Dec 28, 2012

It Looked Like a Cumulus Cloud...

    I'm sitting at an airport so small they board on the tarmac, when the dreaded announcement came across - 3 hour delay.  So what's a girl to do but lesson plan?   
With Utah forecasts showing cloudy skies over the next week, we'll be casually revisiting our Clouds unit.  We started it off with a great classic, It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Charles G. Shaw.  I was a little worried about how fourth graders would like this book but, with some humorous inflections thrown in the reading, they loved it!
After learning about the different types of clouds for 2 weeks, we made our own "Spilt Milk" pages.  I know the cotton ball clouds project is a classic one, and I've used it over and over as a summative assessment.  Along with the correct placement and labeling of each cloud type, the kids also wrote by each one,
"It looked like a _______________, but it was a ________ cloud." to mirror the book.  Matching each cloud type with their own visual representation helped the kids keep the types and atmosphere level straight.

Dec 21, 2012

When You Reach Me

Have you heard of this book?  I thought it was kind of like a younger version of The Time Traveler's Wife.  It's a fairly quick read, with quite a bit of action, and relatable characters.  The ending was a little expected, and yet somehow I was pulled in and couldn't put it down until I finished.
Check out the review!

Dec 17, 2012

What Do You Say?

I live 30 min. from my school, and all the way there this morning I kept thinking, "What am I going to say to my kids about Sandy Hook?"  I had hoped some brilliant idea, some words of wisdom or uplifting thought, would come to me.  But all that came to mind was my own experience of a school lock-down several years ago when some boys decided to target shoot on school grounds.  Because of my position, I was the one to run through the halls, checking to make sure doors were locked, kids were fully hidden and teachers were calm.  That experience made me really think hard and decide what I would do should a gunman be in that hall with me - for whom would I be willing to take a bullet?
And so I'm faced with the original dilemma.  What do you say to 9-year-olds when children their own age - even younger - have died in such a tragic way?  How do you fully convey the fact that you would do anything to protect them, give your own life for theirs if it should come to that, but that they're safe in their own school and should feel confident and not fearful?  How do you appropriately address the sadness, avoid  focusing on the details, and move forward in hope and faith?

Our thoughts from Salt Lake City, Utah are very strongly with the families of all the children at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Dec 14, 2012

Random Acts of Kindness

There are a lot of things floating around the blog world about Random Acts of (Christmas) Kindness, so I thought I'd share what we do to celebrate birthdays.  I've been a little unimpressed with the gifting of cute things to my students for their birthdays, knowing it would last as far as the school hallways before being opened, eaten, lost or tossed aside.  I wanted something more meaningful.  So after coming across a blog about random acts of kindness done for a lovely woman's birthday, I decided we should do the same.  Now when we have a birthday in our class, the kids get this paper in the morning:
Throughout the day, they do and record random acts of kindness in honor of the birthday person.  At the end of the day, while I'm passing out papers, they write a happy message to the person and we present the stack to the birthday student.  
I wasn't sure how this would go over with the kids, but they love it even more than the small gift the PTA gives them and often ask about it the morning of their birthday.  So much more fun and meaningful than the old birthday standbys! 

Dec 12, 2012

Factor This In

Parent Rap

I came across this video yesterday and laughed so much, I had to post it on my class blog for my parents to enjoy!  The joys and perils of parenthood...  Hope all you parents out there are rockin' it too!

Nov 27, 2012

Praise vs. Encouragement

I loved this article about praise vs. encouragement!
Encouragement vs. Praise

Nov 21, 2012


I just came across a post by Stephanie Ann at Sparkling in Third Grade about a great opportunity for teachers to help other teachers affected by Hurricane Sandy.  Click the link below to see how you can help!

Nov 20, 2012

Round It Out

We are on week 3 of rounding.  Yes, you read that right.  Week 3.  Now some may wonder how such an easy concept could possibly take three weeks.  I've been wondering that myself.  But stuck we are, with the kids knowing the rules of rounding ("If it's 5 or more, raise the score; if it's 4 or less, let it rest"), but having no understanding of the actual concept.  They don't know why you "raise the score" if it's 5 or more.  They're not sure why digits in front of the rounding place end up staying the same.  And they don't know why you would use rounding.  Here are some things we've learned about rounding in the past three weeks.

1. Rounding is not changing a number, but finding a nearby number to use instead.

2. Rounding can be shown on a numberline

3.  That 5 in "5 or more" isn't really a five (it's 500, or 5,000 or 50,000), and it shows the half-way point on a numberline

4. Before the half-way point, you're always closer to the lower number on the numberline
5. After the half-way point, you're always closter to the higher number on the numberline
6. Rounding means you have to understand place value and amounts!

Teaching rounding in a way they'll truly understand the concept has meant work with place value and number amounts.  To help the kids, we did thousands a hundreds chart, but with bigger numbers!

Questions to ask with the charts:
* Write the number 100 in the first box.  Write the number 200 in the second box.  What do you think you should put in the third box?

* Fill in the rest of the first column.  What number goes in the last box of that first row?  (1,000)  What would come next?

* What would come second in the second row?  What would be third?  Fill out the rest of the second row.

* Do you think you can fill out the third row on your own?  Check with a partner when you're done.

* What patterns do you notice?

* Go to the top of the fourth column, that starts with the number 400.  Read down the column together.  What do you notice?  What would come next if you continued the pattern?

* Does the same work with the seventh column?  Go to the top of the seventh column, that starts with the number 700.  Read down the column together.  What would come next if you continued the pattern?

* Does the same work with the last column, starting with 1,000?  What would come next in the column?

* Put your finger on the number 200.  Put another finger on the number right below 200.  How do you get from one row to the row below? (add 1,000)  Why?  Does that work with every row?

* Can you fill out the next two rows on your own?

* What do you think will be the last number on the entire chart?

* Find the number 3,700 and shade it red.  What number would be 1,000 more?  Shade it blue.  What would be 1,000 less?  Shade it blue. What number would be 100 more?  Shade it blue.  What number would be 100 less?  Shade it blue.

* Go back to the target (red) number.  What would be 900 more?  How can you figure it out without counting forward 9 squares? (Find 1,000 more, do 1 less)  What would be 900 less?  How could you figure it out quickly?

* Fill out the rest of the chart.  Were you right about your prediction of the last number on the chart?

Get the charts and worksheets!

Nov 1, 2012

What A Character!

We've been learning about characters in stories and really going in depth with their traits, which is such an entertaining unit!  There's so many fun lessons and activity ideas out there.  What I noticed though, is that while they were fun...and cutesy...many of them didn't actually help the kids understand the characters to a deeper level.  I wanted my kids to really know the characters, to base their knowledge on specific things the author wrote, and to get a better picture of the character as a multi-dimensional person.  This way they will be able to understand why a character reacts the way they do or says the things they say - to make better inferences about the characters. (I think I've used the word "character" twenty times in three sentences!)  So...

We started off by learning what their thinking should be like as they read about a new character.
I modeled this during our read-aloud of Sleepy Hollow.  When the author introduced a new character, I would stop and mime grabbing a box off a shelf and putting it in my brain.  Each time something new was said about that character, I'd stop and repeat the author's phrase, picture (out loud) something to go along with the author's detail, and put the word and picture in my "mental box".

Finally, the kids made their own origami character boxes!  Whenever we read about a new character in Sleepy Hollow, they make a new box and label it with the character's name.  As I read, they write and draw the traits described and put it in the corresponding character's box.

I'm amazed at how well they remember details about each one!

Oct 17, 2012

Book Clubs Form

This will be a short post today, since it's the first day of UEA Break and it's time for some relaxation!  But I wanted to share a resource I've been using for my book clubs.  Right now we're just using the front side - keeping it basic.  So far it's keeping my kids organized and prepared to share with the group, so yay for that!    And Fall Break, here I come!

Oct 12, 2012

Numbers a Thousand Ways...Or Just Four

Write a number.  Write it in a different way.  Now write it again in a different way.  How are kids not in love with this delightful math topic??  So we have to shake things up to give students the practice they need with reading and writing numbers in different forms.  I used the sheet above for practice, and as a test a few days later.  During practice times, the kids always have to work with each other to make sure everyone in their row understands and can accurately complete the task (I spend time teaching my students how to help without giving answers or negativity) before they can be "done".  They took this sheet as a challenge!

I also have them make this 4-flap foldable as a final assessment.   

Oct 10, 2012

Don't Subject Me...

Subjects and predicates are hard to teach!  The kids can identify a fragment sentence when it's obvious, but still have a hard time forming them in their writing.  A fun game we play to work on this is the classic If...Then game, with a twist.  Each student gets a strip of paper, and half of the kids write a subject on it while the other half write a predicate on it.  (The predicates are hard, so I have them write a sentence and erase the subject)  Then we fold them up and make one pile of subjects and one pile of predicates.  The kids pick one from each pile to make a silly sentence!  Sometimes I'll also have them pick out two predicates or two subjects to read just to really show why you need both in a sentence.  We have a ball with all the crazy sentences!

Oct 1, 2012

Sharpie On The Whiteboard

Ever have a kid grab a sharpie instead of a dry erase marker to write on the whiteboard?  Whoops!  We had the date written permanently for months on our Morning Meeting board until I discovered nail polish remover takes it off.  A little cotton ball, a little nail polish remover, and voila-back to normal!  Now I keep some handy just in case...

Sep 26, 2012

Book Bags for Free!

Okay, it's official...I adore Kohl's!  I somehow was added to their mailing list and for the first time in mailing flyer history, I'm actually glad!  Every couple of weeks, they send me one of these beautes in the mail:

It's a card for $10 off anything you buy; something that's $ free.  So maybe I'm just excited about buying $35 flats, on sale for $15, that I paid $5 with my biweekly card.  But as I was there tonight I noticed that their Kohl's Cares for Kids stuff is now half what it used to be.  Hard cover books, and a stuffed animal character from the book, is now only $2.50 each.  I buy these books and the matching stuffed animal, stick 'em in a large Ziploc bag, and send them home as book bags.  The kids love them!  This month is the Skippyjon Jones books with a stuffed "Bumblebeeto".  A few months ago were Eric Carle books.  And now I can use my $10 card to get two hard cover books and two stuffed animals...for free!  Thank you Kohls!

Sep 14, 2012

For A Spotless Classroom...

Do you ever look around after the kids leave for the day and your room still looks like a tornado hit it?  Struggle to get the kids to clean the classroom...well?  Back in the student teaching days I learned a heaven-sent game from my mentor teacher and ten years later I still use it as one of my go-to tricks.  I love that it's worked on Kindergartners, fifth graders, and every grade in between (literally).  It only takes two minutes and everything is spotless and organized by the end.  Here's how you play:

Secret Item Game
1. Have the kids gather at the rug or their desks to start.

2. As they watch quietly, walk around the room and mentally choose one or two items that are out of place or need to be cleaned up.  (The kids like to watch me for any clues about what items I'm looking at so I ham this up a bit when I get to areas of the room I really want cleaned)

3. Once you have secretly chosen 2 items, remind the kids of the only 2 rules: no talking/noise and no running.

4. When you say "go" the kids silently rush around the room trying to put away the item you may have chosen.  Anyone who talks or runs is disqualified and sent back to the rug.

5. When your secret item has been cleaned up or taken care of, call the kids back to the rug to announce the winner.  I have a special treat jar that I NEVER use except for special occasions - I let the winner pick a prize out of this jar.

- Don't use this game every day, or too often, or the charm will wear off
- Don't tell the kids the item has been found until the classroom is as clean as you want it
- Every so often choose a hard item, like a certain pencil needing to be sharpened or a certain book straightened on the shelf
- Call "no winner" if no one takes care of your item quickly or within your time frame...the kids will be more likely to get creative with their cleaning/organizing next time and start cleaning areas they normally overlook

And voila!  Your classroom is clean, shelves are organized again, and your janitor is a happier man!

Sep 10, 2012

Student Info Freebie

It's back to school time already...can you believe it??  There's nothing more valuable at the beginning of the year than some good background info on the kiddies.  This year, one of my goals is to get to know the parents better and work to meet their individual needs.  So I redid my student info sheet and asked the parents what they value in a classroom and teacher.  I have to say, their responses have been very enlightening!  It's given me a good feel for what they're looking for, and I even tweaked my Meet the Teacher Night shpeel to focus more on aspects this group of parents find important.  A happy, successful night was had by all!  Here's a copy for ya:

Sep 8, 2012

Part Whole Cards

Can I tell you how much I love Singapore strategies for math?  Their place value cards, which I wrote about here, are absolutely amazing and have solved so many regrouping, expanded form and number sense problems.  Another strategy I've fallen in love with are Part Whole cards, which look like this:
The top part is the whole, and the bottom sections are the two parts the number can be broken up into.  Each card has a missing section and the kids have to use mental math and addition or subtraction to figure out the missing number.
In 2nd grade, I used these to build fluency with math facts, and to help kids understand how to compose and decompose numbers.  They also came in handy while we were walking to the lunch room or waiting for an assembly to start (the kids would show me the missing number on their hands).  I even had struggling kids make their own out of index cards and take them home to practice.

In fact, I used them so much and they were so helpful, I decided to make some I could use now in 4th grade.  So I created ones that used multiplication and division to build those facts.  I'm excited to try them out next week with my kiddos!

Sep 5, 2012

We Give Books

Have you heard of  It is seriously one of my favorite resources!  They have books online that you can read for free-common books like Skippyjon Jones, Keats' Snowy Day, Llama Llama books and more.  And if you register (for free) you can save books to your personal library, so they're ready when you get to a corresponding unit.  The best part can register for a worthy cause listed, like donating books to needy kids in South America.  Everytime you read a book on, you help your cause move closer to their goal and, once the goal is reached, the company sends book to your cause!  We read books for a school in Africa, and even watched a video about the school and kids in need.  When we reached the goal, all the kids were cheering and so excited to help someone else!
I love it because I can pull up a book online and project it on my whiteboard.  I've used it for:

  • acting out stories
  • reading books aloud
  • taking notes on non-fiction 
  • modeling reading strategies
  • practicing reading with expression
  • circling punctuation or parts of speech (it's projected onto my whiteboard)  
  • acting out points of view
...and tons more!  Check it out!

Sep 1, 2012

20 Things To Do With Sheet Protectors

*Keep frequently-used graphic organizers inside each sheet protector
* Make it more durable with a couple of pieces of cardstock inside

1. Math facts practice
2. Time quick practice
3. Ways to Make 10 list (picture below)
4. Place Value chart
5. Hundreds chart patterns - copy a hundreds chart, kids can color to practice 10 more, 10 less, evens, odds, skip counting, etc.
6. Graphing practice-put a grid in a sheet protector for daily graphs

7. Prefix/Suffix practice - say affix meaning & root word, and kids write word (ie. "to heat before"-kids write "preheat")
8. Phonics Hunt-copy page out of trade book or basal reader & have kids circle specific phonics pattern
9. Tic-Tac-Word-kids play tic-tac-toe with spelling words
10. Boggle
11. Brainstorming & Prewriting
12. Reader's Theaters - keep a copy of each role neat & together in a sheet protector; clip all the roles in a 3-ring binder
13. Human Sentence-string yarn through the holes of sheet protectors so kids can wear around their necks; kids can each write a word on their sheet protector and line themselves up to make sentences
14. Human words-same as Human Sentence, but write letters instead to make sight words

Social Studies/Science
15. Labeling World Map - practice labeling the continents, oceans, countries or states
16. Labeling parts of the body, a plant, cells, etc.

17. Peer teaching
18. KWL chart
19. Response sheet
20. Lined paper

Aug 25, 2012

Math Journals

I have decided that some of the best teaching resources come from our school's copy room.  Seriously.  I'll see something on the printer, or laying on the counter, and have to find out whose it is, how they use, and if I can copy it please!  The reverse happened last week when a brand new teacher was looking at a couple of my math Quick Quizzes that we use every Friday.  She asked me about it and that led to telling her about my Math Journals and how I use them.  I started math notebooking several years ago, after coming across some good research about them, and have been tweaking and perfecting each year.  I love that everything is in one place-assessment results, math notes, curriculum resources, standards, etc-and that the kids know exactly where they are in their learning, how to improve and in what ways. 
 I've noticed that the trend is catching on and now there are a million different ways to implement them.

How do you use math notebooks in your class?

What are some great math notebooking ideas you love?

Aug 22, 2012

Peace Chairs

My peace chairs were a solution to the huge tattling problem when I taught Kindergarten.  I finally realized the kids tattled for two reasons: 1) they want my attention and 2) they didn't have the social skills to deal with problems.  So I got two chairs (free from Scholastic-yay!) and introduced them as our Peace Chairs.  I taught the kids that they were special chairs only used to work out problems/practice communication skills, and taught the Peace Chair Process, which is...

1. Remove yourself from the situation
2. Listen to what the other person thinks and feels
3. Tell the other person what you think and feel
4. Decide together on a good compromise

(Yes, the word 'compromise' was big for a Kindergartner, but most new words are big for them-I just taught them what it means, like any other new vocab)

This process was posted right next to the chairs for them to reference.  Anytime there was drama, or tears, or someone was suddenly uninvited from a birthday party, they would head to the chairs while the rest of us continued with our day.  The two kids would follow the above process to come to a compromise everyone could be happy with, then they would report to me what they decided.  At first I was worried they would miss out on learning...until I used it and realized it usually only took 30 seconds or less.  Nearly every kid I've taught, Kinder through third, just wants a structured moment to be heard by the other person.  And if it does take more than a minute or two, the situation probably needs teacher intervention anyway.  It's been great for the kids to learn how to communicate positively and best of more tattling!

Aug 16, 2012


Is it just me, or does it seem like kids have a harder time using their imagination?  Some students struggle to be creative and picture things in their mind.  To practice visualization, I taped butcher paper to the wall and had kids paint what they were picturing as they listened to a certain type of music.  I did this during our rotation time, so there five groups listening to five different types of music: mariachi, Italian, classical, luau and classic American tunes.  At the end they compared how and why each group's pictures looked different from each other and connected this to visualizing when reading.  They had so much fun!

Aug 13, 2012

Graffiti Wall

I love to fill our classroom with inspiring things that motivate the kids.  But sometimes what I think will inspire them-for all the cutesy signs and printables-mean little to the kids.  Enter the Graffiti Wall.  I grabbed some light-colored contact paper from Smiths, covered the closet door and hung some fun-colored permanent markers next to it.  Whenever the kids finish their work early, have an indoor recess, etc., they can head back to the Graffiti Wall and draw or write something on it that inspires them.  Sometimes as a class we'll add things to it.  For example, when we were reading a book about Harriet Tubman, a kid mentioned that she inspired him and made him want to help other people.  I handed him a marker and sent him to draw Harriet Tubman on our wall.  A few days later, someone made a deep connection to a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote and added that quote to our wall.  By the end of the year, it had become a very personal timeline of the year and when the kids were struggling with a hard day or difficult concept, they could head back to the Grafftii Wall to get remotivated.  This year I'd like to get some showerboard, mount it to the back of a bookshelf and make it into a whiteboard Graffiti Wall.

Aug 10, 2012

Morning Starter

Have you noticed all the Number of the Day forms floating around Pinterest and tPt?  I decided to take that idea and run with a way that would include almost no daily prep on my part.  (Don't you hate when a good idea ends up being more work for you??)  I liked the idea of manipulation of a number and wanted the kids to also practice manipulation with vocabulary and word parts.  So...I made a morning starter book with 4 different page types-one for each day Mon-Thurs.

*Every day, the kids will start by writing the answer to a daily "secret password". This is a question about anything I want them to know, especially facts or repetitive information they need to memorize.  In order to exit the classroom to go to recess, the kids have to whisper to me the "secret password", or answer to the daily password question.

 Monday-Number of the Day 

Kids start by writing the password of the day and number of the day, both posted on the front board. Then they write the number in word form, expanded form and multiply the number by 10, 100 and 1,000.  In the grid they write each digit of the number in the bottom row boxes, and the name of the place value in the top row boxes (ones, tens, hundreds, etc.).  Finally, they use the month number to list its multiples and factors, then list which of those numbers are prime (ie. July is the 7th month, so they would list the multiples 7, 14, 21... and the factors 1, 7 and write that 1 & 7 are the primes).

Tuesday-Good, Better, Best 

Kids start by writing the password of the day and then analyze three items to determine which one is good, which is better and which is best.  Here's some examples...
 *list 3 adjectives & kids determine which word is good, better, best
*show 3 sample journal entries and kids decide which one is good, better, best 

*show 3 Google entries and kids determine which one would be good, which is better and which would be the best

*post a number addition problem (good), a straightforward word problem (better) and a more complex word problem (best) and let kids choose which they can answer

*list 3 fractions or decimals and have kids write which one is good, which is better and which is best (& write an explanation for their choice, since this could go multiple ways) 

Wednesday-Word of the Day 

Kids start by writing the password of the day and word of the day, both posted on the front board. Then they look up the word in a dictionary (this can be done with a partner if you don't have enough dictionaries) and write its definition, part of speech, a synonym and antonym for the word and the guide words at the top of the dictionary page.  In the grid, they write a word that's an example of each corresponding part of speech.  The last box is for them to use the word in a sentence and, if time, diagram the sentence.  (In our class, we diagram sentences to help with grammar and writing structure; there's a great resource for learning to diagram sentences here)


This is a craze that has been going around Pinterest quite a bit lately!  I tried it with my kids and they LOVED it, and it actually engaged my high kids and low kids the whole time.  So I decided to add it to our morning starter book and have them do it every week, which will help develop phonics and word parts skills.  

My board in the morning, with the number of the day, word of the day, password and boggle letters ready to go for the week.