Saturday, December 29, 2012

Test Prep Linky!

Cartoon is thanks to Larry Cuban’s article on School Reform.

Yikes! State assessments are right around the corner and the funny thing is that we’re not really that nervous. This year more than ever, we feel like we’ve done a great job preparing our students for testing situations through our day-to-day teaching. In the past two years our students have scored almost 100% proficient and advanced on our state tests and we wanted to share some of our secrets as well as secrets from other top teachers.

To help students with constructed response questions, we teach them through using a metaphor of a great constructed response. This free ice cream packet will help your students write complete constructed responses. Be sure to use this model throughout the year and not just right before the test for the most “delicious” results.

To help students write prompts throughout the year we love our community journals. We try hard to stick to a traditional writing workshop model throughout the year and have it found it hard to tie in prompt writing without these journals. Kids write to a different prompt each week and then give each other feedback. Each journal is unique so we always keep our students on their toes! Our teammates love to use these as homework while we prefer to maintain a testing environment during this practice. The possibilities are endless! Download this packet here.

To help our students use math vocabulary effectively, we use the common core words as our word wall. It’s fun to tie in math vocabulary games to keep our students engaged while learning these words. Download this packet here.

We do the same thing for literacy vocabulary! Download this on TpT here.

Finally, our secret to helping students practice literacy skills throughout the week is a week-to-week bulletin board program where students practice ten different skills. These skills get harder and harder each week so our kids are well prepared. We usually do this during word work time as a “must do.” It is available for purchase on TpT here.

Check out more test prep secrets below!

Sunday, December 16, 2012


"We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.”
― Zeno of Citium, as quoted by Diogenes LaĆ«rtius

I probably say "I am looking for good listeners" a hundred times a day! Listening is such an important skill that is so often overlooked in our lesson planning. Today's blog post is dedicated to helping students become active listeners throughout the day. Here are a few ideas...

1. Teach students what it means to be an active listener. Make a chart defining it.
2. Give your students three step directions and tell them that you are only going to repeat the directions one time. If they know this in advance, they are forced to listen. Do this frequently in all activities and follow through!
3. Model what it means to be an active listener by showing this to your students when they are speaking.
4. Hold them accountable for listening. If you give them all of the notes and directions in writing, they don't need to listen! Be sure that they are expected to be an active participant in the lesson.
5. Surprise them! Make sure you have a classroom environment where students know they might be called on to talk at any time. There's no "zoning out" in these types of rooms!

Download this FREE Christmas Listening activity to help your students reflect on their listening skills in class.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Holiday Math

Racing through the halls,
With a teacher yelling “hey”
O’re the crazier we get
Laughing all the way!

Does this sound like your students this time of year? Sometimes it feels so hard to do any meaningful teaching when the kids are all consumed with the holidays. If you can’t beat ‘em…join ‘em.

Instead of teaching our regular math workshop for the last week before break, we planned fun holiday themed review math games and projects to keep our students engaged and help maintain our sanity! We play holiday music, play the games, and we just might even make some hot cocoa. Time to make it memorable!

Here's one of our favorite activities. Planning a holiday shopping spree is a real life application of math... it doesn't get any better than this!

You can check out our complete math pack for only $3.50 or just print the image above and bring a fun holiday math activity to your classroom this year.

Friday, December 7, 2012

What's Your Opinion?

Opinion writing was new to us this year so we wanted to work on a complete unit to help guide students through this unique style of writing. We started with a big, overarching question, how do we know what is true? Students discussed this in groups and we made connections to reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. Critical thinkers are always evaluating content for truth.

Then we discussed the differences between fact and opinion through lots of books, modeling, and even a game. Here is the chart paper we completed with our students to help them recognize the differences...

You can download these free posters to use with your unit or download the complete opinion writing unit here.

This resource and many more, can be viewed here!
Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Check out a finished piece by clicking here.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Diary of an Elf

Our kids are loving the perspective writing they do each day because they are writing it from an elf's perspective in our diary of an elf. It's been so fun to take the tradition to school by adding the academic component. Every morning the elf does something mischievous and the kids walk in trying to find her. When they do...they usually crack up! They go to their desks and write about the elf's adventures in our classroom overnight. If you want to use the diary of en elf in your classroom click here for the free resource! If you like it, feel free to add a positive rating :)

Here are a few images of our mischievous little elf.

Reading a holiday book in our classroom library...

Playing games on holiday website...

Playing math games with another stuffed animal in our classroom...

Revising her work in our revision center...

Reading another student's diary...

Adding her name to our reading workshop management chart...

Filling a bucket...

What fun holiday traditions do you share with your students?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Digital Portfolios- FREE resource

It's so important to help students develop a digital footprint at a young age. Just think...we can give them a gift of a digital collection of their work and it's not very much work! I personally love the site livebinders to create digital portfolios but you can use any website making site available.

We have a digital portfolio center in our classroom. We store any "paper" projects that we want scanned for their portfolios here and students submit their individualized projects here as well.

We sent a letter home to families at the beginning of the year. Here is an image of the letter:

You can download the complete FREE guide to starting digital portfolios teachers pay teachers.

Please follow our blog for more ideas, resources, and freebies!

Teachers Pay Teachers Sale!

Thanksgiving Weekend Sale!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Holiday Math Pack

I just completed our holiday math pack to prepare for the week before Christmas.  If you're like us, it's hard to take time away from our district-mandated math curriculum for any holiday fun.  This math pack allows for both.  All the activities are aligned to the third, fourth, or fifth grade common core standards with ideas and suggestions for differentiation.  What great math projects do you like to do before the holidays?

Purchase this math pack at teachers pay teachers or teachers notebook.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Non-Fiction Text Features

Our current unit in reading workshop is on non-fiction text features.  Students typically prefer fiction so it's important to us that we make this unit fun and engaging.  We started with an inquiry lesson with our fabulous teacher librarian.  She gave each group of students several books (both fiction and non-fiction) and asked students what they noticed about their books.  Kids replied with things like rhyming words, bold print, an index, cartoon pictures...anything.  From there, she asked students to classify their books as fiction or non-fiction.  This was relatively easy for our students since they had some work with this before.  Then they noticed that non-fiction text often has similar text features.  To stay true to our reading workshop model, we asked each student to check out a non-fiction about a topic they are passionate about. 
With the help of our creative teammate, Holly, kids created a non-fiction foldable.  As we move through our unit, students will define each of these text features and look for examples in their text.  Of course, we will begin with a model text.  Kids can keep these until we begin our research unit in January and they will have this wonderful resource to access. 

This foldable is so easy to make!  Start with five sheets of plain copy paper.  Lay each one on top of the next with about 1" difference.  Fold the entire stack in half and you have a great resource for your students!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Math Menus

We love math!  It's so important to us to make sure every part of our workshop is differentiated.  Our math workshop rotation board looks like this (the fancy sticky notes change daily as our tasks change!):

The task card in the middle is for math projects and games.  Students thrive with math projects and we want to make sure they are aligned to the standards and meet the kids at their level of understanding.  That's how we came up with differentiated math menus.  Basically we follow these "tips" for each math unit:

We have these math menus for grades three, four, and five to help you differentiate for your students as well.
Also available on teachers pay teachers.
Good luck!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Word Work

If you’re like us, word work can be a bit of a struggle. We want to keep kids challenged and engaged in meaningful learning without a lot of worksheets and especially grading! We came up with, what we think is, the perfect word work structure.

We have three different lists we offer students each week. List one is the challenge list. It has 15 words on harder words with the same spelling skill. List two is the original list for the week with 15 words following the same pattern. List three is our easier list with only 7 words for students who struggle with that pattern. Students also have 5 words each week from their writing or the high frequency word list to work on.

On Mondays, students take a pretest on the spelling skills. These words are from list two. Their performance on this list will help us determine which list is most appropriate for students. This changes each week because there is a new pattern each week. Students look at their test results from the previous week and any words they miss become their choice words along with any other words from their writing. Here is an image of the highlighted list kids use to manage their choice words:

Students are also introduced to the board for the week. They have three “must dos” for the week. The first is mountain language to help with basic language skills. The second is a specific activity having to do with their word pattern. It could be sorting their words, playing Boggle, or any other activity to help students practice their pattern. Their last activity is a one page worksheet from their workbook. We use the Spelling Connections curriculum and it has some wonderful activities, but we don’t love that each week students have 6 worksheets! This allows us to stick with the program, have students practice the pattern using the worksheet, and differentiate for all of our learners. Here is an image of our work board:

Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are dedicated to the practice work. Students can practice with partners, alone, or even in small group practice that we offer during this time. Homework is completed throughout the week using the program Spelling City.

Finally, on Friday students complete a partner assessment where they complete their choice words test with their partner, assess their practice work, and have their partner assess their work with feedback. This gives students an authentic audience for their practice while alleviating us from grading all of the practice work. We can spend our time giving feedback to the students on their final assessment! Students take their final test on Spelling City and we record their scores with final feedback.

Easy. Differentiated. Meaningful. Does it get any better? If you have any fabulous ideas to make word work meaningful, please share!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Teachers Help Teachers

The images on TV say enough... if you are a teacher affected by Hurricane Sandy and are in need of some materials to help you please click on the image below.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Turkey Math

I just posted these math games in my store for $2.00.  There are four different math games to help students with fractions and decimals with a cute turkey theme to keep kids motivated during this active time of year! Gobble it up on teachers pay teachers or teachers notebook.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Making Economics Come Alive

Economics is such a hard concept for kids.  With the election this year, they are hearing this term on every commercial break!  Based on some of the ideas of the amazing, Beth Newingham, we use a classroom economy structure.  Students earn money for their classroom job each day.  On Fridays, we open the bank and have pay day.  About four times a year, we open our Seussville shops. This is when the magic happens!  Students had the opportunity to be real “consumers” and purchase “goods” at our classroom store.  This is such a busy activity, so we needed a few extra hands to make this work. First, we divided the students into four different groups where each with a different activity to complete in 15 minutes before we rotated to the next group.
One group spent time on the computer completing economics simulations.  Here are the sites we used:
One group met with me on the floor to learn important economics concepts.  We discussed vocabulary terms and questions from our standards.  With a small group, we were able to really help kids understand their role in our classroom economy and their parent’s role in our larger economy.

One group spent time shopping.  This was, of course, the most exciting rotation.  Kids brought their money to the store and collected items.  The shop owner (a wonderful parent volunteer) had the kids do their own math by totaling up their items purchased before she would give them a hand-written receipt to take to the bank.  From there, the kids paid for the purchases at our bank with another volunteer.  The funniest part was when the kids refused to spend all of their money because they were worried about taxes!  Can you get anymore real-life than this?

Our last group observed the shopping.  This was such a powerful rotation because the students were looking for items that were in high demand or low demand and even items that were scarce.  When all groups had completed all the rotations, we regrouped as a class and discussed their observations.  I was able to help the students understand that shop owners want to know which items were in high demand so they could raise prices.  The students really understood! 

Saturday, October 20, 2012


We use rubrics for EVERYTHING!  In our classroom, parents don't even see traditional grades like an A,B,C etc. We believe that they are much better informed about a student's progress when we use a standards-based rubric.  Parents and students love it too!

We make some of our rubrics using the tool rubistar.  Although, often we find it is even easier to just create the rubrics using the standards. Here's an example of a rubric we just created for our opinion writing unit.

For more ideas on how to use rubrics in your classroom, check out some great blog posts by clicking below.
Rubric Linky

Math Vocabulary

It seems like there’s a million math vocabulary words! When teaching math, we want kids to be engaged in “doing” math and not just writing down math words, but we know they are so important to build math comprehension and skills. This is why I created the math vocabulary mega pack for third and fourth graders. Students can learn these important words through their math dictionary and word wall words as we introduce each new concept and then as part of a math rotation for our 21st century math groups, our students can play math exciting vocabulary games. We printed this resource and had a parent volunteer cut them out and get them all ready for the kids to use. The kids love them! If you are interested in winning this resource, please follow our blog and enter a comment below with either a link to your blog or your email address so I can easily contact you. Winners will be announced October 29th.

This resource is also available for purchase at Teachers Notebook or Teachers Pay Teachers.

Good Luck!!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Writing Workshop Groups

Whether you call it workshop groups, revision round-up, or buddy editing...we all work hard to help encourage our students to improve their writing through student feedback. In our classroom, we use workshop groups and help students improve their writing through these groups. Before beginning these groups, there were several mini-lessons we had to teach including:

1. What are types of feedback?
2. What is positive feedback?
3. What is feedback to improve?
4. What does it mean to write to an audience?
5. What does it mean to revise?
6. How do we work in groups?
7. How do we share our writing so others can see and hear?
8. How do we listen to writing actively?

There are so many other writing lessons that must be in place for our students to manage these groups as writing and the first time takes a lot of modeling! Here is the poster we use to teach our students the steps to workshop groups.

After reviewing the routines, we modeled with other teachers (we used each other and available specialists) to show students how even adults can share their writing, listen to feedback, and make the writing better. We got the students into writing groups to share one of the pieces. Their feedback was amazing and the kids loved sharing with an authentic audience!

This is one small part of our writing workshop for the 21st century management structure. We believe collaboration and communication are crucial for any developing (and for the matter accomplished writer) so we try to include this routine weekly. Hope this small post helps you with some ways to include these important skills into writing workshop!