Monday, October 13, 2014

Lovin' Language ... standards

By the fourth grade, my students have a lot they are expected to master. The language standards are no different. The list is lengthy, and can be overwhelming. It seems, that every curriculum's way to teach these standards is giving students worksheet after worksheet! If there is one thing that my kids don't need, is more worksheets.
So, I've been trying to come up with some creative ways to let them have fun while still learning. Here's what I've come up with so far:

Synonyms and Antonyms

We've begun our journey into context clues, and one of the big clues authors give us is synonyms and antonyms. The trouble is, students need to know the many meaning of common words so they can easily connect words they know to new, unfamiliar words. I've been trying to create challenging and hands-on activities for my students so they can have fun while exploring "fancy" words.
The first activity we did was "Synonym Snail Races" (click on the picture to find the file on TpT)

My class had so much fun trying to outdo each other with the most creative synonyms. For the first "round", teams were only allowed to use their own brains to come up with synonyms. In order for their snails to count, the word had to be a good synonym, spelled correctly, and colored neatly. They really had to work together to make sure everyone had work to do. (This was a real eye-opener to see which students were good team players and which need some more guidance). 
For the second round, students were allowed to pick one classroom resource to use for their group. Once they picked their resource they were stuck with it, so they needed to pick wisely. There choices were: dictionary, thesaurus, synonym/antonym dictionary, and Banish Boring Words. That second day the race was on! I let my students work for 20 minutes the first day and 25 the second. By the second day, we had a winner. They had so much fun! 

From there, we did a shades of meaning activity. We talked about the fact that synonyms, even though they have similar meanings, can still be different. Some have stronger meanings than others. Thankfully, a friend of mine snagged me a stack of paint chips and I was all set! We took our snails as an example and laid them out in order from weakest synonym to strongest. Once they had done this collaboratively, they all picked another bland/boring word to try on their own. Each student grabbed some post-its and a thesaurus, and got to work. They found synonyms for their word and wrote each on a post-it. Then, they ordered them right on their desks. This way, I was able to check and help them revise their thinking (if needed), before creating a finished product. Here is what they look like:

Then I decided it was time for a "craftivity". They seemed to be getting the idea that we have classroom resources to help them find more interesting versions of common words they know. Now, I wanted them to think about other basic words, and find more interesting versions in order to build their repertoire of vocabulary words. So, we created Synonym Spiders and Antonym Ants

Cute and just a little creepy right? Perfect for this time of year! 
So I decided I needed to make it a full product for TpT. Here are few preview of the pages from the product: 

 It includes instructions for the craft, synonym and antonyms posters, template for the craft it you don't want the kids cutting by hand from construction paper, and a sort activity (cut and paste).

So, we are having a lot of fun, but doing some great learning at the same time! 

How are you having fun in your classroom while still learning?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Back in the Swing of Things --PLUS, Twitter as a Teacher's Tool?

This year I'm making myself a promise. I'm promising to make more time for myself, and more time to blog about the things I love, namely- Teaching. Last year my blog took a back seat to life changing, a challenging class, school-wide initiative .. etc, etc, etc. But, I guess there are always things that can get in the way of doing things on your to-do list. This year, however, I want to get back to basics. Teaching and blogging .... loving my job, learning from others, and sharing my classroom fun. Period.

Twitter in the Classroom?

This year I'm trying something new. A goal our school community has this year is staying in better contact with parents. Many parents work full time and may not know what we do in our classroom from day-to-day. Not to mention, kids like to go home and say they did "nothing" all day. NOT TRUE!! We do A LOT! I'm sure you do too. Enter Twitter ....
At an inservice at the beginning of the school year we were lucky enough to have Alan November speak to our entire faculty. He mentioned some really great ways to include technology into the classroom. My takeaway from that day was using Twitter as a communication tool. I went home, set up an account, and started Tweeting away.

Some questions I had:
1. How will i get parents involved in our classroom tweeting?
2. What are some potential questions parents may have (or concerns)?
3. How will my students be involved in a way that is safe and appropriate?

1 and 2. I collaborated with other teachers in my building who were also interested in starting this new journey. One of them created a letter to parents explaining how we would be using Twitter in our classroom, laying out the ground rules, and asking for permission to include their child in the process. This was the most important step for us. I want the parents in my classroom as partners and to be on board with our routines. Here is the letter she drafted:

I only have two students whose parents have not given permission, so I think that's pretty good. I'm still trying to get parents on board to follow us. So far I think 1/3 of the parents are followers. It's so fun and easy to tweet out info about our class! Here is a post from this week:

So is tweeting worth it? Here is an article from NEA.

Want to incorporate learning into the Twitter process? Here are some products I found that can have your kids "tweeting" about their learning! 
Are you using it? How? Has it been successful? I want to hear from you! 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Hello Summer ... Hello teacher perks

The air seems calmer in July. Maybe that's because I know there is absolutely nothing to think about in the school world. No kids, no grading, no inservice ... nada. Just the sweet, sweet sounds of summer.
So why am I still thinking about school?! I'm sure I'm not the only one guilty of this. I'm already thinking about next school year. How will I arrange my classroom? What changes need to be made to lessons? Will the year go smoothly? On and on and on and on! I just can't help myself. However, while some of the stressing is a little premature and ridiculous, sometimes thinking about school can be profitable.

Did you know the container store is doing a giveaway just for teachers?! They are doing a sweepstakes to win a $1000 classroom makeover to help you be the most organized teacher in your school. How cool is that? Just go to the link below and fill in the required fields to enter! 

The Container Store also has a teacher discount program. If you haven't already, you can sign up here:

What are your favorite teacher discount programs? I've gotten into the habit of asking at stores now just because I know there are so many companies that offer something for teachers, and I just don't know them all. Please share below! 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

AAAAH, I forgot TpT was having their big sale. Can you tell I'm feeling overwhelmed!?

I just went onto my store and changed all my products so they are now on sale! Sorry if you went on earlier! Here's the link 

You still have 11 hours left to save. My shopping cart is full! What are you purchasing? 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Creating a Model of the Solar System

Something I NEVER thought about: EVERY model of the solar system in books and concrete are not really to scale. It's really hard to explain to kids how far apart from each other some of the planets really are when they are inches apart on a page.

Then, another teacher at my school offered to do an awesome activity with my class. She found it here: 

Here's what you need to represent each planet:

The Sun = A bowling ball
Mercury = A pin head
Venus = A peppercorn
Earth = A peppercorn
Mars = A pinhead
Jupiter = A chestnut or pecan
Saturn = A hazelnut or acorn
Uranus = A peanut or coffeebean
Neptune = A peanut or coffeebean

Most can be found at the grocery store or already in your kitchen. The hard part is creating the model. You need A LOT of space! We went into the fields behind our school on Monday because the weather was finally awesome. To get to each planet, you need to "pace" out your steps. For example, once we placed the bowling ball as the sun, we had to take 10 paces to get to Mercury. Here is a list of the distance between planets. 

Mercury = 10 yards (or paces)
Venus = 9 more paces
Earth = 7 more paces
Mars = 14 more paces
Jupiter = 95 more paces
Saturn = 112 more paces
Uranus = 249 more paces
Neptune = 242 final paces

After we counted out the distance, we place a card with the "planet" on the grass. 
(It was windy so we had to hold down our cards with sticks!)

 If you teach the solar system, I HIGHLY recommend this activity!

Monday, March 10, 2014

March Madness: A Reading Challenge

If your students are anything like mine, they are in a bit of a reading slump. It's not that they aren't enjoying reading, it's just practicing for our state test has gotten them .... well ... bored to tears. If it was up to me, test prep would not be on the table. Alas, it's not up to me and I'm following the rules. BUT ... and I mean BUT, I still like to bend things, just a bit. Seriously, who wants to have students sit for 30 minutes a day doing mind numbing multiple choice?


Enter March Madness and Math Madness .... (mini drum roll)

What exactly is March Madness? It is certainly NOT a basketball bracket! It IS a reading challenge. We have 6 classes of 4th grade on our team. Each class was challenged to READ! And read ... read ... read! Each class has a month to read as many books as possible (If you want a copy of the poster, just click on the picture to download it).
In order to get credit for books. Students must read books:
-In the month of March
-on their reading level

Then they take an Accelerated Reader quiz (a program our school pays for). You could also have them writing summaries to show what they've read or have parents sign a log. Either way, whichever class reads the most books in the month is the big winner.

I put a display in the hallway so students can track their progress as well as the progress of other classes. Once I approve their book, they write their name and book title on a Shamrock to hang in the hallway. We are losing .. big time! But, that's ok. Today I tried to get them all riled up to read. Will it work? Who knows?

We are also doing some ELA testing practice. I found some practice questions from old released items and books I've collected. Students are working in partners to answer questions and find text evidence to support their thinking. We have also been talking a lot about text taking strategies and ways tests "trick" us into picking answers that aren't correct. It's not the most exciting way to do it (and I'm open to anyone's suggestions!). BUT, one way I motivate them is to do some brain break activities at the end of our activity.  Have you ever heard of GoNoodle? Check it out! Its FREE and my kids love it. 
Their favorite are the Zumba videos. Though, today we did The Cupid Shuffle :)

Then, we have Math Madness...

It's basically math practice with a fun twist. We have to practice math questions like the ones that will be on our state assessment in two weeks. So ... I changed it up a little. I could not stand the idea of my kiddos sitting and doing packet after packet of problems. Instead, I split them into "teams". Each team has three students. The teams pick a question card from my pack (they are old released items from previous tests).

Questions all have different point values. They range from 1-4 points depending on difficulty and number of steps required to solve the problems. Each person on the team has to solve the problem on their own scratch paper and explain their answer. If each person does this AND gets it right, they earn the points to record on their points sheet.

That isn't the madness part of it. The madness is that once they do that, they may each shoot a basket to earn extra points for their team. You'll notice that the recording sheet is numbered. So are the questions. They record their points for a correct answer and any baskets made in the box that correlates to the question they just answered.

They are so excited to work together to get the correct answers. I split the groups up so they are all mixed ability. My math students who struggle are getting the benefit of hearing other students explain strategies. My high fliers are getting the benefits of being made to explain and verbalize their processes.

And, if that wasn't exciting enough ... I also give them GUM!

Here is my box of gum and questions. I do think they are enjoying it AND getting a lot of good review from the activities.

2 minus two weeks until we can go back to normal education. Where standardized testing doesn't rule the world ....

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Olympics are HERE!!

They only happen once every four years, so it's pretty exciting. For my fourth graders, it's really a big deal since they don't remember much about the last winter Olympics.

And sometimes, just sometimes, curriculum and current events line up just so nicely.

We just finished reading and exploring Greek Myths, and we are ready for a nonfiction unit.  I have to tell you, my kids loved that unit, so it is a really hard one to follow up. They were so interested and engaged ... and I didn't even have to stand on my head. (To supplement my unit I used my Greek Mythology Set on TpT).

Enter the Olympics ... originally created in .... ANCIENT GREECE!! Perfect.

On Friday we worked on crossing over from fiction to nonfiction. The great part about the transition was that we could talk about the Greek gods in reference to the Olympics. Did you know the Ancient Olympics we held in Olympia and honored the Greek God Zeus?
To get the kids excited about our new unit, we decided as a 4th grade team to have a little fun. Each classroom picked an event as their theme. My class picked hockey. Then, each classroom had to decorate their door with their theme. I let my kids take the reigns, and this is what they came up with: 

They aren't quite finished, but I think they are doing a great job. They also did an amazing job researching the rules of hockey. Each student picked a fact about the game and wrote it on a hockey puck. Obviously they aren't all finished! 
I usually also do another display on the wall outside my door featuring student work. So,  I decided to keep with the hockey theme. We were hitting idioms hard, and I wanted to have them show what they learned. So, I looked up some idioms commonly used in referencing hockey, and used them in a lesson. My students picked their favorite idioms we've learned and wrote the idiom and meaning on another hockey puck. We are a little puck crazy right now ...
I also put a description of the game of hockey outside the door with a lovely graphic by the extremely talented Nikki at MelonHeadz

I decided to make an event card for each of my teammates as well, and then printed them to our plotter. After I got that far, I decided I may as well make my document TpT worthy ... so I created 12 event cards as well as a graphing activity where students can pick and justify their favorite Winter Olympic event (click HERE to check it out). Here is our class bar graph: 
This is the exit slip they filled out. I tried to back them with construction paper to mimic the look of the Olympic rings.

Today we actually started digging into our nonfiction reading. Reading A-Z has some great nonfiction texts on the Olympics. I found a 4th grade level text titled The Olympics: Past and Present. We started reading it today, focusing on the structure of the book initially to gear us to better understand the text. This week we are really going to focus on RI 4.3: I can explained what happened and why in a historical, technical, or scientific text.
I usually like to put the graphic organizers I plan to use in my lesson plans. That way I can pick out the responses I want the students to give beforehand in order to guide their thinking. Otherwise I completely forget what I've picked out of the text. Does this happen to anyone else? 

The best part of today? Hearing cheers when I told my students the texts we would be reading ... SUCCESS!!! :)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Cinderella and the Common Core - with a RL 4.9 Freebie

Ok, every once in a while the Common Core makes me so happy. Take RL 4.9 for example. 4th graders are expected to compare and contrast traditional literature from different cultures.

I'm not crazy. I know the standards can be overwhelming at times, BUT ... The reason I really like the standard is because I love Cinderella. And, that's as traditional of a story as you can get. Right?

I know I already posted about the Cinderella CCSS set I made for TpT, click here to check it out,  but this week I got brave and took some pictures of my anchor charts...EEK! They aren't pretty, but whose are? Ok, some of you probably have beautiful anchor charts ... not me.

To begin our lesson we read a very traditional version of Cinderella written by Charles Perrault.
As a class we filled out a story-map like graphic organizer (the students created their own and did it with me in their response journals). The was the "I Do" part of our lesson. We talked about characters, plot (to review summarizing), and theme. This really hits on RL 4.2.

We then read one of the oldest recorded version of Cinderella, Yeh-Shen as retold by Ai-Ling Louie.
As a "We Do" activity, we again fill out our story map. This time I had the kids help me fill out the graphic organizer. They again created their own in their response journals. This again helped us review RL 4.2, which is an important building block for RL 4.9. In RL 4.9, students are expected to compare and contrast themes, plots, and patterns of events. So, they need a firm grasp on summarizing and theme before this can occur.

Here is the anchor chart I created. Again, I know it's not completely pretty, but it's what it is since I try to write quickly for the lesson. 

The next step was for us to look at the stories side-by-side. I find that this works the best by using another graphic organizer. My big thing is teaching my students how to create their own organizers. Handing them out to just fill in doesn't give them ownership on the process. When they draw them themselves, it's my hope drawing them becomes muscle memory. Here's the organizer we created to compare and contrast the two stories (using a mix of "I Do" and "We Do"):
My students did a really great job picking out details from the text. The key is to show them that they have to mention BOTH stories. Students tend to want to say things like, "They are different because Yeh-Shen had a fish for a fairy godmother". Instead, I want to visually show them they need to say, "The stories are different because Cinderella had a fairy godmother who granted her wishes, while Yeh-Shen had a pile of fish bones she used to ask wishes".

We used this graphic organizer to write an open-ended compare and contrast paragraph, similar to what they may need to do on a standardized test. It was definitely a LONG process and took MANY mini-lessons. However, I do think my students are really getting a handle on the skills. 

As an extension for the lesson I also split the kids into group by their reading level. I passed out other versions of Cinderella for them to read together. As a group they filled out another story map and did a compare/contrast chart using their story and the traditional version of Cinderella. Here are a list of other Cinderella stories and their levels:
 (Levels are approximated using the F&P conversion chart and Scholastic Book Wizard)
  • Cindy Ellen: A Wild West Cinderella by Susan Lowell - LEVEL M
  • Cinderella by Charles Perrault - LEVEL O
  • The Egyptian Cinderella by Shirley Climo - LEVEL O
  • The Korean Cinderella by Shirley Climo - LEVEL Q/R
  • Yeh-Shen by Ali-Ling Louie - LEVEL R
  • Smoky Mountain Rose by Alan Schroeder - LEVEL S
  • The Rough Faced Girl by Rafe Martin - LEVEL S
  • The Golden Sandal by Rebecca Hickox - LEVEL T
After reading together and creating their graphic organizers, students used the model of the open-ended response to write another compare/contrast. I then collected them to use as an exit slip and gauge student progress toward understanding the standard.

And just because I love all of you who read my blog, I created some anchor charts you could print out to display/fill in with your students. We have a poster maker at my school, which makes printing out large anchor charts so easy.

Here are the images of the file: (Click the images to directly download the PDF)

Some other things you may find helpful if you too are teaching this standard: 

Compare and contrast terms - click here for a free list of compare and contrast words to display for your students. This really helps them create their responses!

Visuals to help your students engage in your unit. The picture below shows one of my bulletin boards for our unit.These visuals are from my Cinderella unit and were printed using our school's plotter.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Math Centers - and a little freebie

I don't know about you, but I'm always looking for things to put in my math centers. My kiddos tend to finish their work at varying speeds. Also, sometimes I have students who need more help and guidance than others. This leaves me with some students who are bored, and others who need more direct instruction.What's a teacher to do?
I decided to make some games for my students to do. And when you're creating, why not make it TpT worthy? At least that's my motto. So, I put together a set of 19 games to help review and practice intermediate math skills.
Games Set Preview

If you click on the first picture you will not only see a preview of the set, but also one of the game included for FREE!!

Like what you see? Here's the link to my TpT store: CLICK ME!!