Sunday, April 26, 2015

A "Thank You" Freebie

I logged in to Blogger to see this today:

Whether you are a follower who reads every post or a visitor who found me via Pinterest, I thank you for stopping by. This statistic may seem small to some of the more popular bloggers, but to me, it means the world.

As a thank you, I'd like to share a freebie. As we all know, a big part of close reading is annotating text. In my class, I call it "leaving tracks."

When first introducing annotation, I ask my students to close their eyes and imagine themselves in a snowy forest. I ask them to imagine a deer passing in front of them. The deer quietly walks off in to the distance. We talk about what the deer leaves behind. The answer is tracks. Just like an animal leaves tracks as proof of where it has been, good readers leave tracks in order to prove they/ve read a text closely and understand (or do not understand) it.

At the beginning of the year, I print and laminate these bookmarks. They look bright and beautiful when printed in color, but they also look nice when printed in black/white on bright paper.

I give my students many different tracks that they can use, and I encourage them to create their own if they'd like. These are just a few of the "tracks" I encourage my students to leave, sort of a jumping off point. Others include LOL for something funny, a heart for something they love, a happy or sad face for something they liked or did not like, etc. (If you can't tell, my symbol for a connection is the infinity symbol.)

Click the image below if you'd like to download the freebie in Google Docs. Please comment if it is something you'll use in your classroom. =)

close reading annotation bookmark

Thank you again to my followers and visitors!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Updated Research Writing Freebie

Almost three years ago (YIKES, I've been blogging a long time!), I posted about my research writing endeavors. Writing can be tricky to teach, but I've always looked forward to showing my students research techniques!

That post is one of my most popular posts! Back then, when I had no idea what I was doing, I posted a freebie used Scribd. Whaaaat? So at the request of a commenter, I updated the post so that you can download the freebie in Google Docs. I gave it a facelift, as well. =)




I'm actually about to begin this project in my classroom this year. My kids have learned to research using both print and digital sources, and we are finishing up our career research projects. The animal research project (and craft!) is one they will do with less guidance.

Visit the old post HERE to read more about the project details and download the freebie. =)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Let's Talk About: Schedules

Hey everyone! Like many of you, I am currently on Spring Break! Luckily, we didn't lose any days due to snow, so I'm off 4/3 through 4/12. It has been great so far. Definitely the recharge I need! While I have time, I thought I'd link up with Schroeder Shenanigans to talk about my daily schedule. It has been really interesting to see how others put together their day and how much time is allocated for certain things.

I don't have much say in my schedule. My day is structured by our administration, and we must stick to it. A lot of that is because we have scheduled RTI times (for both reading and math) where we have paraprofessionals and our special teachers (art, music, etc.) take groups. They are usually given the on/above level groups, and we are expected to prepare materials and lessons for them to present. I'm very thankful that we have push in help. It helps in differentiation and in meeting time requirements for RTI.

I was also taken back by how many of you do not have a planning period daily. On weeks we have PLC (which is most weeks), we have planning four of the five days. But even on that one day, I still have recess free. I already stay at work for an extra hour and half every day. If I didn't have planning, I would need to live there. I feel for you guys.

Anyway, here's my schedule with some elaboration afterward.

Our doors open at 8 am. Students may either come right down to the classroom or visit the cafeteria for free breakfast. During this time, some third grade students are hallway monitors and kindergarten volunteers. Morning work is completed as well. I have my students complete spelling activities (in leu of spelling homework). Students are marked late if they have not arrived by 8:25. Morning routine is finished up with announcements that are video streamed live.

Next is our main reading block. This time is spent working on our current skill in a variety of different ways. We do not have a reading series, so this looks different on any given day. Sometimes we are working in our INBs or using Storyworks for high interest text. It might be whole group instruction or working in partners. Just depends. Each day, I try to allocate at least 10 minutes for students to drop everything and read (DEAR) with a book on their level. Sometimes they get more or less. Again, it just depends. =)

For both Math and Reading RTI, I have a two session rotation. I posted about my math rotations HERE, although that was a couple years ago so it has changed a little. Now, I do rotations all five days and changed some things, but that post can paint a general picture. My two reading rotations are back to back, but my math rotations are split by lunch.

Brain Break=Go Noodle=My kids are obsessed. My school has a grant that allows us to get fresh fruits and veggies a few days a week. If there is a delivery that day, we enjoy our snack at this time.

My writing block involves explicit instruction on various types of writing and taking writing pieces through the writing process. We did mentor sentences for the first half of the year, and my kids loooved it. However, since Christmas, this block has been spent doing SBAC test prep. No comment. But I have been doing performance task prep, so at least writing is being integrated.

Whole group math involves a lot of notebooking, manipulatives, anchor charts, and partner work. Math instruction is my fave! Again, we don't have a series, so this block looks different depending on the day and the concept.

I have duty-free lunch every day. I have recess duty every third week. My teammates and I are on a rotating schedule, so it is nice to get a little extra time to get things done every now and then.

For science and social studies, I typically teach a half of a marking period of science, then switch to social studies for the remainder. Not ideal. I integrate both into reading as much as possible.

From there, my students go to special, and I've made it to my planning period! Whoooop! Like I said, I have planning four out of five days of the week. Having planning at the end of the day has its pros and cons. It makes for a looooong day, but it also allows me to get started cleaning up the chaos from the past day and prepping for the day ahead!

Well, there it is! Looking forward to hear more about your schedules, too!

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! =)