Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Thank You's

One of my students brought me this:

The gesture is sweet but I think she's secretly trying to bribe me into letting her read Tuck Everlasting. Her group just started Number the Stars and she's convinced it's the best book, ever.  She's on chapter three but has already proclaimed this book as her favorite...ever.

These are my students.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


We just sent the last progress report of the year (hallelujah!).  With it, I attached this note:

During the first week of school, I had students write notes to themselves to open during the last week of school.  Luckily I'm sure most of them have forgotten about this task, so it will be quite the surprise!

I asked their families to write them letters about how proud they are of all their academic growth this year.  I included stationary and an envelope to make it easy for them.

Here's one of the letters I got back:

In the past, many students cry upon reading these letters which is a touching moment.  Granted, some parents just send back blank stationary which is a little frustrating.  For those students, I will write them letters myself that way they have something to open.   I'm excited to make their last days of elementary school memorable!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

New Ideas for Rewards

I love trying new strategies in my classroom.  Each group of students is unique and what works for one group won't necessarily work for the next.

Homework was a struggle this year, thus I used Ursula as a motivator.  

She worked well for some students but not for all.  I've had conferences, phone calls, and sent notes home.  Some students just won't do their homework and nightly reading, which is frustrating because the only person they end up hurting is themselves by hindering their progress.  I also realize as an educator, there are lots of things I can't control.  I can't go home with them and make sure they read.  I can't control their home life, I can just provide a supportive educational environment.

I found this great idea today:

What a fun whole-class reward!  Using a free scrabble font and card stock, I can easily create free rewards.  I could use scrabble tiles or have the student of the week pick a letter to shade.  There are lots of different ways I could reward students to have whole class buy in.  I'm excited to try this strategy next year!

Battle of the Books

On Friday afternoon, I took my enthusiastic team of four students to the district semi-finals.  Clad in our matching navy shirts, they were eager to win.

They participated in the first two rounds, but didn't earn enough combined points to advance.

I stayed with them for both rounds, one round acting as a time keeper and the other as the host.  Both our principal and librarian showed up, which was wonderful for my kiddos to feel supported.

My students lost gracefully and displayed wonderful sportsmen-like conduct, which was heartwarming to see.  I congratulated the winning team and had the audience clap for the effort of both teams.  There were some disrespectful parents, which was a tad frustrating.  Of course each school and family goes in wanting their child to be successful.  But not every team can win.  Every team, however, can conduct themselves with dignity and grace.

I wish those parents were more focused on the true purpose of the event: building enthusiasm for reading.  

My team did their best but most importantly, they had fun. They did the competition completely on their own but were supported the whole time.  They read some great books, strengthened friendships, and enjoyed quizzing each other about the novels.

One of the boys was inexplicably thrilled when I told him that there isn't just one sequel to The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, but four.  I know what his summer plans will be--reading.  Lots of reading.

That's a wonderful thing.

Dear Lemony Snicket...

Many of my small groups absolutely love The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. 

 One group is reading the prequels but is quite upset only two of the four have been released. 


 I told them this is how I felt growing up waiting for Harry Potter sequels and to deal with it.  (Perhaps not the best teacher response but they need realize not everything in life is handed to them immediately.  Sometimes they have to wait for what they want.)

For one of our must do activities, they were instructed to write a letter to an author, sharing their feelings about the book.

Here are some of the responses to Lemony:

Quite the sassy remark!

I love their passion.

Happy reading!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Sassy Hermione

I clearly love books. But more importantly, I love when my students love books.

For one of our must do activities, my students had to describe which character changed the most in their novels.

This student absolutely loved the sassy changes in Hermione Granger.  His specific evidence is when she slaps Draco Malfoy in the face and argues with Ron on a frequent basis.

Another student also loved that sassy moment from Hermione.

This activity challenged students to take their favorite portion of the book and create an eight panel graphic novel.  I like letting them be a little creative and draw, but still with a purpose.  This lends itself to having students apply their quotation skills and summarize their favorite parts.  

I love seeing how much fun they have with their must do's.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


As I previously shared, I am looking for a change.  I've been at my school for five years and since we're transitioning to year-round and that's not something I desire.  The 17 mile commute (each way) is taxing and I'm looking for somewhere closer to (my new) home.

I found it.

I showed up at the school and was sent on a tour with the school's two coaches.  We clicked immediately (and not just because we had the same polka dotted 31 bag!).  The school has a very strong reading program and so many books.  We actually had our interview in one of the literacy labs and being surrounded by books is just fine by me!  I met the grade level and I think we'll get along just fine! 

The school has very high standards and believes in transparent data, which is a great thing.  The students should know exactly where they stand and how they're growing academically.   There is a huge emphasis on teamwork and collaboration.  

The interview was with the principal, assistant principal and grade level.  I was at the school for about an hour and left feeling so excited about the opportunity.

I've spent the last twenty four hours in nervous anticipation, wavering between telling everyone how great I think the interview went and keeping my nerves to myself, in case it doesn't pan out.

We were doing our CRTs today, so all my technology had to be turned off.  My cellphone also died, which only contributed to my anxiety.

Luckily, my fears were soothed about five o'clock this evening.  I was offered the position, which I immediately accepted.  I have to tell my administration tomorrow morning, which will be a hard conversation.  I'm headed to my new school after work to sign my transfer paperwork to make everything official!

I'm excited for this new opportunity!  I will miss some of the awesome coworkers (they know who they are!) but this just means we'll have to prioritize happy hours next year.

Onward and upward!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Just doin' my job...

One of my parents came to me today with a very pressing issue.  

She had a doctor's appointment later that day and needed a book to read.  Naturally, I came to mind as someone to recommend a new book.

This makes my heart so incredibly happy that I'm immediately thought of as a credible person to recommend books.

I know she's read Number the Stars, Tuck Everlasting, the Bad Beginning, and Who Could That Be At This Hour? with her daughter this year.  So I recommended one of my new favorites:

I gave her a quick synopsis and she was sold!  If you haven't checked out this book, I highly recommend it!

Monday, April 21, 2014

New Opportunities

I've been at my school for five years now and it's time for a change.  We're going year-round and that's not something I wish to do.  While I would appreciate the track breaks to separate the year, I don't think I'd be able to fully enjoy them.  I would be constantly working on school stuff and planning units on my breaks, which isn't good for my mental health.  I was a first year teacher, a first year graduate student, and on an undesired wasn't pleasant.  I don't wish to repeat that year-round schedule again unless I was in a specialist position.

So the time has come to branch out.  As previously stated, I applied for a coaching position and was briefly devastated when that didn't pan out.  I won't have the coursework to be hired provisionally as a librarian, but that dream is still on the back burner.  I applied for a literacy coach almost a month ago and haven't heard back either way, which is frustrating.  I applied to be a digital coach and am in the wait pool, which is better than nothing.

So I decided to look at the transfer list for my school district.  I'm hoping to stick with fifth grade because I'm a little hesitant to try both a new school and a new grade level at the same time.

I looked for schools nearby my new house that were on the traditional 9 month calendar and had fifth grade openings.

Low and behold, I found one.  

So I called the office manager after school.  She asked me to send in my last evaluations and a resume, which I promptly did.  Not twenty minutes later, I had a call from the principal to set up an interview.

I'm really excited about this opportunity!

It's right after school tomorrow, I get a tour and then the interview.  I'm crossing my fingers it all works out as it's meant to!

On a very random note, the Principal's last name is coincidentally the name of the high school I attended in Arizona.  Very, very strange...but perhaps a good sign?

Fingers crossed!

Sunday, April 20, 2014


I have a teacher facebook. I'm very careful of what I post and use this social media platform as a way to connect with my students and their families, both former and current.  It's completely separate from my personal account. There's nothing I put on my page I wouldn't share with my principal or superintendent.

When I discovered there was a third in the Al Capone... series, I took to facebook to let my students know.  Here was the almost immediate reaction:

Yes, my student responded almost immediately with giddy excitement.  These moments make my job worthwhile.  I won't have to tell the rest of the group, this student will do it for me and most likely today or tomorrow morning at recess.

These are my students.  

Book Review

I read this novel with one of my small groups for the first time this year:

As I previously stated, I was really impressed with how well my students handled the complexity of the characters.  I really enjoyed the story and I'm glad my students did as well!  

They are just finishing the first novel, so I read the second ahead of them so I'd be prepared for our discussions.

My teacher guide is available here on TpT and a bundle guide of both novels will be available soon!  

I was pleased with the ending of both books, but then discovered this:

Ah yes, a third book!  Time to write a grant proposal :)

Happy reading!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

CRT testing

Standardized testing is up on us.  In our district, spring break coincided with Easter so some of the fifth grade testing was done before spring break with the rest after.

Third grade went first and we had our math test on the Wednesday and Thursday before spring break.  The Friday before spring break was field day, so no testing was done.

We had a fifth grade pep assembly and they got these cute testing treats:

I don't know what happens at other schools, but we are very strict with our testing protocol.  My pink CRT bucket does not leave my sight after I sign it out in the am.  I lock it in the cabinet and then lock my door when I go to pick up my students and when we take our restroom break.  This year, our district was even stricter with test proctoring rules.  No technology could be on, which includes my teacher computer, iPads, and my cell phone.  I understand the rules and it saddens me that some teachers would cheat, giving the rest of us a bad name.  However, I also understand the incredibly high stakes of this test and when job security depends on the moods of eight year-olds, it seems like a catch-22 situation.  But again, I'm not the one making the rules...just the one meticulously following them.  Even though it means no email during the test.

We do class adoptions during testing season.  Primary classes adopt the testing grades and create good luck banners and treats to motivate our kiddos.  I wish we would have this adoption all year so that our classes could read to one another and share their writing, but I am not in charge of these things.

We did make good luck signs for the two third grade classes that we share a hallway with and they made super cute ones for us as well.  We also write good luck messages on our boards, since we take down all of our anchor charts and visual cues during testing.  

We were adopted by two first grade classes since their combined numbers are about equal to one fifth grade classroom.

Our first treat said we would rock the test and was baggies of rock shaped chocolates:

Our second treat was that we're on a roll with tootsie rolls.

I can't wait to see what the next four days of testing treats will be.  My students love the snack and the motivation signs are super cute.  I'm actually really excited about testing because I'm so proud of the hard work my grade level has done this year to prepare our students. 

 I only hope the standardized tests match what we taught in terms of standards.  We adopted the Common Core and have followed our state's roll-out plan meticulously, so we hope the test reflects the standards we were mandated to teach.  

(In all likelihood, this won't be the case.  I'm sure the test will be the old standards and our school will look poor in rankings because we did our job and taught them what they were supposed to learn...but alas, I'm not a policy maker and am not able to be in charge of everything...yet?)


I spend a lot of time online looking at teaching ideas on pinterest, products on TpT, and reading other teaching blogs.  I'll be the first to admit this.

However, I'm a little bit bothered when I see materials/activities geared toward multiple grades.  I understand the K-1, K-2, 2-3, 4-5, 3-5, etc bands.  Heck, the text exemplars in the Common Core are in grade level bands (which is why we always check with fourth grade about the texts they're using).

But I am bothered when materials are being promoted as K-8.  I certainly hope educators aren't using the same strategies and learning activities with kinders as they are with eighth graders.  So please, fellow educators, market your products to the appropriate grade(s).  I'm going to be very wary if your idea is self-proclaimed as appropriate for both five and fifteen year-olds.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chronological Order Sorts!

I'm pleased to announce some new chronological order sorts are available on TpT!  (I now have 120 posted products, all of which have been classroom tested with my own group of fifth graders.)

Since I just finished some new novels with my small groups, I decided to make them chronological order sorts as a quick check for their comprehension.  By placing the events from the novels back into chronological order, they are examining how these events and chapters build upon one another.  (CCSS RL 5.5).  

I have created new sorts for the following novels:

Rick Riordan's The Lost Hero
Rick Riordan's The Red Pyramid
Gennifer Choldenko's Al Capone Does My Shirts
Lemony Snicket's Who Could That Be At This Hour?
Pam Pollack and Meg Beviso's Who Was Steve Jobs?
Suzanne Collin's Mockingjay
Tom Angleberger's The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

These products are available here and great for small groups!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The End of Fifth Grade

The end of fifth grade is a special time.  For my students, it marks the end of their elementary school career.  The end of recess.  The end of being a "child" and the start of being a "teen" (or pre-teen).  It's a very emotional time, filled with field trips to middle schools, a moving up ceremony and a slide show of pictures throughout the year.  It's the start and end of something wonderful, so I want to make sure I end the year on the right emotional note.

Read Alouds:

It goes without saying that is must be read during the last week of school:

I love Dr. Seuss and the "Oh, the Places You'll Go" ties in quite well with fifth grader's emotions.

This goes along with First Day Jitters, which we read at the beginning of the year:

It'd be a nice read-aloud before our awards ceremony.


Money is tight as an educator and with three dozen students, I simply can't afford to purchase them individual gifts.  So instead, I opt for the heart-felt, home made gifts.

I have the students write their name on a piece of paper and pass it around to their classmates.  I then take their responses and create free wordles to pass out.

(To learn how to create wordles, visit this post.)  I usually laminate the wordles and have students sign the backs with sharpies as an alternative to a yearbook (since not all my students can afford a yearbook).


A practical, heart-felt gift that requires markers, cardstock and some creativity.


I love paint chip book marks and this would be a simple, meaningful gift:

 It's time to start crafting!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What a glorious problem to have...


Slowly but surely over the school year, my small reading groups have transformed from good readers to avid, insatiable readers.  They try to sneak books (usually sequels) off my bookshelf and read ahead of their group.  They try to check books out of the library early and will sneak in during their lunch time because they think I won't find out.  

They gasp at certain parts which is normally fine...expect when they're reading after their CRTs (standardized tests) and are supposed to be quiet.  

They've set their own reading goals, which tend to be far more ambitious than I would give.  They argue over which group meets with me first (I meet with two groups per period).  They diligently watch the timer to ensure that the other group does not get additional time.  I've made literature-hungry little monsters.

They will recommend a book to anyone, anywhere...whether or not they're asked.  

I couldn't be more proud.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Character Analysis Cards

Many of my students struggle with character analysis.  They can describe the physical traits of the characters, but often have difficulty providing thoughtful answers.  I can usually get surface level descriptions: he's a boy with brown hair who is kind.  But for fifth graders, that's not enough. 

So to assist them, I made character analysis cards:

I also included synonyms underneath to help my students both understand the character trait and expand their vocabulary.  In all, 88 different character traits are included in the bundle pack, available here.

I've used these cards with both whole group read alouds and with my small group novels.  They're very user-friendly and encourage students to use more descriptive, age-appropriate vocabulary words.

Before using the cards with any particular novel, I had my students sort the character traits into "good" and "bad".  We created an anchor chart from the list, which helps students with their assignments when the cards aren't readily available.

Snag your set today!  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Teacher's Guide to the Red Pyramid

After forty-one chapters of Sadie, Carter, Zia, and the Egyptian gods, I'm pleased to announce my newest teacher guide is available on TpT!

At forty-two pages, this teacher guide contains pre and post reading questions, homework suggestions, vocabulary words, comprehension questions (with suggested answers) and more!

Flash Sale

From now until tomorrow evening, I'm having a flash sale on my TpT site!

That's right, everything is ten percent off until tomorrow evening.  Stock up on novel guides and reading resources now!

Tech Tip: Video Streaming and Notetaking

With the Common Core standards, the integration of technology is crucial for students.  We have been reading informational text about monarch butterflies so I was thrilled when I found a video on Discovery Education about the topic.

I wanted my students to be accountable during the video so I had them set up a T-chart to take notes.  On one side, they wrote information directly from the video.  This included facts and information they saw or heard.  On the right side, they recorded their reactions to the information presented in the video.

I think they did a great job with our new strategy: 

Another tip I tried was showing the video twice.  The first time, they focused on the content.  The second time, they focused on the note taking portion and vocabulary words.  

They really liked the strategy and I can't wait to try it again!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Tech Tip: Silence is Golden

We finished our FOSS kit last week and due to testing, I had two days after the assessment with my final science group.

(We departmentalized the science kits, so I taught the FOSS landforms kit to each of the four 5th grade classes.)

We tried a new strategy with our video streaming.  We watched "Thar She Blows", a short video clip from Discovery Ed on the eruption of Mt. Saint Helen's.  

The first time we watched, I had the students just watch for content.  The second time, they wrote down the crucial vocabulary words they heard.  After the second viewing, we made a list on the board:

The third time we watched, I turned off the sound.  Yes, we watched the video without sound.  The purpose was to allow the students to "be the expert" and narrate the video, using the vocabulary words.  They did a pretty good job with being the volcano expert.

I'll definitely be using this silence is golden trick again!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


So I'm cleaning out/up my classroom because standardized testing is literally right around the's tomorrow morning.  

So instead of covering up the posters with more paper, I just took them down.  Instead of recycling them, I sent them home with students after CRT boot camp.

I came home to find a message on my teacher facebook from one of my students.  Attached was a picture of her bedroom wall where she'd proudly hung up those anchor charts.  Yes, that was the decor she wanted in her room.

These are my students.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Plenty of Polygons

With our standardized testing right around the corner, we've been doing test prep.  Many of our students are struggling with the geometrical hierarchy of polygons, so we created some sorts and matching activities for them.

They had such a great time figuring out which polygon was being described and I loved that some of my high kids still learned new vocabulary terms (like kite).  Most students are pretty good with matching the polygon to the definition, but when it comes to the classification of quadrilaterals...they get a little stumped.

But these centers really helped them understand not only the individual polygons, but how they interact with each other within the geometrical hierarchy.

I've bundled these centers and they are now available here on TpT!

(On a completely adorable side note, several of them went off on a tangent about how this hierarchy was like the Greek mythology family trees we made in small groups.  Two groups got into it about who would be at the top of the tree: Zeus?  Jupiter? The Titans? Kronos?  They were rather reluctantly wheeled back into the math conversation.  At least they're making connections!)

Wrinkled Hearts

While this lesson is a tad juvenile for my fifth graders, our amazing counselor did a very similar one with kindergarten:

We are a be kind school and we are continually emphasizing be kind rather than glorifying bullying.  Obviously we have a firm anti-bullying policy but we are trying to spotlight the positive behavior choices of students rather than continually talking about bullies.  Many of our students crave adult attention, so we'd rather they act correctly than act up to capture our focus.

(To learn more about the Be Kind program, please visit their website)

The challenge is to be extra kind to others on the fifth of every month.  Go forth and spread good karma :)

The Red Pyramid

One of my small groups decided to read The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan and they are absolutely loving it so far.  I'm enjoying the subtle nods to the Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series, which only add an additional layer of complexity.  I'd love for some of my small groups to read both Riordan's Greek and Egyptian gods books, then contrast the two parallel universes...but that was probably something I should have started in October if I wanted them to be successful.  Perhaps next year :)

I'm in the process of reading it as well and creating my teacher guide, which will hopefully be done by the end of the month.  Of course, it's being revised as we go since I'm developing it with my group of students, but it will be available on TpT once I'm done.

In the mean time, I found this great resource from Barnes & Noble, snag for free here!

Friday, April 4, 2014


For my final bulletin board of the year, I wanted to do something a little different.

So I decided we are making a bookopoly board.

Based off of the classic Monopoly game, I had students create game pieces about their novels.  On the front, they had to list their novel, author and one intriguing quote from the novel.  I was very impressed with some of the quotes they picked because they did a great job at capturing the essence of the book or inspiring reluctant readers to give the book a try.

(Hostile Hospital)

(The Strange Case of Origami Yoda)

(Tiger Rising)

Instead of "go to jail" which has a negative connotation, players are instead invited to go to the library to select a new book.

The chance cards encourage readers to take a chance with a new book while community chest tells them that reading is a wealth of knowledge.

Water works addresses that books sometimes make readers emotional and that's perfectly alright.  The electric company touches on the fact books challenge our preconceived notions.

They had lots of fun making their pieces!

Final picture:

Informational Texts

With the Common Core State Standards, there is an emphasis on informational text.  For elementary school, the split is 50/50 on informational text and literature.  As students move into middle and high school, the amount of instructional time increases in order to prepare students for the upcoming complex texts.

Reading literature and reading informational texts require different skills from readers.  Reading literature requires students to think about narrative elements, keep track of characters, make predictions, etc.  Informational texts tend to require students to keep track of complex ideas, analyze how events or persons are interrelated and understand how text structures lend themselves to 

In order to support this, we have been reading different articles on Monarch butterflies:

Students have been keeping track of ideas and text structures.  They're working collaboratively to read and analyze the text.

Here they are looking at different text features about Monarch Butterflies.

They did such a great job with this task!  They read a Time for Kids article and two other informational passages on the migration patterns of Monarch Butterflies.  We looked at cause and effect and my students did a great job with explaining how events in a passage go together.  Next week we'll watch a short video clip from Discovery on migration patterns, thus tying in that multimedia element.

I love when they're so excited about what they're learning :)

Somebody Wanted But So...

One of the strategies I've been trying with my small reading groups is "somebody wanted but so".  I create a chart with those categories and we collaboratively fill in the boxes.  It's a very guided approach to summarizing and my students are having a lot of fun with it.

Example: (the Lost Hero)

Piper (somebody) wanted to rescue her dad and stay loyal to her friends but she was worried how she could do both so she told Jason and Leo about her problem and they decided to help her.

I also found this on pinterest:

I like that it adds the "then" category for students to explain how the problem was solved.  This teacher suggests using post-its and I think that would be a great way to introduce the concept, but I wouldn't necessarily use it every time.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


I haven't been as consistent as I'd like with blogging lately.  I'm feeling worn out by work and am eagerly awaiting spring break.  While a majority of the educators across the nation have experienced this joyous ten days off, we are still a week and a half away.  Not that I'm counting, but there are 34 school days left and we still haven't had spring break.  I love my kiddos, but we need a little time away from each other.

I'm in the process of buying my first home which brings along its own set of emotions.  I'm also applying for coaching positions, so I will be moving out of my classroom.  Our school is going year round next year and that's simply not something I wish to do.  I love my administration and fellow teachers, it's just time for a change.  My school is 17 miles from my home and on a good day, I make it home in thirty minutes.  However, with the frequency of accidents...some days it's an hour commute home.  After five years, I'm packing up my first classroom and moving up in the district (theoretically...fingers crossed!).  For a few weeks, literally everything I own will be in a box.  That is a tad terrifying. 

I'm taking a class on Monday nights, which eats up more of my free time.  I'm learning a lot which makes it worth while.  Between class, prepping new novels for my small groups and looking at houses, there isn't much free time left over that isn't claimed by sleep.

There's also this not-so-small adorably fuzzy problem:

Crookshanks absolutely, positively loves to help.  She loves to sit on my lap and lick the screen as I blog.  She likes to lay on the papers I'm trying to grade.  She loves to bite the book I'm reading or attack the pen cap as I'm trying to write.  I'm just so lucky to have this zealous helper assisting my every move!

I'm blaming my delays on her helpfulness.

(Yes, I named my furball after Hermione's cat in Harry Potter because that's how I roll!)

Grading Fun

We had an assessment today on conjunctions and interjections.  I was pleased to see some awesome growth on their test but I was more pleased with their comments.

For my students who finish early, I have them write me a note on the back of their tests.  It could be about their clicks and clunks, it could be about the book they're reading, it could be about their spring break plans.  It's a simple way for them to communicate with me privately about their learning, share information and not disturb others who are still testing (a solid win-win).

While I was grading, I found these gems:

(Her task was to write a sentence with correlative conjunctions.  I'd say she nailed it!)

Yes, she wrote about shoes and shopping.  I think I'm proud?  Maybe I talk about my love of shoe shopping too often?

Second gem:

Yes, he gets it.  I understand that sometimes, you simply can't put a book down.  Our rule is not to spoil the reading for others.


Sometimes you can't pick a book to talk you pick two.


I love that they love reading.  I love that their little notes to me are a glimpse for me to see what's going on inside their brains.  I love that reading is occupying most of their thoughts!