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!