Sunday, February 22, 2015

Novel Studies Never Get Old + FREEBIE

I'm not sure reading a book in school can ever be more exciting than doing a novel study with your classmates.  There's something about collectively reading, discussing, and writing about a book with your peers.  We as adults are like that, too!  Look at the book study clubs that are available out there!  Who doesn't love sitting around drinking coffee with their best buds discussing the latest best seller?  Kids aren't really any different.  I've noticed that during novel studies, students are often discussing the book at the playground, lunch, while lining up, etc.  I love seeing students have something "new" to talk about that prompts so much thinking and wondering.
So where do you even start with good novel studies?

1.)  Picking the right book is the key to the whole thing.  I'm not sure I believe the SAME book every year is the answer.  Your students change, you change, the world changes, and sometimes a book that worked well with one class may not be the answer to a different group of students.  Let your students lead you!  Here are some great sites for a large list of novels out there for particular grade levels.  (Click on images to see sites).

  Read the book ahead of time!  I hate to even admit that I fell into this trap ONCE and ONLY ONCE.  That was all it took.  I was basing my novel choice on what a fellow teacher friend of mine suggested.  Hindsight reveals:  Her taste and my taste were very different, and what was "appropriate" for her students and mine ended up being on opposite ends of the spectrum.  Lesson learned.  Besides, if you really want to dive into the book with close reads of challenging parts of the text, develop a keen sense of the author's intent, know what questions to ask, and truly understand the message behind the book itself, it's imperative that you read it! I love this testimony from a teacher who had done novel studies before, but embraced this vision of doing a novel study, and doing it well, which called for some increased prep time.  In the end, it was worth it!  (Click on the Stacey Joy video).
3.) Value the work your students will do WITH the novel itself.  If you plan activities that you simply intend to grade, return, and never do a thing with, that might be the same enthusiasm you are met with from your students.  They'll do it, turn it in, and throw it away when it's returned.  If the work they will do is treated as a BIG DEAL and something above and beyond special, that's what you'll get from them...above and beyond.  Consider creating a space for your novel study items...bulletin boards, author's corner, showcase spaces in the library or halls, decorate doorways, etc.  I just started a Pinterest board on Novel Studies where I'm on the prowl for some creative ways to do novels.  I'm also looking for collaborative pinners on that board, so if you're interested, PLEASE let me know!  email:  Be sure to grab some ideas from some of those incredible classrooms! (Click on Pinterest board to get there).
Here's a FREEBIE activity to try with your next novel study on SUMMARIZING. (Click image to grab).   Challenge your students to a MONEY SUMMARY CHALLENGE!  It's harder than you think!! (Even for adults)!  You assign each WORD students write in their summary a specified money amount.  (Example:  .05 cents per word) Then give students a dollar amount RANGE to keep their summary within.  (Example:  "Write a summary that is worth between $4.00-5.00."  Several things get accomplished with this activity:
a.)  Students search to include the IMPORTANT stuff in their summary so they get it all in. 
b.)  Students sometimes have to get rid of unnecessary information to make it fit in the range and/or have to add MORE to make it fit.
c.)  You're incorporating some math skills into your reading and writing! *Be sure to challenge them with an appropriate money amount! I might not assign 5th or 6th graders with 10 cents a word.  It's too easy for them to count!  Make that part challenging as well! 
d.)  Try it in groups!  The old saying "two heads are better than one" is often true. With an activity like this, students work together to discuss key events in the novel, what to include or eliminate, and have to perform as a team to complete a task.
If you enjoy the freebie, be sure to check out where it comes from...a reading strategy novel study interactive notebook that give students an opportunity to apply 17 reading strategies (characterization, setting, plot, theme, author's intent, style, vocabulary, connections, timeline, figurative language, symbolism, text features, summary, etc.) to the book they're involved in...ALL with folding and flip-flap fun! (Click on image to check out the unit).

Finally, HAVE FUN with your novel!  You never know when a book can change a child's life.  Thankful for a teacher who MADE ME READ a book with my classmates.  It sparked my love for reading!

Bananas for this quote!  We teachers have JUST as much fun reading books with kids! 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Deconstructing a Writing Prompt

    As our students began prepping for the state writing assessment, we quickly discovered that one of the biggest obstacles they faced was effectively answering the writing prompt.  In their written essays they were missing key components, lacking sufficient evidence, or not even answering the prompt at all.  After digging deeper, it became evident that students didn't have a clear understanding of what the prompt was actually asking them to do.  Prompts can be lengthy, confusing, consist of multi-steps, and full of extensive vocabulary.  If you can train your students how to rip apart a prompt to make sense of it, half the battle is over.  So where do you start?

1.)  Highlight all the action verbs or phrases.  This will clue them in and remind them they are to actually DO some things! (It's usually MORE than one thing!) 
2.)  Circle important or keys words (the words that it's asking you to write about) and jot some synonyms (or phrases with similar meaning) for them.  The synonyms or phrases students select are the words they are most comfortable using.  This will ease their apprehension of the prompt and give them a tool for finding matching key evidence in the text that answers what the prompt is looking for.  It will also LEAD them to the mode of writing they need to be thinking about.  
3.)  Rewrite the prompt in their own words.  This is one final way of confirming they understand the task, as well as double check that they have all the parts of the prompt accounted for.  

I have had the privilege of working in some classrooms over the last couple of months on this very task.  Students often start out with that same puzzled look, only to finish with more confidence.  In the words of one of our 4th graders this week, (after viewing a state released practice prompt for the first time),  "Hmmm…Not sure what this means RIGHT NOW, but give me a minute to rip it apart!"  

I'm happy to share one of the activities some teachers and I used with our third, fourth, and fifth graders as we worked through deconstructing prompts.  ENJOY the "RIP APART the PROMPT" FREEBIE!  We would love to hear about some successes in your own classroom, so feel free to grab it, give it a try, and share with the rest of us!  :-) freebie prompt is part of a larger unit if you're looking for something to work with all year.  My newest writing unit centers around narratives, opinions, and expository writing, focusing on the procedure of putting together a solid piece of writing in the correct mode.  The unit is loaded with organizers for each mode that are designed with every season (fall, winter, spring, summer) in mind.  Also included are skills with each mode (dialogue for narrative, opinions vs. facts for opinion, sensory details for narratives, etc.)  Mini-writing folder contents are also available that offer helpful hints for organizing, constructing, and editing your writing. Students love using them and find them incredibly useful and FUN as they learn the process. Check out some of our "hard at work" 3rd graders working on their expository pieces with their mini-folders!  Click on any of the photos for a closer look at that unit. 

Bananas for students (and teachers) who love a good writing challenge!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

All I Want For Christmas...a Little TpT Gift Certificate!

Hoping this finds everyone finishing up their last few days and ready for some holiday peace and rest!  This is one of my very favorite times of year because I can focus so much of my time on others!  What a better way to say THANK YOU to my blogging family than to give away a little TpT goodie.  Join Laura Candler from Corkboard Connections, along with some other fantastic educators (listed in linky below), as they plan to give away LOTS of $10.00 TpT gift certificates!  Entering is easy, and a winner will be drawn at midnight on Dec. 23rd!  

Last but not least, don't forget to get ready for 2015 on TpT by grabbing my FREEBIE New Year's Resolution pack!  LOTS of language skills involved with making a New Year's Resolution with your students!  

Wishing you and yours the safest and warmest of holidays!  

Bananas for Giveaway Fun!  

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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Wear Your "Smartie Pants!"

We've been back to school for a few weeks now, and are settling into a nice routine.  Along with settling, though, comes the Universal Screener for our students.  This includes testing every child in the building K-5 to get a snapshot of where they are and what we need to do to move them.  Testing can bring anxiety to even the youngest of students, so we tried to take the edge off by avoiding the "T" word...testing.  We called it what it was...a screener.  In addition, the administrative team and I brought in a pair of pants to school that kids could sign when they completed the screening.  We called them our "Smartie Pants."  
Our students were more than excited to grab a sharpie and sign a pair of pants!  After all 700 students had finished the screening and signed the pants, we wore them on Friday to celebrate all of our little "SMARTIES" in the building.  Some helpful hints:
1.) Be practical--I grabbed an OLD pair of white pants out of the "to Goodwill" bag so I didn't have to ruin anything new.  That little coffee stain didn't matter was hidden by the beautiful artwork of our students.
2.) Put a piece of cardboard through the legs.  Sharpies DO bleed, especially on white pants. 
3.) Think about what you'll wear them with. I wanted to be able to wear them again with a variety of different shirts. I had every sharpie color imaginable for my pants.  One of the principals used ONLY blue.  She wanted to wear them with her school shirt and keep true to our school colors.  
4.)  Despite popular belief, you CAN wash them.  Simply wash them on a gentle cycle (inside out and with nothing else) and in COLD water only.  I also used a mild and color protectant detergent. Hand washing in a sink would be a good idea, too. 
5.) Throw in some REAL SMARTIE candies for students after the testing is over.  

On the Friday I wore them, I was greeted with the biggest smiles and giggles.  "You have on your SMARTIE PANTS!"  "Did you see my name on your pants?"  "I see my name!!!"  "I signed my name in purple!"  "Wear them again tomorrow!" 

They can't wait to see me in them again when we have to do Round 2 and 3 of the Screener.  Does that mean they're actually looking forward to "testing?"  

Bananas for the little things that take stress away from kids,

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Good Golly, it's Grammar!

I may be in the minority, but I always LOVED teaching grammar.  I guess I was one of those nerdy kids in school that always found myself fascinated with punctuation, phrases, clauses, and who can forget diagramming a sentence?  So let's talk Grammar.  In some small way, I feel like it has taken a "back seat" to other instructional practices.  It can be a backseat, but for goodness sake, let's not put it in the trunk!  It IS an important life skill.  Our students will communicate in one form or fashion for the remainder of their lives.  (Resumes, research, filling out forms, legal documentation, email, phones, interviews, etc.)  I don't want to be the teacher of the kid who grows up and creates signs or posters like the one above.  ;-) 
All joking aside, you ought to read this editorial by Emma Peplow on "The Lost Art of Grammar." (Click image at right)  She'll crack you up with her MISUSE of grammar to prove a point.  She's an editor, so I'm sure she has seen it all!

So what are some new, innovative ways to teach some grammar skills to our elementary students?  Let's investigate.

It's hard not to gravitate toward Pinterest for visual images of grammar instruction in action.  My favorite Pinterest board is FREE GRAMMAR RESOURCES.  It currently has over 400 pins and 28,000 followers. It's a smorgasbord of pins to to navigate through for some FREE ideas and additions to your current grammar instruction.

Another FREE place for some quick grammar practice is ONLINE.  You could bookmark the following sites and allow your students to practice their grammar skills interactively during center rotations. One of my favorites is Fun Grammar for Kids.  The punctuation game will be a hit! Students first select the correct punctuation, then SPRAY (or SPLAT) the punctuation in the correct place.  
Fun Brain offers the Grammar Gorillas for free practice with the parts of speech. They have a beginner (nouns and verbs) and advanced (all parts of speech) version of the game to select from.  

Finally, I've been on a grammar "kick" myself lately in the creating department.  More and more of our teachers talk about the lack of proper grammar exhibited in students' daily work.  So I decided it was time to create some fun and engaging ways to hit some of the basics again.  Poppin' Punctuation is my BRAND NEW unit complete with 8 mini punctuation posters (with cute rhymes to help students remember the function of the punctuation), some interactive foldables, a punctuation Scoot game, a punctuation points rubric that can be used during writing (highly motivating since kids determine their high scores with correct punctuation use), and some paragraphs that have LOST  their punctuation and need to be fixed!  The target area in elementary is grades 2-4, since it contains practice with 8 pieces of punctuation (periods, exclamation marks, question marks, quotations, apostrophes, colons, semicolons, and commas).

Another favorite is my Grammar Recipe Book.  This one is a challenging one, but comes in both Primary and Intermediate versions.  Students really "show what they know" as they have to write sentences based on what the sentence "RECIPE" card calls for.  The chef may order up a sentence with a Proper noun, past tense verb, adjective, and prepositional phrase!  Can your students rise to the Chef's challenge?   The intermediate version deals with parts of speech usually taught in grades 3-5.  The primary version works with parts of speech and punctuation usually taught in grades 1-2.  Great for centers or quick formative assessments on grammar skills you've been working on in the classroom.  Chef hats OPTIONAL!  

If interactive notebooking is your thing, then be sure to investigate the Grammar Gators.  This one is full of cutting and gluing using flips and flaps in interactive notebooks and writing to explain your learning.  Whether your students are playing bingo with plurals or making jack in the box pronouns, they are sure to have fun with this grammar practice!  

You can find each of the units in my TpT store individually (click on image for direct link) OR all bundled up for a CHEAPER price.  (The bundle is best for grades 2-4 and contains ALL of the units listed above...Grammar Gators, Poppin' Punctuation, and the Grammar Recipe Book (both primary AND intermediate so you can pick and choose what's best for YOUR grade level). It also contains a ANOTHER 55 page BONUS UNIT that will simply be an added surprise!   The link for the bundle can be found by clicking on the Great Grammar Bundle image.  

WHATEVER you use to teach grammar, ENJOY IT!  It can be lots of fun, and hopefully our students will make us PROUD as future communicators!  

Bananas for GRAMMAR,

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Navigating Informational Text and a 3-5 Bundle at over 70% off!

Engaging kids in informational text can be challenging, but rewarding!  With the push for increased rigor and complex text, it's important to actively engage our kids with guidance through non-fiction reading material.  Here are some things to think about when working with kids in this area.

1.)  Find informational text in their lexile range that is of interest to them!
2.)  Expose kids to the variety of text features that authors use when writing complex text.  Understanding what these features are and how they work will serve almost as a "cheat sheet" when comprehending the informational reading.
3.)  Break it down in small chunks!  Use graphic organizers and webs to assist in breaking down the pieces of the complex text into more "bite size" friendly tasks.
4.)  Think cross curricular!  Use your Reading time to teach Social Studies and/or Science concepts through content rich material in those areas.  This works BOTH ways!  Use your SS and Science time to reinforce reading strategies as you're working your way through the SS and Science content!

There are MANY, MANY resources out there that offer FREE, ENGAGING, yet CHALLENGING informational text which is appropriate for the age and developmental level of the kids you work with. is one of the best.  You have to register, but it's totally free and allows you to search for material by subject, content, grade level, lexile level, etc.  Happy Reading!

I've teamed up this week with Educents to offer a resource of mine directly related to helping you navigate through informational text.  It's a fun variety of graphic organizers you can keep right at your guided reading table to grab and go as you dive into complex text!  It contains more than 15 graphic organizers that help reinforce some tough reading strategies.  (text features, point of view, steps in a process, timelines, main idea/details, factual evidence, inferencing, and more.

The MOST amazing part about this resource this week is that it is bundled with another 32 products for grades 3-5 in the areas of reading, math, and science!

Educents is offering this 700+ page bundle for 78% off the original prices!  You can grab enough material to have fun for weeks and weeks with your students!  Be sure to check out the bundle, which is offered for a limited time only at $24.99.  CLICK the image below to grab the bundle for yourself! 

This bundle covers the following topics that you will need to teach this year:

Multiplication and division
Explorers and Scientists
Grammar including:  Common Nouns, Verb Tenses, 
Graphic Organizer
Informational Text
Full Grade Level Math Assessments for 3rd, 4th, and 5th
Full Grade Level Personal Word Walls for 3rd, 4th, and 5th
Math Problem of the Week
A couple activities for Fall including Candy Corn Science and Turkey Writing Craft

3-5 Teachers....ENJOY these incredible resources as you start your 2014-15 school year! 

Bananas for teacher created materials that make my life easier!!  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Back to School BOOST

It's a BACK TO SCHOOL BOOST today with a variety of resources and helpful hints to get your school year started off on the right foot!  (Pinterest boards, free online resources, and a HUGE sale)  Let's get to it!

A. Classroom Decor:  It's everyone's favorite part of the year...decorating your classroom.  I'll share some of my favorite "hot spots" for ideas, but let's not forget the FAB FIVE rules to decorating your room!
1.  Whatever theme or style you choose, you've got to LIVE with it all year. (And even longer if you're on a budget!)
2.  Avoid OVER stimulating your students.  You don't want there to be SO MUCH in your classroom that they can't focus on the lesson at hand!
3.  Think practical!  Just because it's CUTE, doesn't mean it's functional!  Think about what you'll be using things for and if it's ultimately going to be a big waste of time or not.
4.  Leave some space for movement.  We often forget that an EMPTY classroom has far more room than when you put the 20 + bodies in there!
5.  Don't forget yourself!  Every teacher needs a working space.  We use it to plan, answer emails, fill out paperwork, etc.  Decorate your little private world to be a motivating and pleasant place to work for YOU! Put up some personal photos of your loved ones, inspirational quotes to lift your spirits, and go ahead and splurge on a few items that you just WANT to have.  (Nice planners, cute organizers, colorful folders, etc.)  You'll need that pleasant space to unwind and relieve some stress!  Make it worthwhile!

Click images for some really great Pinterest board full of ideas for classroom decorating!  :-)

B. Set Realistic Goals:  I did say REALISTIC!  Teachers are highly motivated individuals anyway, but sometimes we set goals so high that we only end up disappointing ourselves when we don't get there.  So...think short and sweet goals!  Perhaps one every quarter would be a great place to start!  They can be goals ranging from personal in nature, (I WILL get home by 5:00 three days a week) to professional  (I WILL purposefully pull my high achievers at least 2 days a week in math to teach them an advanced concept).  Share your goals with a colleague.  We all know that when we let someone in on our intent, we are more likely to follow through!  Make your "buddy" hold you accountable!

C.  Purposefully Plan!  Planning is a large part of our lives as teachers.  The buzz word at our school is purposeful planning!  Make the most of every minute.  It's amazing to think about how much time "lost minutes" add up to if we're not planned effectively.  Hmmmm....5 minutes a day of "lost instruction" doesn't seem like much, huh?  After all, it's only 5 minutes.  Those 5 minutes turn into 25 minutes each week.  (I can teach a good mini-lesson in 25 minutes!)  Those 25 minutes a week turn into 1 hour and 40 minutes each month (an entire E/LA block at my school), which turns into 6 hours and 40 minutes for the year.  You've lost an entire day of instruction with the "it's only 5 minutes" mentality.  Purposeful planning isn't just about writing lesson plans either!  It includes everything from seamless classroom routines, to long range mapping, to management of time, resources, and little people!  I like this little website called  (Click Teaching as Leadership image to access).  It's loaded with some tips and strategies, as well as .pdf documents as resources for your purposeful planning events.  Scholastic DOES offer a paid for product called, "Your Best Year Yet! A Guide to Purposeful Planning and Effective Classroom Organization."  It's available for as low as $4.50 on Amazon.

FINALLY, what's a Back to School BOOST without your friends at TpT?  They are offering a very quick ONE DAY ONLY sale for you! **WEDNESDAY, AUG. 2th!**   Most sellers (including myself) will participate in the boosting fun and give you 20% + TpT's additional 8% off if you use the code BOOST when checking out!  (Total of 28% off!) 

I'd love to show you some of my BEST DEALS!

The Problem Solving Monthly Bundle is typically $15.00.  With the Back to School Boost, you'll get it for $12.00.  It contains 9 months of problem solving, including a problem of the day for each day September through May.  It comes with a calendar for each month, adorable monster problem solving tips, and multi-step challenging word problems in a variety of topics each month!  Great to use as morning work, centers, or class constructive response problems you work on together.  (Best for grades 3-4!)

My latest and one of my favorites is the Literary Elements (Make a Case for) unit.  It's full of Close Reading opportunities as students round up some evidence to support their choices for characterization, plot, theme, setting, etc.  This is a great unit to run multiple copies of and keep handy at your guided reading table.  It includes some mini-posters on the Literary Elements you can hang in your classroom.  With the Back to School Boost, you can get it for $4.00.  (Best for grades 3-5!)

Whatever deals you walk away with, I hope you're feeling a little BOOSTED and ready to go.  Best of luck for a fabulous 2014-15!  Got any additional BOOSTING TIPS for us?  Please share!  We'd love to hear from you!

Bananas for a BOOST to help you start your school year,



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