Sunday, March 30, 2014

Final meeting for Book Club

Last week was our final meeting for Battle of the Books.  Our school competitions are this coming week and the district finals are on the 25th of April.  I'm excited to take my winning team to face off against the other schools.

I haven't given them any instruction on the books and they held their own small groups.  I'm really proud of how much work they've put into this competition.

One of them even made treats, which was adorable:

Plus they're loving book jeopardy! 

I promised my students we'd play with our small group books during standardized testing time (since they'll need something fun after a long day of bubbling!).

I love watching how much they love reading.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

And...she's done!

For those that have been following the adventures of Ursula, I'm pleased to announce that she's done!

My students enjoyed chips and capri sun during our movie reward.  I'm pleased with the positive changes I've seen in most of them.  The strategy didn't work for all my students but it was nice to reward the students who are trying :)

New Novel Guide: The Lost Hero (#111)

As I previously wrote about, the time has come when I have extra homework for my small groups.  Granted, this homework is to read the novels with them, so that doesn't really feel like much work.

I just finished this great read:

I really enjoyed it.  I loved the Percy Jackson series and this in no way a disappointment.  I'm eager to read the next few in the series and love the way the author blends Greek and Roman mythology with a compelling story line! I also loved the subtle hints at the Percy Jackson series for fans but if you haven't read that series, you are still able to love this one.

While reading, I took diligent notes on vocabulary words and comprehension questions.  I turned these into a teacher's guide, which you can snag here on TpT.  I've included everything I will use to do this novel with my own small group.  Coming in at just over 50 pages, this may be my longest teacher guide yet (except for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire since that book is a few hundred pages longer then this novel).

I also included a free preview of my product, which you can also download here

Happy reading!

(On a side note, I can't wait to start The Son of Neptune!)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Testing Strategies Recap

During our intervention block we've been working on testing strategies with a practice standardized test.

As a wrap up activity to a week of test prep, we made brochures:

Students got to be a little creative and design their own brochures to help with testing strategies.  They had so much fun with it!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Post-it notes and figurative language

Many of my students are English Language learners, so they struggle with the nuisances of English.  Figurative language proves especially difficult at times, so I'm always looking for ways to reinforce these skills. 

I stumbled upon this idea:

I can't wait to try it in my classroom!  I bet my small groups would love the challenge, especially if I turn this into a competition between home rooms or AM and PM.  

By having them find their own examples of figurative language in the text, not only will they "own" the skill but they'll also be actively reading to look for examples. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Heart Breaking

This informational graphic really says it all:

I wish more people read.  I wish families read with their children, nightly and discussed the reading. I wish our kindergartners entered school with print awareness.  I wish kids were handed books to read while in the car or waiting places, rather than a cell phone for games.

Please, go read.

Classroom Memes

As I wrote about before, we've been doing morning memes.  We start our day with a funny meme or morning message, like these:

We read these before going over our daily schedule.  The humor creates a positive classroom environment and gets them talking first thing in the morning.  Sometimes they need to explain the meme to one another, which emphasizes the importance of sharing ideas.

Since not everyone has smart notebooks, I decided to make a pinterest board with the memes I've been using.  You can follow it here and use the images in your classroom as well!  If you don't have smart notebook, use powerpoint instead :)

Hopefully your students love the morning memes as much as mine do!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Book Jeopardy

With our school's Battle of the Books competition slowly approaching, many of my teams are done with their reading and instead are focusing on comprehension questions.  To help them, I created a mock up of their real competition:

Yes, we played book jeopardy.  Their real rounds will be on the smart board in an official competition, but I wanted to get them familiar with the process.  I also didn't quiz them on any of the competition books, but rather the books we've read together in our small groups.  Next week they'll play with the books for the competition and the week after that is our school's rounds.  Next week they'll create the questions for each other and trade with other teams.

I'm excited for how well they've done! 90% of the students who started with me are following through with the competition!

One More Week!

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm pleased to announce there is just one more week of our homework challenge with Ursula:

All she needs is her wand and she'll be ready to reward the students who have earned their homework reward.

Students needed to fully complete their homework for 8 of the 10 weeks to be invited to the reward party.  All I ask of them is one sheet of math homework and their reading logs.  I'm not asking for perfection, I'm asking for effort.

Around twenty of my thirty one students will be attending, so it will be nice to celebrate with the students who are being responsible.

I'm sure I'll get attitude from the ones who aren't invited to our recess celebration, but it's a natural consequence to their actions.  I'm not sure what messages they receive at home, but in my classroom, if you don't do the work, you don't get the reward.  It's that simple.

These are my students, round 3

Our awesome counselor started an after school peer support system with our fifth graders.  Her goal is to have some of the higher students help the struggling students with organizational skills and academics.  The program is a few weeks old but our counselor is receiving lots of positive feedback from the students.  Having a peer assist them privately after school is ideal because one, it's not a teacher so they feel they can connect better without feeling frustrated and two, it's a private support system where no one has to know.  As far as the rest of the grade level is concerned, it's a homework club...which is partially true.

One of my students from my small groups was assisting another student with his fluency.  He was giving him productive feedback as we've practiced, but then privately asked our counselor this:

"Should I model first, so he can hear what good fluency is like? I've been working on my phrasing."

I love that it's ingrained in them to model a skill or strategy first so that students know what is expected.  Considering I model different skills daily, I'm glad the importance of this explicit instruction is sinking in with my students.

Another one of my girls not only made her peer mentee a homework folder to keep himself organized, but she also assigned him homework.  Yes, she found her old fluency practice passages and instructed him to read them nightly and keep track of his errors.  Furthermore, she created a survey for him about his strengths and weaknesses so she could better assist him.  She also wouldn't accept "reading" as his answer for what he was struggling with.  Oh no, she flat out told him to "be more specific". I'm not sure he appreciated it, but I sure did!

This must be what mothers feel like.  

My students are verbatim, echoing things I say on a nearly daily basis.  They are internalizing the need, as a teacher/mentor, to provide positive, concise feedback, model strategies, help with organizational structure and be reflective about one's own learning.

I've created little minions.  I couldn't be more proud that not only are they willing to help their peers, but they have productive strategies to do so.  I love that they're willing to help their peers succeed as well.  High fives for team work.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Crossin' My Fingers...

As I previously shared, I didn't get the performance zone coaching position I applied for.  After the news broke, there were a few mopey hours (I'm human) but I realized it wasn't meant to be.

So I kept going and kept researching new opportunities.

Yesterday I submitted my application to be a technology/digital coach.  I love my tech tools and (appropriately) integrating technology into my lessons.  I'd love to spend my days working with other teachers and helping them make the most of amazing web 2.0 tools and integrate technology into their learning activities.

This morning, I worked on my application to be a literacy coach.  Clearly I love reading and would be focusing solely on helping teachers with their small and whole group instruction.  I'm submitting that application when I go back to the district office next week (I have Monday night classes).

I also emailed a few leads about a librarian endorsement and if RPDP offers the right summer classes, I can be a librarian next year (if I have six hours on my provisional license).  Worst case scenario and none of the classes I need are offered? I'll take them next year and spend one more year in the classroom...perhaps in primary? I've heard second grade is pretty fun...

I love that I have a few different venues that I'd be completely happy with.  I'm also slightly terrified that it's mid-March and I don't know what I'll be teaching/doing next year.

(If that uncertainty wasn't enough, I'm meeting with a Realtor on Friday because I'm going to be purchasing my first home...scary steps!)

I'm crossin' my fingers that everything works out as it's meant to.  As long as I'm in some capacity working with reading and technology, I'll be just fine :)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Word Work lessons

Since I have the upper half of the grade level for small group reading, I focus on word work rather than phonemic awareness.  My students aren't learning to read, they're readers.  So our focus is on those irregular word patterns and nuances in the English language that must be explicitly taught to students (especially my English Language Learners).

We've worked on irregular past tense verbs and silent letters, so I created power points.  Our word work is only 5-10 minutes per reading block (sixty minutes) because that's what my students need.  Word work and fluency practice takes no more than fifteen minutes (combined) so the remaining forty five minutes are spent reading, writing, publishing, blogging, sorting, creating, analyzing, comparing, contrasting, or meeting with me for our literature circles.

I've posted my weekly lessons on TpT for a dollar each.  You can edit them if you don't like the font I used or you can download the free font here.

Happy reading!


One of the new strategies I tried this year was modeling metacognition for my students.  In layman's terms, metacognition is being aware while reading or thinking while reading.

We've had a lot of talks that reading isn't a passive activity and your brain should be actively processing and thinking about what the words on the text mean.

Our very first reading lesson was using 2 bowls to show what was occurring in the text and in my head as I read aloud.

As a teacher, I'm quite used to modeling my thinking for my students.  Granted, the first times I felt a little strange having a conversation with myself but I got over that very quickly.

I modeled reading the back cover of The Lightning Thief since that was our first grade level read aloud.  I pointed to the back of the book when I was reading the text and to my head when I was thinking about what I read.

I had my students keep track of the number of times I pointed to the text and to my head with different colored markers.  Not only did it keep them on task and engaged in the lesson, but it let my wiggly students have a purpose for moving their hands around.

At the end of the lesson, they had way more green "thinking" markers then red "text" ones.  

We talked about how as readers, it's more than looking at the words on the page.  We have to actively process and think about what the words mean.  This lesson spanned a few days and we refer back to our anchor chart often, but I'm really pleased with my decision to start the year off with this type of lesson (since I'd never tried it before).

I'm way more excited that my students not only understand the definition and purpose of metacognition, but actively practice it as well.  When combined with annotating their thinking with stop and jot strategies, they are reading rock stars!  

Friday, March 14, 2014

These are my students, round 2

As I wrote yesterday, my students are

I found two more:

Yes, grammar is tricky.  At least my students have not only grasped, but internalized the growth mindset.  He'll get there!

And here is just a heartwarming one about the importance of college and perseverance.

Good job fifth graders, you made me proud.

Attention Getter

We do a lot of different attention getters in our class.

Here's our newest one:

What I say is in blue and their response is in green.  They're enjoying our new attention getter!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

New Novel Unit: Al Capone Does My Shirts

As I previously wrote about, the time has come when I have extra homework for my small groups.  Granted, this homework is to read the novels with them, so that doesn't really feel like much work.

I just finished this Newbery honor:

I really enjoyed it.  One of the main characters, Natalie, is a child with autism.  This is never stated outright but clues are dropped throughout the novel.  It will be an interesting discussion with my students to see if they can put the pieces together.  I teach in an inclusion room and my students are fairly accepting of all people, so I'm excited to see the maturity in which they handle these discussions.  (They're just starting the novel).

While reading, I took diligent notes on vocabulary words and comprehension questions.  I turned these into a 27 page teacher's guide, which you can snag here on TpT.  I've included everything I will use to do this novel with my own small group.  

Happy reading!

These are my students...

My kiddos had some awesome opportunities this week.  We had a historical presentation from the Mount Vernon association, a Q & A session with a police officer and those that earned the reward got to learn about reptiles.  

So we talked about being grateful for these opportunities and wrote thank you cards.  I modeled one for them, we brainstormed sentence frames and I let them write.   They partner edited, I provided stationary and whatever part of their letter that was unfinished became homework.

Over ninety percent were returned today, which was pretty exciting to see.

I separated the letters into piles and flipped through them until I found this:

Yes, my lovely student decided it was totally appropriate to offer a book recommendation to a complete stranger at the end of her letter.  I think I'm proud?

These are the students I've raised.  There are no boundaries and we should just tell everyone about our books, whether or not we were asked.

At least they're loving reading!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

AM reward

In our SWAG competition between AM and PM, the AM has won again.  This time, they had a half hour of free board game time.  The timing worked out perfectly because we lost twenty minutes of our hour to an assembly, so after fluency there was only time to meet with one group (and cover everything we needed to).

Reward snapshots:

Many of my games were generously funded by friends, family, and strangers on donors choose.  Thank you again for continued support in my classroom!

(The Series of Unfortunate Events board game was perhaps my favorite find ever! I found it at Bookman's, a used bookstore in Arizona.  I didn't even know it existed until one magical spring break!)

I love watching them get so excited about comprehension and reading games!

Venn Diagrams

For tutoring, we've been reading a book on the Olympics from Reading A-Z.  They're having a lot of fun with the topic, so I decided to use the large Venn Diagrams I have to make the afternoon just a tad more special:

They loved it! It's amazing what lamination and vis-a-vis markers can do for student motivation!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Book Recommendations

In our small groups this week, one of our must do activities was to create a book recommendation for another student or a teacher.

I modeled writing to a fellow teacher about why she should read The Lost Hero.  My kiddos had a lot of fun with it.

I found this note from a student in the dropbox.  I particularly enjoy the "if you read it, I'll read it" part.  

Historical Assembly

Our fifth graders had an awesome opportunity today!  In partnership with the Mount Vernon teacher's association, we had a special presentation.  A historian pretended to be William Lee, man servant to General George Washington.

For an hour, our fifth graders were completely engaged in learning about history.

It was a wonderful sight to see.  

Monday, March 10, 2014

Expository Writing, Part 3

As I previously blogged about, my students had a wonderful time researching about European countries.  They created brochures which are beautifully decorating our fifth grade hallway.

Since it was Reading Week last week and our schedule was altered, I used some writing time to have my students create informational posters about their countries based on their brochures.

I talked about how this is another way to publish their work and share their information with an audience.  

They had a wonderful time learning from one another and asked really thoughtful questions of one another.  I'm pleased to see how excited they are about researching since they'll be doing a lot more of this in middle and high school!

Happy learning :)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Text Features Sort

While it was a tad time consuming to create, one of my students' favorite centers is my text features sort.  I cut up a few copies of an old Time for Kids magazine and cut apart the article.  I glued the text features on different colored pieces of paper and laminated them (for durability).

My students had to put the articles back together with their text features (captions, pictures, titles, maps, etc).  It was a challenge and they had to read the informational text to figure out what features went with each article.

Happy reading!

Reflections on Mockingjay (spoiler alert)

If you haven't read Suzanne Collin's Mockingjay, I'd advise you to stop reading this post and start reading that novel!  (That is, of course, if you've read Hunger Games and Catching Fire already. I'd never advise someone to pick up a book out of sequential order!)

My students just finished Mockingjay and were doing a quick write response.  I had them write a letter to a character and express their feelings.  I didn't realize they had such angry words to say to Gale:

At least they're passionate about their reading.

We had long conversations about the choices that were made in the book and how those aren't necessarily the choices we would make in real life.  We also talked about how sometimes book characters have to do things they don't want to do in order to survive.  Not to worry, we also talked about how killing book characters is not acceptable.

This group is now getting ready to tackle the Series of Unfortunate Events!

Happy reading :)

Vocabulary Day Parade

For reading week, we always read Debra Fraiser's picture book Miss Alaineus. 

In it, a young girl mishears a vocabulary word and instead of asking for the correct word, fibs on her homework.  Her dishonesty is brought to light in a humorous way and the book talks of having a vocabulary parade.

So, at our school, the last day of Reading Week is vocabulary word parade day.  After reading the novel, I make a circle map on the board of possible words:

My students have a week to figure out their costumes.  Last year, I was survival and wore a shirt with book characters' names who had to survive.  I believe there was Katniss (Hunger Games), Klaus, Sunny, Violet (A Series of Unfortunate Events), Brian (Hatchet), Ellen, Annemarie (Number the Stars), Harry, Ron, Hermione (Harry Potter series) and many more.

This year, we did a theme for our grade level.  We went as runners, complete with bibs and medals.  My word was perseverance while my fellow teachers were endurance and tenacity.  We talked to the fifth graders about how these words were ones we really wanted them to embody.  

They had such a great time making the costumes, sharing their words, then doing a parade around the playground at the end of the day on Friday.

It was a nice end to one of my favorite weeks of the year, reading week!

FCRR Shout Out

I've blogged about FCRR before and it's a wonderful free resource for literacy stations.  I love that it's broken up into grade level bands (K-1, 2-3 and 4-5) as well as into the big 5 components of literacy instruction (phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, phonics and comprehension).  They've also revised many of their student activities to align with the Common Core State Standards, which is also extremely helpful.

I've used the stations with my intervention groups and during my small groups.  I especially like the fluency stations at the beginning of the year when I'm explicitly teaching the four components of fluency (accuracy, rate, expression and phrasing).

Since it was reading week last week, I took advantage of the lax schedule (we had assemblies and Discovery Education testing as well) to play some reading games with my students (when they weren't being pulled to make up missed assignments, since the trimester ended Friday). 

One of the stations they played was "fact and opinion football":

I had a group of football fans fully entertained for a good twenty minutes.  When they ran out of cards, I had them make up their own statements for the group to guess.

The second station was "incredible inferences":

(Yes, my classroom rug is polka dotted...that's just how I roll!)

I used counters from our math kit as pieces, but you can use virtually anything. I'm pretty sure almost every teacher I've met has some sort of kit of pieces.

They had a great time with these reading games and I liked the skills that were reinforced. I know many of my students struggle with getting past the literal words in the text, so this was a fun way for them to practice "digging deep" and making meaning of the text.  They're getting there with inferences!

Happy reading :)

Analyzing Harry Potter

While it's at a DRA 50, 2 of my groups were struggling with the Harry Potter series.  Perhaps it was because of the British slang or the plethora of characters, but only one group is remaining with the series.  One group got through book one, another got through the second and my final group is refusing to quit and halfway through book 3.

I know these books can be a challenge because there is so much information in these intricately written novels.  There are a lot of characters to keep track of and the characters develop complex relationships with one another.

I'm really pleased with how hard my final group is working at analyzing characters:

I hope they keep it up!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Expository Writing, Part Two

As I previously blogged about, our grade level is working on expository writing.  We split Europe into four parts and each class took a different section.

The students researched using internet data bases such as culture grams and recorded their research in their writing notebooks.

I was excited to get Northern Europe not only because my heritage is from England and Ireland, but because many of my students have read Lois Lowry's Number the Stars, so they were thrilled to get to create brochures on Denmark and Sweden.

Our hallway:

My wall:

(I had some great student helpers!)

My fabulous team members' walls:

Close up of our brochures:

We printed maps from Crayola's website and of course I used polka dot ribbon to connect brochures with the countries!

As an added bonus, one of the fifth grade classes won first prize in the door decorating contest for Reading Week!  We hung the medal in the hallway to share, since we did a thematic unit together.

They had such a wonderful time creating these brochures.  It's nice to see them so excited about what they're learning :)