way that authors can choose to write a story. After reading the book we did a shared writing. Of course they wanted to write about Baby T.

We typed it up... they love rereading stories written with help from all their classmates.

Good Leads

Are you sick of reading stories that start with, "One day..."? Yeah. Us too. The good leads portion of the book was really good for us. She outlined some of the most interesting ways for students to start stories. We picked 5 leads that we thought our students would be most apt to use in their writing.

We introduced one lead each day and modeled writing with that lead. After 5 days we had learned all the different leads.  Our culminating activity was suggested by Jennifer Jacobson.  Her book said to gather about 20 picture books that all started with good leads. We read the beginning of each book and then sorted them by the type of lead. Such a great way to show students that they are doing things real authors do!

Happy Writing!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Writer's Workshop

Okay... So I've never done a "Writer's Workshop" before.

I know. I know. I'm probably a day late and a dollar short but I'm giving it a try this year. I'm definitely easing in. We are starting slow but I know it will be worth it.

Over the summer I found this amazing book... No More, "I'm Done!" by Jennifer Jacobson.

Seriously, read it.

I brought this book to our first planning session. I felt a bit nervous because well... When you work with 4 other amazing teachers and you have a new idea... It's kinda intimidating. But they totally loved what I was saying and they all bought this book too!

Jennifer Jacobson outlines the school year with ideas and mini lessons month by month. Don't misunderstand, your whole year will not be planned but this book provides a great outline! A perfect starting point if you are new to Writer's Workshop, like us.

This book also explains the different components, why they are important, and how to best use them in the classroom.

Our workshop begins with a mini lesson. Sharing mentor texts is so important. Young writers need to see and hear good writing. Modeling writing is key. Now, these two things are not new. We all do this but it's nice to read the research behind why.

After the lesson we all check in. I ask the writers to share what they are writing about. It goes a little something like this....

Me: "Writers, what will you be writing about today?"
-Some students will raise hands.... Others will blank stare at me.-
Student A: "I'm going to write about visiting the cider mill."
Me: "Wonderful, you and anyone else writing about a fall activity may go get out your notebook and find a quiet place to write."

This continues until my "lone wolf" is left. I'm sure you all have a lone wolf, the one kid who never knows what to write about. Well... This book addresses that!

Finally, it's time for independent writing. I started with what she calls, "Quiet 10." During this time students need to be thinking, planning, sketching, brainstorming, and/or writing.

We play quiet classical/instrumental music, the lights are off and the lamps are on. Everyone has to be quiet. This is the time we need to get the juices flowing... Which can be the hardest part!

At first, I had a few kids who would come up to me and say, "I'm Done." I know, you have them too!! Drives me crazy.  Thank goodness for the book!!!

After 10 minutes the timer goes off but we continue writing! Yes. You read that right... We write for more that 10 minutes and now no one says, "I'm done." Right now we do 7 more minutes, our goal is 10!

I have a student go around an stamp the date on each persons page. This helps me see that everyone is using their time appropriately.

Next, We meet back at the rug for Author's Chair. Don't skip this part! It's so important. 3 authors is the max. After that, we get too squirrelly.

Now, I know what you're thinking... When are you conferencing? I haven't started yet, I know... Bad. But I want everyone writing. So my plan is to add the student-teacher conferences in next week. I told you in the beginning, baby steps.

I'm pretty pumped about writing this year and my students are too.

If you are looking for some new mini lessons... Stay tuned!


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

There Can Never Be Enough...


I am obsessed with buying picture books. As I'm sure most other elementary school teachers are.

We are 3 weeks into the school year and I've probably read over 50 stories to my class. I'm want to share some of my favorites when I'm launching Daily 5: Read to Self.

Dex the Heart of Hero.

Do you struggle is explain reading stamina? When I went to the Daily 5/CAFE conference, the Sisters, gave everyone this book! This is a super cute story about Dex, who is a small dog with big dreams. He works hard to become a super hero and guess what all this hard work pays off! Kids reference Dex as they are building their reading "muscles."

Too Much Noise.

Sometimes there is a lot of noise in the classroom and we try to silence the noise but honestly, we just need to learn to live with it. This book is about an old man who tries to get this house perfectly quiet but nothing he tries helps. After reading this funny book, we discussed what noises can we live with during our rounds. We came up: page turning, whisper reading, wind, quiet talking coming from the reading table, and the garbage truck... yes, our room is right by the dumpsters! Ugh.

The Best Place to Read.

This is a cute story to read about finding a just right spot at home. We relate this to the classroom. It is important that no one is sitting in an arm's reach to someone else and that you are in a comfortable place where you won't need to constantly readjust.

Those Shoes.

This was another recommendation from the Daily 5/CAFE conference. I like to read this when we are discussing "just right books." We relate books that are too easy, too hard, or just right to shoes that are too small, too big, or just right. In this book, the main character really wants a pair of popular sneakers but can't afford them. He finds a pair at a thrift store, tries to make them work, but they are too small. He realizes he should give up on the shoes and realizes what he really needed all along are the boots he grandmother bought him.

Library Lion.

This is one of my favorite stories. It is about a lion who loves the library. This story helps us realize that everyone needs to be responsible for taking care of the library.

I like to display all the books I read for lessons or pure enjoyment out for the students to take and read. I display them in our group meeting area. These books are not allowed to be kept in anyones book boxes. Once students are finished reading them they have to return them after the round so someone else can enjoy them.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

New Year, New View

We made it!

Week 1... Check.

My new group is amazing! We are totally meshing. Things in the behavior department are good. They are hanging on every word I say.  Let's hope this keeps up!

We've tried to change things up a bit this year.

1. You're Finally Here! Super cute book.

This is a must read to set the tone for the year. The kids were super excited for the rest of the day.

We used to read, First Day Jitters. I'm not hating on that book, I do love it but... I think it sets a weird feeling that you should be nervous and scared of school. Do we want kids feeling that way? Of course everyone is a bit nervous, it's human nature.

But to be honest, I was more pumped after ready You're Finally Here!

2. Cooperative Learning. The right way.

We were Kagan trained during PD this year. If you were like me, group work = cooperative learning. Ummm... no. Cooperative learning is amazing. Mix-Pair-Share and Round Robin are the first two I'm tackling. We are getting the hang of it and truly building the community.

3. Community.

Why did I rush this before? This year I am focusing on building our classroom community. Maybe that's the reason for the instant meshing, as mentioned above?

4. Favorite read alouds.

We are reading books for pure enjoyment. I felt stuck only using books for lessons and learning last year. There's so much pressure for testing and making the most of every minute. Let me tell you... Pure reading enjoyment makes the minutes count.

5. Ron Clark.

Lindsay is hooked on Ron Clark. She brought the book for me to read and I'm so bummed that I forgot it on my desk! I can't wait to read about the Essential 55 and put it into use.

With all of these new outlooks, I'm feeling like I need an overhaul in other aspects of our day. Stay tuned for how we are going to switch things up this year!

I'm really excited to get this year underway!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

B2S Tip...

We've been blogging and Instagram-ing so much summer stuff, I thought it was time to start adding B2S setup ideas.  Yes, I one wants to quite think about getting back in the swing of things yet but it is coming up quickly.  Based on Instagram, some people are already back!

This will be my 16th year (gasp) teaching.  I have no idea how I have stayed in my mid-20's and have that many years in (wink-wink) but I have learned a lot of things in that time.  I am no expert by any means and I still learn what works and what doesn't each year.  However one thing that I would say I feel I have mastered is the classroom library.  

Flashback to year #1....I was just excited to have books to put on shelves for my very first second graders.  I didn't have the abundance I do now but I had enough to start.  I went to garage sales, took books others were done with, and stocked up monthly with book orders.  But the MESS.  Oh the MESS of my bookshelves.  Too often I would spend hours making nice neat rows of books....just like in a real library.  I would gush at how neat they all looked.  The next day...back to a disaster.  I didn't understand....couldn't these cute little kiddos just take one and nicely slide one back into the row?  Ummm...hello 16 year ago self...NO.  They couldn't.  

I am totally OCD so I knew part of it was "letting go" a little and allowing a little mess.  This I learned early on. I tried many ways of organizing my books.  I tried rows, bins, DRA sorted bins, bins with pictures, but every year would be the same.  Nothing ended up in the right place and I spent even more time organizing.  Until a few years ago....

It finally came to me (and I may have seen it somewhere also...ha ha).  My students needed the books organized- yes.  So bins with labels like I liked did work.  But some students didn't understand my thinking in what went where.  Others just thought Fish went in the "Animals" bin not the "Sea Life" bin.  And yet others-  they were just too in a hurry to look where the it should really go. 

Enter amazing solution that works 99.5% of the time (there are still "I'm too in a hurry" students)!

My classroom library which now houses at least 5x as many books as it did that first year, is organized into bins.  Good bye to the neat library rows that just don't work in a classroom setting.  Each bin is labeled by topic/category/character.  For example...I have a Clifford bin, a Berenstain Bears bin, an Arthur bin, a science bin, Land Animals bin, Ocean Animals bin, Alphabet Books bin, etc.  Each bin label is ALSO assigned a number.  In each bin I have all of the books labeled on the back with a small round sticker that has the same number on it.  That way all the kids have to do is match the numbers when returning their books.  I get the organization that works for me and looks neat and my kiddos get an each system of number matching.  Arthur books are all in a bin labeled Arthur #1 and every Arthur book in there also has a sticker on the back with a #1 on it.  That way they know exactly where each book goes. 

Numbers.  Easy.  

Some of you may be saying...."Well of course!" but it took me about 12 years to get it right so for those few out there that are looking for something that works well....there it is!

My classroom right now is filled with lots of teal (some of you may remember my slight obsession with the color from my last post).  Here are the book bin labels I am using in my classroom right now.  I used to have black borders with cute clip art/pictures also but last year when I made these I changed the color scheme of my room and made these to match some border I was using.  They might work for you to use or give you some inspiration for making your own.  I made all of the text editable so if you want to use the teal polka-dot labels that I made, you can, but you are still able to edit the bin label numbers and titles.  Just so you know the text I used is from Kevin and Amanda's "Pea Fonts" and it is called Pea Angedawn.  This is the font that will open correctly on your computer so download it if you don't already have it.  You can always change the font using the editable boxes.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Summer Lovin'

Like "Sister 3" (Amy) said, we are working hard on getting back into the blogging world and creating new products for our store.  All three of us have been busy enjoying summer...I am sure you would agree, it goes by WAY. TOO. FAST.  Does the calendar really say August already?!?

My summer has consisted of sun and fun, lots of reading, and of course shopping!  We finally got sod and sprinklers at our new house.  I cannot begin to tell you how excited I was the day the sod finally went in.  I was very sick of looking at our "dirt" yard.  When did I get so old that SOD excites me?  Now if I only had a pool in the backyard already.....(sigh).

We also celebrated our first wedding anniversary!  What a huge accomplishment (yes I said only 1 year!!)! :)  I love my husband to pieces but year 1 is filled with lots of compromise. Let's face it...anyone who doesn't admit that along with happiness, excitement, and fun-- year 1 also has some lying.  We decided we needed a vacation-celebration!  I mean who wouldn't?  I am not sure where I saw this but it pretty much sums up our motto:

We headed to Florida for 10 days.  We spend the first few in Orlando and stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal.  I am totally a Disney fanatic so Universal was fun but didn't compare and isn't the park that has my heart!  The hotel on the other hand was amazing!

After leaving Orlando, we headed for the beach to finish out our anniversary trip.  If you follow us on Instagram, you saw some pictures of the beautiful Clearwater Beach.  We had a few days of rain but found lots of frivolous shopping to do in Tampa.  The rest of the trip was sunny and super hot!  What an amazing trip with lots of great memories made.

I have been continuing my shopping spree since we have been home...buying lots of good stuff for the house.  I don't like a lot of clutter and "knick knacks" but my house needs some "flair."  Here are a few good things I picked up at Pier One just this week!  I am borderline obsessed with teal/turquoise!

They also opened a Kirkland store close by where I live. There are a few in the area but none were close enough to stop by regularly (which was probably good).  I picked up a few pieces of  Halloween d├ęcor....hey might as well get a head start!

In between all of this, I have found time for relaxing in the Michigan sun!  It's been pretty beautiful here the last few weeks.  I have a few good friends with pools and have been spending lots of time enjoying fun summer cocktails while soaking up some summer sunshine.  I have also started trying Zumba classes!  I have a friend who goes religiously and has not stopped asking me to join in this summer.  Finally I gave in this week....and I have to admit I love it!  Do any of you Zumba?

Most importantly, I have been working hard on adding products to our TPT store!  I have quite a few new things started and finally uploaded the first two completed things!  I know Amy blogged about a Sub Pack freebie for you all on Wednesday!  Well I just uploaded our first ever - upper elementary sub pack!  This pack uses a picture book called Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg.  It is from our 5th grade genre unit.  Check it out if you teach upper el or know someone who could use a great sub tub filler.  You can find it here.

I also recently added an informational text pack on Turtles!  Our kiddos always seem to LOVE learning about any kind of animals.  I even learned a lot making this pack!  I can't wait to use it this coming school year.

Speaking of....what is your countdown to back to school?

Have a great day!
~Tina (Sister 1)