Friday, February 27, 2015

Kate DiCamillo

So far this year, my class has read three of Kate DiCamillo's books. I bought a box set of her books at the beginning of the year from Scholastic because I was interested in building my library. I knew I wanted several books by the same author so that kids could fall in love with a style of writing. Right now, I have DiCamillo, Dahl, Clements, Blume, Cleary, Polacco, and Bunting bins.

Anyway, we started off the year with Because of Winn Dixie as our first literature circle book. All of the groups did the same book so that we could learn our routine. My students loved it and couldn't wait to blog about it and discuss it every week. I'm about to send permission slips home so that we can watch the movie. My kids deserve it, being that we've pretty much had inside recess every day for the past two months. 

(cover pictures from
After that, we began The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane as a read aloud. I can't say enough about this book. My kids were hanging on to every word and would beg to hear more. They were so sad when we finished it! I like this as a read aloud; I probably wouldn't use it as a literature circle book. Not saying it is bad for that purpose, but I feel like the kids enjoy it more as listeners, without assignments attached.

Today, we finished "The Tiger Rising." Meh. Most of kids were so into it, but I wasn't! Some of them even said it was their favorite of the three. Whhhaaaat?! But, that's why they pay me the big bucks, to act enthusiastic. Don't get me wrong, the writing was beautiful. I just wasn't 100% invested in the characters or plot.

So I'm trying to decide if we should read another of Ms. DiCamillo's books or try another author. Many of my students had Tale of Despereaux read aloud to them last year by their second grade teacher, so I don't want to do that one.

Has anyone read "The Magician's Elephant" or "Flora and Ulysses?" Are either similar to any of her other books?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Discussion Groups in the Classroom (& a freebie!)

I love it when my students are engaged in high quality discussions about the text we are working with. At this point in the school year, our discussions are on topic and flowing smoothly. What a beautiful thing! Music to a teacher's ears!

We all have different ways of structuring class discussions. I've come up with a structure that works really well in my classroom. It can be difficult to harness the thoughts and words of a eight/nine year old, but I've found that this does the job for me.

I've found that the best discussions happen when everyone has a job to do. When a discussion is a free-for-all, you all know what happens. The same 1-2 kids take monopoly of the entire conversation, while the wallflower types just listen. Listening is a great skill to have, but I feel that every student should voice their opinion, even if it is just to agree or disagree with what another student said. And all of that is assuming that the conversation is even on topic. I don't know about you, but I feel like the speaking/listening standards are way too important (and underutilized) for these scenarios to become the norm.

I've always arranged my room using tables. I do a lot of group work, investigations, and discussions, and it just wouldn't work if I used rows and columns. This year, I have 25 students, so I have desks arranged in six groups. One group with five students and the rest with four. This year, I used The Brown Bag Teacher's editable desk tags.

Do not pin this image. Visit TPT to view/pin the product.

This allows me to categorize my students in several different ways. When lining up, I can call tables by color. I could also call all "A" or "B" students or "1s" or "2s". When summarizing a lessons, I often have As discuss with the other A at their table, and Bs doing the same. If I change student seats, I just reassign the tags accordingly. They are not taped down. You can assign students strategically so that you control groups and partners. The product is very versatile. Couldn't recommend enough!

So, how do I use all of this to conduct discussion groups in my classroom? 

Students know that their number signifies their discussion group. I have all ones go to a spot in the room, twos go to other spot, and so on. One group gets the carpet, another at my small group table, another on the floor at the front of the room, and another at a table. The groups are spaced far enough apart so that they can focus on their discussion. Each student needs to bring their text (the book, article, or passage we are working with). If their group is on the floor or carpet, they may grab a clipboard.

Once in their group, I give each student a card which is their discussion role assignment. There are four roles, and they are all modeling and practiced so that expectations are clear. The roles are Discussion Leader, Speaker, Notetaker, and Team Member. Each group has one discussion leader, one speaker, one notetaker, and 3 team members. These posters are hung as a reminder of discussion expectations.



Our favorite texts to discuss are articles from Storyworks (by Scholastic). The subscription comes with critical thinking questions, and sometimes, questions are imbedded right into the text. Instead of writing responses, we discuss them. But, this can used with any text, as long as your discussion topics/questions involve higher order thinking. They obviously shouldn't be yes/no questions!

As students are discussing the text, I simply walk around and listen. If you wanted to be more formal, you could develop a checklist to track student responses and participation or use a form and take anecdotal notes. To keep time, I use a countdown timer on the smart board, and I give 2-3 minutes per question.


Are you interested in trying out this method of running discussion groups? Download the freebie by clicking the picture below. It includes discussion cards and expectation posters. Please leave feedback! =)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Teacher In Search Of Clip Art!

Popping in real quick for a request for some help!

I am working on a product that centers around Greek and Latin roots.

It is a vocabulary center that students visit once a week in my classroom during reading center rotations. Each week, students learn a new root and 5-6 corresponding words. Students complete a vocabulary model where they write the definition, a sentence, and an illustration for each word. Then, they complete a "skill check" where they use the words in context.

My students LOVE this center. It makes them feel so successful when they find a word in their reading and are able to figure out its meaning based on a root (or "chunk" as we sometimes call it!). They feel like big kids! Anddddd, it makes their dear teacher happy when I walk around while they are taking their STAR test and see them apply their learning!

I am really excited to share this product because it it working so well in my classroom. Right now, I'm making the product as I go, adding a new root each week. Over spring break, I'd like to finish it and make it available on TPT.

Anyway, the real reason for this post is that I am in search of a clip art set that would include the images I would need to jazz up the product a little bit. I'm looking for a set that has simple images for the most popular Greek/Latin roots. For example, a gavel for "leg," a camera for "photo," and a water droplet for "aqua." Get the gist?

Maybe you know of a set that would fit the bill? Or you know of a clip art artist who takes requests? Please comment! If your suggestion leads to me finding what I need, I will send you a free copy of the product when it is finished!

Thanks in advance!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

14 in 14!

I'm linking up with some of my blogging inspirations to reflect upon 2014. Thank you Hadar, Kristin, & Traci for hosting, and thanks to Traci for supplying the super cute headings for the countdown in a super easy download! Visit her post to download them for yourself and link up. =)
 Working on this!

I read an awesome blog called Brittany, Herself -- which is a love-your-body-the-way-it-is type of blog. It is my favorite non-teaching blog... she's hilarious! Anyway, she posted about this flannel from Old Navy, and I had to have it! We have similar body types and fashion taste, so I trust her. I ordered it in XXL Buffalo Plaid (which is no longer available online, sorry!). It is oversized and comfy, just like I wanted! I also shopped in store and bought a black/white plaid in XL. Annnd, I bought my sister one for Christmas. #clearlyobsessed.

This is a hard one! I love movies! I've watched quite a few that are based on books I've read this year (If I Stay, Gone Girl, Mockingjay, Divergent, Giver, etc.), and they were great. Well, I didn't really like The Giver. But anyway, for my favorite movie, I'll go outside of that realm!

I'm not big on comic book movies, but my boyfriend wanted to see this, so I took this opportunity to see something that HE wanted so that I would be able to drag him to something I wanted to see later. That's normal, right? Well, it turns out that I loved it! Mostly the 80s references and Chris Pratt. And the raccoon.

This year, I binge-watched The Walking Dead on Netflix so that I was ready to watch with the rest of the world at the beginning of this season! I was so hesitant to start watching it. I didn't think I'd be into the whole zombie thing, but if you're a viewer, you know the show isn't all about that. So now, I'm obsessed and patiently waiting for February for new episodes!

Honestly, don't really have one. There aren't many choices around here, and I haven't ventured out and about much this year!

Kidblog! My students logged on every Friday to blog about their reading of 2-3 chapters of Because of Winn Dixie. I used this product by Where The Wild Things Learn to give students different jobs to blog about each week. Because we only have access to the mobile lab once a week, it didn't exactly work like I wanted it to, so I'll definitely be tweaking our routine when we return from break. But most of my kids were so motivated to blog, and it practiced their keyboarding skills, as well!

The happiness and healthiness of those who mean the most to be, both of the human and animal variety. I know that sounds cheesy, but we had an incident over the holiday that reminded me of this.

I traveled home for the holidays, and on Christmas Day, my sister and I noticed that one of our 9 year old cats (we rescued a set of brothers when they were babies) was breathing irregularly. We brought him in to the emergency vet, which is thankfully only about 15 minutes from my dad's house. It turns out that his chest was full of fluid. He stayed overnight and was treated, but he was diagnosed with possible heart failure. We were able to bring him home yesterday with some medicine that will help the fluid not come back and to help his sweet heart. Here he is a few Christmases ago.

My gift is that I am able to spend more time with him. I live over an hour from him, but I make it back there about once a month. I'll cherish each snuggle! We are so hopeful that this medication works and his quality of life remains high for as long as possible. We love him oh so much. <3

I've always wanted to make apps with little cups like these, but I always thought you had to make them yourself. They are a game changer!

Well, I fell off the blogging wagon in the beginning quarter of the year, and I only averaged about one post a month since then. That makes it pretty tough to pick a favorite post of my own! I guess I would choose my two recent posts about my brag tag display and my estimating sums and differences resource. These posts are what I truly love about blogging, sharing ideas that others can use!

I have two! Earlier this year, I was named Teacher of the Year in my building. I'd only been teaching for five years at that point, so it was really nice recognition. I also graduated with my Masters degree in School Counseling. Two years of hard work were all worth it when I walked across that stage!

My nephew at a local fall hot spot. LOL.

It happened on May 21st, 2014. I became an Auntie. I'll never forget that night. I drove from Dover, DE to Chester, PA to the hospital at around midnight on a Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. (Thank goodness I was team-teaching, so I didn't have to worry about detailed sub plans. I just emailed my partner from the hospital.) I got there around 1:30 and waited around until around 4 am when we got word that the baby was coming. At around 4:30, Kiyan William was here. After he was born, we went in to see him. We went home to get a few hours of sleep, then came back and spent the day with the new little family in the hospital. I'll never forget it!

(This year has been full of memories! One of my best friend's had her first child. My second best friend announced she was having her first child, & we hosted her baby shower (she's due Jan. 11). And my third best friend is getting married on the very last day of 2014, New Year's Eve!)

To accept whatever comes my way in my professional life. I am hoping that I will find a school counseling position. I put a lot of work into my degree, and I am so ready for a new challenge professionally! However, if I don't I hope to continue honing my skills as a third grade teacher through practice and professional development. My goal is to accept whatever happens and work hard to be the best educator I can be. 


This kind of goes along with my goal. If I don't end up as a school counselor in the '15-'16 SY, I will accept that and patiently await positions to open the following year. I also want to practice patience in my personal life. When you are a 28 year-old in a long-term relationship, every other question is, "When are you getting married?" or "Where's the ring?" I want to work hard to not let that affect me. When it is meant to happen, it'll happen. =)

I look forward to reading everyone else's reflections. I wish all of my readers (over 500 now, wow!) a happy and healthy start to the new year!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Holiday Traditions in the Classroom

Growing up, my family never really developed any holiday traditions. My parents are divorced, so every year was spent at a different place, visiting different family members, trying to squeeze in time with everyone. Not a lot of time for yearly traditions!

I think that's why I was eager to start my own traditions in my classroom during the holidays. This is my fifth year as a homeroom teacher (sixth year overall), and each year I do a few holiday activities. I've had students design the North Pole, study Wilson Bentley, etc. Those change from year to year. (What doesn't change is that I stink at taking pictures of all of this!)

But, there are two things that I have done every year since 2010 that I'd like to share!

Tradition #1: Puzzle Piece Ornaments

Fun fact: I made this ornament in 2nd grade, which is why I chose it to make with my students. I swipe it from my dad's tree to show to my students every year. Of course, I left it in my desk, but I'll add the photo to this post when I return to school! Mine is still intact, except all but one of the sequins have fallen off! My sister also made it because she had the same 2nd grade teacher a few years after I did. =)

By looking at the ornament, it is pretty self-explanatory as to how to make it, but here are the steps I take, and it works for me. I make it over three days, for about a half hour each day.

Materials Needed: cheap gift boxes (for the base of the ornament), cheap puzzle with small pieces, bottled glue, sequins, yarn/ribbon, spray paint (I used green or gold), glitter spray

Prior to crafting, I cut out all of the trees from gift boxes. You could have your kids do the cutting, but I don't know about your kids, but mine always lack the skill of cutting in straight lines in an efficient manner. I also hole punch the top of each tree for the ribbon.

Day 1: Students use bottled glue (not stick glue!) to glue puzzle pieces to the backing. I instruct them to glue the ornaments "puzzle picture side down." That way, the spray paint will go over the pieces evenly, and I don't have to worry about the puzzle picture peeking through. They are instructed to cover the ornament with one layer of puzzle pieces, then they may overlap if they'd like. After school on Day 1, I spray paint each tree gold or green. I let the students tell me which color they'd like beforehand. I let the trees dry overnight.

Day 2: Students use bottled glue to decorate their ornament with sequins. You could use any decor you'd like. Pipe cleaner tinsel might be cute. =) I make sure to tell students to leave a space in the middle of the tree for their picture. When students are finished, I give each tree a few sprays of craft glitter if the students want it. I let them dry overnight.

Day 3: I put each student's school picture in the middle of the tree and tie ribbon for the ornament. I give each student a white paper bag to decorate like wrapping paper. They put their ornament inside, and I staple it shut with a bag topper. Here is a finished product:

Adorable, right?! If you don't like the Christmas tree, you could do this same technique with any shape you want. I think it would look cute with whatever! I just love the "old school" look of these. Nothing flashy, just a good old fashioned keepsake. =)

Tradition #2: Miniature Stockings

I work in a low income area, and I really don't know how many students have a stocking to call their own at home. So, I make them a personalized one at school! On Monday, they see their stocking hanging, and each day after than until break I put a little treat in there. I add things like crazy straws, candy canes, pencils, stickers, homework passes, etc.

I purchase the stockings at the Dollar Tree. The sassy sequin stockings pictured are from 2012. This year, I did a mixture of snowmen, gingerbread men, and Santa. They also have traditional white/red stockings. To make sure I get the ones that I want, I start stalking the local Dollar Trees right after Thanksgiving. =)

I have two windows in my classroom, so I put up two curtain rods. I use pipe cleaners to attach the stockings to the rod, making for easy put up and take down. The kids are always so excited to take these home!

I'm linking this post up with Ashley at Just Reed for her Christmas Crafting linky!


Now that I've graduated with my Masters in School Counseling and am actively looking for a position in that field, every Christmas may be my last one with a homeroom. That makes me so sad! Any else recently leave the classroom and had to deal with this?!

Do you have any holiday traditions that you try to do in your classroom. Tell me in the comments! I hope everyone has a safe and joyful holiday!