Monday, September 30, 2013


One of the few strategies I picked up during my first year of teaching was CUPS.  This is a strategy for editing and revising in writing.  I have students go through the editing process with looking for capitals, usage/grammar, punctuation and spelling.

I have them re-read their drafts and use the anchor charts we co-create to look for these common errors.

I have them use colored pencils for the editing and revising, which makes the writing process much more exciting!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Thank you :)

I'm in the process of completing 2 new figurative language centers and a math center, all of which should be up on TpT by the end of the week.

Today I sold 8 different products :)

Thank you to those who purchased my products, I sincerely hope they are useful and your students benefit from my hard work.

Today I hit the triple digits for the number of products sold and I'm still in shock :)

Thank you to all those who have helped spread the word and left feedback on my products.

I'm glad what I've made for my classroom can be used all around the country :)

New products

I posted some new literacy centers on TpT

Hunger Games quote sort & Mockingjay quote sort

(Catching Fire was already available!)

Hope your students enjoy!  If you like the product, please leave feedback.  If you have a suggestion on how this center can be improved to increase effectiveness or rigor, please let me know! I appreciate helpful, constructive, (polite) feedback :)

Happy reading and may the odds be ever in your favor :)

-Ms. Vice

Saturday, September 28, 2013


As I'm sure you're well aware, I have a store on TpT.  (Teachers pay teachers)  I have been in the classroom for five years now and am proud of the rigorous novel studies and centers I've made.  Nothing in my store was made for the sake of posting it on TpT, but rather created for my own classroom and shared with others.  I know that I work hard and more importantly, my students make great academic gains.

Here is a short list of what is available on TpT

novel units (questions, answers, vocab, extension activities, homework questions)
Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief (1)
Percy Jackson & the Sea of Monsters (2)
Percy Jackson & the Titan's Curse (3)
Percy Jackson & the Battle of the Labyrinth (4) 
Percy Jackson & the Last Olympian (5) 
Steal Away Home
Hunger Games
Catching Fire
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Number the Stars
Tiger Rising
The Giver
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

literacy centers/stations
Percy Jackson "Who am I?" center with answer key (based on books 1 & 2)
Hunger Games & Catching Fire "who am I?" center with answer key
Harry Potter "Who am I?" center with answer key
Series of Unfortunate Events "Who am I?" center with answer key
literacy stations bundle
Percy Jackson quote sort for the Lightning Thief
Percy Jackson quote sort for the Sea of Monsters
Percy Jackson quote sort for the Titan's Curse
Percy Jackson quote sort for the Battle of the Labyrinth
Percy Jackson quote sort for the Titan's Curse
editing & revising sort (writing)
Tuck Everlasting quote sort
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone chronological order sort (freebie)
Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets chronological order sort
Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban chronological order sort
Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire chronological order sort 
Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix chronological order sort
Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince chronological order sort
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows chronological order sort 
Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets quote sort
Hunger Games chronological order sort 
Catching Fire chronological order sort
Prefix concentration, CCSS aligned
Roots concentration, CCSS aligned
Suffix concentration, CCSS aligned
Catching Fire quote sort

math centers
math taboo (vocabulary activity)
math centers bundle

science centers
mixtures & solutions sort 
types of maps sort (geography)
"I have, Who has?" landforms review
5 themes of geography ppt (freebie)

table of contents organizer for notebooks (multiple academic areas)
back to school activities bundle
teacher forms guide bundle
Teacher name plate

Coming Soon!
math strategies sorts
prefixes, roots & suffixes sorts
Harry Potter novel guides (1-6)
Harry Potter Quote sorts
Mockingjay chronological order sort
Teacher guides for the Series of Unfortunate Events
Teacher guides for Hatchet

and more!  I just need a time travel device :)

Land Forms

We've been studying land forms for a few weeks now in science.  We've learned all about different types of maps, made several different versions and observed how elevation can change a stream table.  

Next week, we are going to conduct more stream table experiments, this time with flash floods. (One time with no elevation, one time with elevation to see the difference).  From there, we'll discuss more vocabulary, look at Google Earth for land forms and learn about layers of the earth.  Then, after we co-construct our anchor charts, we'll learn about the ring of fire and tectonic plates.

I saw this idea on pinterest and I think it's a perfect Friday science activity:

I'm totally game for combining food and science, it's hands-on, edible learning at its finest!

Our small groups

I love my small group discussions about novels.

It's a little tricky to manage 12 groups and they're still a little loud at centers, but it's a work in progress.

Here is our daily schedule for small groups:

Yes, making sure I set the timer is the first task! I need my small kitchen timer to hold me accountable to time :)

Here are some of our updated "keeping track of character charts":

I love how well they're doing with pulling out crucial details to see how characters develop over the course of the novels.

We also got our copies of Tuck Everlasting! Thank you donors :) I can't wait to use them with my young readers!

Our updated reading board, now that we've established what we are working on in class:

I also created folders for each novel:

Inside are various novel-specific thinking maps for them to glue into their small group reading notebooks to organize their thinking, make predictions, look for figurative language, etc.

To help with many of our word work and phonics centers, I created a smaller version of CLOVER to help students remember how to identify syllable types:

Happy reading!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Don't Take Me Literally

During our intervention portion of the day, our grade level has been working on figurative language and idioms (CCSS RL 5.4 and L 5.5).  

We made a foldable, went over the different types, found examples within text, analyzed examples and finally came to the fun part: showing off our work!

As a formative assessment, we had students work in pairs to analyze a common idiom.  They wrote the literal meaning of the phrase, the figurative meaning and drew pictures for each.

I modeled with "it's raining cats and dogs" and then they had an hour to create a rough draft, edit and make a final draft with their partner.

Here is our bulletin board:

Don't take me literally!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Don't bother me, I'm reading

We got our copies of Tuck Everlasting this week.  Again, a huge thank you to my donorschoose supporters :)

Some of my after school helpers were very, very excited about our new books:

I got the "don't bother me, I'm reading" death glares. 
 I couldn't be more proud.

-Happy reading!

Terrific Thinking Thursday

Our school is using Number Talks for math to boost our students' number sense, working understanding of mathematical concepts and critical thinking.  The philosophy behind Number Talks aligns perfectly with Investigations, which we are using as a tool to guide our standards-based instruction and assessment.  Through hands-on learning and discourse, our students are learning how to interact with math rather than memorize and regurgitate information.

Our grade level has tweaked our number talks:

Monday: This is our traditional number talk.  A problem is displayed on the board, students solve mentally then raise their hands to share their answers.  Emphasis is given to strategies and explaining their thinking.

Tuesday: Ten minute math from Investigations.  We are starting with quick images where students are looking for patterns, which is supporting the 8 math practices.

Wednesday: Word problem Wednesdays.  We are moving away from the traditional circling of the number and choosing an operation robotic routine.  Instead, we are focusing on criticial thinking and strategies.

Thursday: Terrific Thinking Thursdays!  We display a deceptively simple problem and let students solve individually before sharing out whole group.  

Fridays: Fast Facts Fridays.  Students are working on their individual goals for fact fluency (multiplication and division) in a fun, game-like way with their shoulder or face partner.

Since it's Thursday, here is an example of today's problem:

The problem states "You have $2.75.  What coins could make this amount?"

None of my students gave me an answer invoving dollar bills.  There were actually more answers they came up with later and I was impressed they used half dollar coins in their answers.  Not bad for eight am :)

Well, that was out of the blue

I want to believe that I am a good teacher. I know I love my job (most days) and I know I love watching students learn (all days).  It's been a rough year and I haven't felt super supported at school.  I know we took a hit last year in terms of standardized assessments and test scores, but I truly didn't think mine were that bad.  In fact, they weren't bad at all.  My students made growth and did all of them reach their goals? No.  But did they all show improvement? Yes. 

I've been a little frustrated with hearing about how fifth grade's scores went down drastically (19%).  It wasn't my class.  It wasn't 2 of my fabulous neighbor's classes because they worked just as hard and provided some amazing learning opportunities for their students.  I learned so much from them last year and I continue to learn from them now.

Today, out of the blue I got an email from a researcher.  He has a PhD so I'm going to assume he knows what he's doing in terms of assessments.  Here was the gist of his email:

"In my analysis, your students did exceptionall well, including the ELL and special education students. I would like to talk about your experiences and see what resources you used."
Bam.  I want to gloat about this to those that have been a tad harsh this year, but instead I'll just share my excitement here.  I know I did my job as a teacher. I know they all learned and made growth.  More importantly, I know I got them excited about inquiry and learning.

He wants to specifically discuss Discovery Education and the resources I used since I'm a DENstar and he's looking at the Discovery Launch into Teaching assessments.

Honestly, I used Discovery's resources mostly for science which wasn't reflected on those assessments.  We did a lot of video streaming and discussion prior to the CRTs and my students did awesome on their science tests.  (In addition to reading and math!)

So I hope this means I can stop hearing about test scores and negativity.  Fifth grade may have gone down drastically, but that was not my data.  I will be accountable to my test scores and students' growth.  

Do I believe that one test determines what a student learned in one year? No, absolutely not. But it's what we have and what I have to use, so I will take an honest look at the data.  My data looks pretty solid and I'm proud of my students' growth.  Numbers don't lie.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Strange Days

Today was...interesting.

It started with me picking my students up from humanities because well, we added that special this week and my specials schedule changed yesterday.  One of my favorite subs is filling that job and my kids had so much fun. 

They worked on creative movement and when I picked them up, I was treated to a flash mob.  Yes, they busted out their new dance moves just for me :)

(I do love my flash mobs!  At MEMTA, I helped orchestrate and lead one while last summer at DENSI, I participated in one at the Vermont Lake Monsters game.)

We analyzed informational texts for the main idea, practiced decoding words with long vowels (a, e & i), worked on revising our pieces, observed stream tables, analyzed figurative language and then switched for math and small groups.

However, I had to confiscate a yu-gi-oh card and dealt with post-it notes with "kick me" on the back.  It is entirely possible I learned to time travel today and returned to about 10 years ago.

Oh hump day.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Small Literature Groups

While typing up notes for a novel unit on TpT, I realized I needed to revise my SG notes.  What worked for me my first and second year of teaching doesn't work for me now.

When reflecting on my teaching, I often come back to one of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou: 

"When you know better, you do better"

Well, I'm going to do better.  I revised my units to add  in answers and increased the complexity of the questions by making them more open-ended.  I also included suggested homework questions for students.  These revised units are available on TpT.

I always have my students divide their notebooks into four sections:

I give them four questions to answer based on the chapter(s) for homework and we discuss those in depth.

For my small groups, I have them keep track of characters, analyze shifts in setting and make note of interesting vocabulary words in their small group notebooks.

We spend most of our time in our group meetings digging deep into the text.  I check their notebooks, set them up for the next discussion (usually allowing them to decide how much they want to read because I set the minimum) and then dive into the text.

Since I have six groups and only an hour each period, I can't meet each group every day. 

Here's our run-down:

First 8 minutes: fluency.

Students work with a partner to "buddy coach".  I set the timer for one minute and half the class reads in a whisper to their coach.  The coach keeps track of errors and at the timer, gives feedback on rate, expression, accuracy and phrasing.  After one minute of coaching, the students track their progress on this chart (from the CORE sourcebook).  Then they switch roles and repeat.

My beloved:
(yes, I'm a little type-A with my tabs)

I get my leveled fluency passages from reading A-Z but I know there are lots of websites and teacher's guides available.  I print them double sided so the students keep the passages for two weeks because that's better for our planet.

They chart on their fluency tracker:

After that, we spend a few minutes going over the week's phonics: Greek & Latin roots.
We look at the roots, add them to our anchor chart and then decompose multisyllabic words to decode the word's meaning.

From there,  I divide the remaining time in two and start pulling my groups.  I leave 2 minutes at the end for clean up and transition time.

To make sure all my groups get equal time at stations, I make this chart for my lesson plans:

That way I can make sure all my groups get the same centers.

This week, our stations are:
1. Fluency binder (like buddy coaching except they select the passage and can work in groups).  I've printed poems, songs, speeches and passages for students to read and buddy coach with.  I used FCRR printables to have students guide their discussions.

2. fluency quiz-quiz trade cards: they rate each other on their expression and accuracy, using these guides which are glued in their notebooks:

3. character jenga (I upcycled a jenga game and put open ended discussion questions for students to quiz each other).  This one gets a little loud but I love the discussions students have with one another about the book so it's worth it.

4. Kidblog.  This great, free resource allows students to respond to each other and to my blog questions on a safe, secure site:

If you view our page, that's all you see.  Students need a log in (their id numbers) and I get full approval of their posts.

5. "build-a-word": They take syllables and create multisyllabic words, recording their answers in their notebooks.  

6. "word-o-matic" (an FCRR center) where they create words.  I printed vowels on one color and consonants on another to make for easy clean up :)

Most of my centers are in manilla envelopes with instructions on sticky labels.  It helps keep students accountable for their behavior.

7.  Writing thank you letters for donor's choose :)  We got our new materials and love them! Thank you again donors!

8. Idiom cards: one of our new donorschoose centers to help with figurative langugage, which we've been working on during whole group reading!

I also posted our group norms:

I got this sweet card from a student today:

Happy reading!
-Ms. Vice

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Well that would be helpful...

I set up my Aimsweb progress monitoring schedule this weekend and oh man, is it overwhelming.  I have the high kids so most need to be progress monitored once a month and given the MAZE comprehension test once a month.  Well, I have over seventy students in my reading classes so that's a lot of progress monitoring!  I've been thinking about how I want to set up a system (I obviously need a system) and then I stumbled upon this image:

So simple and straight forward.  So easy for the kids to help keep me accountable!  My goal is to create the schedule for Monday through Thursday, leaving Fridays for catch up if students were absent or if we had a weird 4 day week.  I would color code by am/pm and that'd be it :)

I could also use this for setting up writer's conferences since that is clearly the intended goal for the orginial post.

Hooray for meaningful organization!


Finally I've finished my TpT product of a teacher guide for Suzanne Collin's Catching Fire.

Somehow I managed to lose my electronic copy of my notes so I had to retype the teacher guide from my hard copy which can take a while.  Granted, I could have typed quicker but football was on and I was distracted by the plays :)

I revised the unit to include open ended homework questions and suggested answers for questions.  Coming in at 22 pages with update extension ideas and a text to movie connection, it's quite a bargin!

Hope you enjoy and may the odds be ever in your favor :)

(I don't know about you, but I'm eagerly awaiting November!)


I've remade a sign like this for our fifth grade hallway, but I love this teacher's version:

(Why wouldn't I, it has polka dots!)

It's great to post in the hallway to remind students of exactly what is expected when they enter your room :)

Testing motivation 2

My students are stressed about standardized testing.

I don't blame them!  They know teachers are under a lot of pressure to show academic gains and I'm sure that sense of urgency trickles down to them.  

To help ease their fears, I try to make cute little testing motivational signs to show them that I care.  I've done this for open house, testing and the first day/week of school.

Here are some cute, free printables from GingerSnaps, available for free on TpT:

So cute!  

They're having a quiz on maps tomorrow and already had their first phonics test, but I think I might do one of these for their first unit test in reading in the upcoming weeks :)

Trying to be positive

As mentioned in my rattled post, I've received some negative feedback on TpT.  I didn't take it well.  I received another piece of feedback on the same product but this one was less malicious and did cause me to be self-reflective.  Perhaps I need to look outside of my school district for professional development in terms of the Common Core.  I know Nevada is frequently at the bottom of educational rankings, but that's due to a plethora of factors, many of which we as teachers can't control.  Maybe I should look into other school districts (since there's really only one in my state) and how they're "ramping up the rigor" for the Common Core.

But at the same time, I don't think I'm unqualified.  If I was, I wouldn't be sharing my materials.  I've written assessments for my school and district for a few years and was on the unwrapping task force for both math and social studies when CCSD adopted the Common Core.  I've been CASL trained and I know what makes rigorous, valid assessments.  All of my materials have been field tested in my own classroom and tweaked as necessary.  I am a DENstar with Discovery and one of our district's DENambassadors (Discovery Education).  I attended DENSI last summer in Vermont and was the sole representative of my state.  Yes, state.  The summer before that, I attended both the Mickelson Exxon-Mobil Teacher's Academy and the Mount Vernon Teacher's  Institute, again being the sole representative of my state.  My list of qualifications goes on and on, so I think I'm a knowledgable teacher.  Of course, I'm never done learning and developing as a teacher, as evident with my current task of working toward masters +32 (so close!) then working on National Board Certification.  Yup, I'm a type-A teacher and I embrace it.  I know I work hard and my students learn.

I don't think rigor comes from worksheets.  I think rigor comes from discussions and analysis of the text.  Rigor comes from close reading, re-reading, deep discussions and interaction with the text.  I can offer those deeper level questions, which I do, in my discussion guides but it is up to the teacher to drive the discussion and challenge students to think deeper.  As with any teacher guide, you have to make it your own and implement it in the classroom.  

I stand by my products and I am trying not to let two bad reviews ruin my outlook on selling products online.  Last time I checked, 79 people had purchased a product with several hundred more downloading my free ones.  If out of that, two had an issue, I'd say that's pretty acceptable.  I do feel bad that my product didn't meet their expectations but it did meet mine.  For those of you that know me personally, you know my standards are meticulously high.  I don't like wasting time and I wouldn't feel comfortable wasting other people's time.

However, I'll let you judge for yourself.  I have three products for free on TpT: a novel quote preview for Tuck Everlasting, a chronological order sort for Harry Potter and a 5 themes of geography ppt.  Download them here.  If you like them, please rate me accordingly.  If you don't, I'd love feedback either here or on the site about how I can improve them.  Please don't tell me it was a waste of money (since it's free!) or a waste of time.  Offer concrete examples of how you'd like it improved.  I'm always open to constructive feedback, especially if it improves my instruction and benefits my students :)

Thank you,
Ms. Vice

Saturday, September 21, 2013

voice levels

For some reason, my students are super talkative this year.

They've been this way since second or third grade, so I know it's not me.

Across the grade level, we just have a lot of talkers.

Talking is a wonderful thing and I like that my students are so eager to share their thoughts with one another.

However, when the volume escalates quickly and I can't hear my small group, we have a problem.

I'm trying the "my turn" and "your turn" strategy to reinforce that in my classroom, we share and respect one another.

I found this:

I want to recreate it for my classroom :)  

Perhaps it will drive home my point!

Same concept, simple format

Our school is standards-based, which means we don't give letter grades.

Instead, students are evaluated on rubrics, aligned to the standards, to truly show growth and mastery of a skill.  The standards are continually taught, assessed, retaught and reassessed to allow students multiple opportunities to demonstrate success.

My students and I frequently engage in conversations about growth and that it's okay not to be an expert at everything.

I stumbled upon this on pinterest this morning:

And I absolutely love the way it's phrased.  It perfectly aligns with my classroom philosophy.

Friday, September 20, 2013

It's Friday

We will celebrate the little things in life.

Here are our updated anchor charts for roots and affixes.

Here is our topographic map.

We talked about elevation and contour lines today in science.  We also made our key and shaded in our contour lines.

We also had some great discussions about the different covers of Hatchet:

My students really dug deep into what the illustrator's intentions were and how the covers set different tones.