Welcome to my blog. I see this as a place to reflect on my teaching practices and to share ideas and strategies with other teachers.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Class Library

My class library is a very important part of my classroom!  I have dedicated a lot of time and money to its establishment and use.

Where to Find Books

There are many places to find great books for a class library.  I bought most of my books at yard sales, thrift stores, and eBay.  You can also get books for a class library by sending letters requesting donations from parents or other community members.  If you are affiliated with a local college or church, you can ask that they sponsor a book drive in honor of your classroom.

Organizing and Labeling Books

My class library consists of 3 book shelves and about 55 plastic shoe boxes (without the lids).  The plastic boxes are labeled according to book series or topics.  Then, the boxes are also labeled with a colored dot sticker that has a number.  The numbers on my book boxes go in order (across the first row of the first book shelf, the boxes are labeled 1, 2, 3, 4).  This makes it easier for students to find particular boxes and to return books to the correct box.

In each box, the books with the same topic / series are placed together.  All of the books in that basket are given a colored dot sticker to match the one on the front of the box.  So, all of the books in box 1 have a yellow dot with the number 1.  You can see this in the pictures below.  This makes it easy to tell if books are in the right place.

When I first began organizing my books for the class library, I started by looking for multiple books with the same topic, same genre, same author, or from the same series.  Books that didn't comfortably fit into one of those categories I left in another pile.  Here are some of my book box categories:

  • Holiday / Seasonal Books
  • Science books
  • Social Studies books
  • poetry
  • Character Traits and Feelings
  • Animal books (nonfiction)
  • True stories
  • Machines and Tools (including cars, trucks, etc.)
  • Sports books
  • Fairy Tales
  • Historical Fiction
  • Mysteries
  • Sweet Valley Kids series
  • Authur series
  • Magic Schoolbus series
  • Junie B. Jones series
  • Horrible Harry series
  • Clifford series
  • Magic Tree House series
  • Franklin series
  • Little Bill series
  • The Littles series
  • Arnold Lobel books
  • Dinosaur Cove series
  • Franny K. Stein series
  • Joke / Riddle books
  • Babysitter's Club Little Sister series
  • Amelia Bedelia series
The books which were left over (did not fit into one of the categories I had defined) were then divided into groups according to whether they were picture books or chapter books.  

I then put them into plastic boxes labeled "Fiction Chapter Books" or "Fiction Picture Books" and labeled them with colored dots  just as I did the others.  In the future, I hope to level and organize these books into boxes depending upon guided reading level, so that students can have an easier time choosing books that are just right for them.  

Student Use of Class Library

At the beginning of the school year, after basic routines and procedures have been established, I introduce the class library.  We discuss rules for the class library and why we have those rules.  We role play how to select a book, how to return a book, how to treat books, and how to do the class job of librarian (returning books to the boxes after students have turned them in).  Finally, I let students select a book to take to their desk.

Every month, I change out the holiday/seasonal books to keep them interesting.

I check periodically to be sure that students have only one book.  I also check periodically to be sure that students are selecting books which are appropriate for them.  I don't do this very often.  It is usually only something I do if I notice a child with a book that does not seem like a good fit for them.  Here are our rules for the class library.

New Year's Activities - 2014

New Year's Eve is today and I am frantically trying to get lessons ready for my return to school.  I will be returning to school (with students) Thursday.  So, I have planned fun, New Year's activities to share with my children.  Here are the activities I have planned:

New Year's Read Alouds

We will read aloud several books, including:

  • Shante Keys and the New Years Peas by: Gail Piernas-Davenport
  • Squirrel's New Year's Resolution by: Pat Miller (available as a read aloud video on YouTube.com)
  • The Night Before New Year's by: Natasha Wing

New Year's Resolution Foldables

Students will write new year's resolutions to match four different prompts on a foldable which shows the new year after folded.  If you are interested, they are available in my TPT store by clicking here.  The pack includes foldables for 2014-2020.

New Year's Celebration Kid with Party Hat

Students will trace an oval (for their face) on construction paper, draw facial features (and hair), and cut out the face.  Then, students will trace a triangle party hat on construction paper and cut it out.  Students will attach the party hat to the top of their cut out head with glue.  This will be displayed in the hallway next to the students' New Year's Resolution foldables (described above).

New Year's Color, Count, and Graph

I made these cute worksheets where students color New Year's themed graphics, count the graphics which are the same, and then graph them on a bar graph.  If you are interested, they are available in my TPT store by clicking here.  The pack includes sheets for 2014-2020.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Visual Rubric for Writing and Illustration Mini Posters

I have made it my own personal mission to change and improve my writing instruction and reading instruction this year.  So, I have spent a lot of time learning about different strategies teachers use and exploring Pinterest for great ideas!  On Pinterest, I came across a picture of a illustrated writing rubric created and handwritten by a teacher.  I loved the idea, so I made my own!  I plan to give students a handout with the illustrations to keep in their writing folders and also plan to print the mini posters to display in my writing center.  You can grab this set by visiting my TPT Store!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Book Character Costume - Grouchy Ladybug!

This year for Halloween, teachers at my school were invited to dress up as a storybook character.  I chose to dress up as the Grouchy Ladybug!  I made a knee-length red tulle skirt (using ribbon and about 16 yards of red tulle, cut into strips and tied in knots around the ribbon waistband).  Then, I cut out ladybug spots from black felt.  I safety-pinned the spots to the skirt.

Then, I bought $3.00 antennae and wings from a Dollar General store.  I wore a short-sleeved cowl-neck black cashmere sweater and a red pencil skirt under the ladybug skirt.  It was a hit!  Here is the final result:

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Animals and Their Life Cycles Lessons

One of my favorite science units of the year is my Animals and Life Cycles unit.  I teach each of the vertebrate animal groups separately and then, Insects.  We learn characteristics of the animal group and then explore the life cycle of that group.

First, we explore Animal Information Cards to try to find characteristics of that animal group (such as how they breathe, body covering, warm or cold bloodedness, how they reproduce, etc).  I made these information cards using pictures found on the Internet (and used for educational purposes only).  

Next, we read together the animal group book from edHelper.com and discuss any other important information about the animal group that we could not gather from our information cards.  You can find them here:

Mammal Book from EdHelper (subscription required for all)

Bird Book from EdHelper

Fish Book from EdHelper

Amphibian Book from EdHelper

Reptile Book from EdHelper

Insect Book from EdHelper  

Then, we read picture books that tell about the life cycle of the animal group.  Here are some of the books my class reads:

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
A Monkey Grows Up by Rita Golden Gelman
Foal (from Scott Foresman reading textbook)
Baby Otter Grows Up by Susan McCloskey (from Scott Foresman reading textbook)

The Emperor Lays an Egg by Brenda Z. Guiberson
The Little Duck by Judy Dunn

The Little Penguin by A.J. Wood
Duck (from Scott Foresman reading textbook)

Salmon Stream by Carol Reed-Jones
Swordfish Returns by Susan Korman

Fish is Fish by Leo Lionni
Moonbear's Pet by Frank Asch
Frogs in a Pond by Bill Martin
A Wood Frog's Life by John Himmelman

Turtle, Turtle Watch Out by April Sayre
An Extraordinary Egg by Leo Lionni
One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
A Ladybug's Life by John Himmelman
Waiting for Wings by Lois Ehlert
Clara Caterpillar by Pamela Duncan
Charlie the Caterpillar by Dom Deluise

An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston
Chickens Aren't the Only Ones by Ruth Heller

After each read aloud, we then explore and sequence animal cards to match the animal in that story (from the cards below).  I gathered pictures of different animals in each stage of their life cycle from the Internet (and used them for educational purposes only).  We work with partners to sequence and discuss what we notice.  

Lastly, we write about the animal group and the life cycle.  Students write research reports or make nonfiction books of their own.  Students choose an animal group and create their own new animal to be part of the animal group.

Create a Mammal

Create a Bird

Create a Fish

Create an Amphibian (coming soon)

Create a Reptile (coming soon)

Create an Insect (coming soon)

What additional activities do you do when teaching about animal groups and their life cycles?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

So You Want to Be a Teacher

At East Carolina University's Spring 2013 Clinical Teacher Conference, a speaker shared this fun video titled "So You Want to Be a Teacher."  The video features music by Judy Domeny Bowen.

I have enjoyed the song so much that I shared it with the beginning teachers in my district at our first monthly support meeting.  I hope you enjoy it, too!

So You Want to Be a Teacher - video link

Monday, September 2, 2013

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Updated Literacy Centers

You can read my previous post describing my literacy centers by clicking here.

After attending some professional development this summer, I decided to make some changes to my literacy centers in order to allow students more autonomy and choice.  For the most part, my centers are run the same as they have always been.  The only difference is that I do not tell students to which center they must go.  Instead, I allow them to select their center, as long as they do not repeat the same center in one week.

I created a new center chart which resembles my old one.  The only difference is that the new one has six dots for each center.  These dots represent the maximum number of students who can attend that center at once.

As part of their morning jobs, students will use a labeled clothespin to clip the dot showing which center they wish to attend that day.  After clipping the dot, they will also color that symbol on their Literacy Center Tracking Chart (to ensure they don't repeat any centers during the week).

Instead of assigning a leader for each center each week, I instead added the job of "Center Leader" to our class helper jobs.  Students choose their jobs each Friday afternoon for the following week.  So, two or three students can choose to be center leaders.  When students need help, the Center Leaders will fill in for the teacher and provide help.


You can read all about my class helper jobs here.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Class Helper Jobs

As part of some professional development I attended this summer, I am trying to help students feel more invested in their classroom by allowing more choices throughout the day.  One way I am doing so is by allowing students to choose their jobs for the week.  Each job students perform is a task we normally do anyway and a student can successfully do on his or her own.  It is important to me that each student has a job so they can feel like a vital part of our class.  It also helps them to become more responsible.  Here are the jobs I came up with for my classroom:

Greeter – greets everyone with a handshake, hug, or high five
Center leader (3 or 4) – helps those who need help during center time, ensures materials are put away neatly after centers
- Water fountain leader – counts for each student at the water fountain to be sure everyone gets a fair share of water
- Headphone manager – carries the headphone basket to the computer lab and back
- Prize box manager (1 or 2)– gets out prize boxes for the teacher on Friday and puts them back when class store time is over
- Librarian (1 or 2)– returns books to the proper spot in the class library
Boys’ bathroom monitor – monitors others going to the restroom to be sure they are not playing
Girls’ bathroom monitor – monitors others going to the restroom to be sure they are not p laying
Custodian (1 or 2) – empties trash buckets each day, takes trash cans to our school custodian when he comes to empty the trash cans and returns them to their spot
- Table Washer – washes tables in the cafeteria after lunch
- Name Taker – takes names in the cafeteria during lunch
Clean Hand Manager – gives hand sanitizer to others before lunch and if they sneeze on their hands
- Date Manager – Changes the date and day of the week on the board each morning.
- Schedule Monitor – Changes the cards on the board showing which Resource class is on our schedule today
-Homework tray monitor – checks homework tray to be sure that papers are in order by numbers and neatly in the baskets
Make Up Work Monitor (1 or 2) – tears pages out of workbooks for absent students
Line Leader – leads the line wherever we go
Caboose – is last in line wherever we go and turns off the lights and shuts the door
- Teacher’s Helper (2)– passes out and collects papers and other materials
Messenger – takes things to other classrooms or office if needed
Substitute (1 or 2) -  Fills in for any job if someone is absent
Chair Flipper - Flips chairs up or down for empty seats or absent classmates

After deciding upon the jobs our class needs to be done each day, I printed the job cards (below) and then printed students names.  I laminated both, and cut them apart.  Last, the job cards, and the names got a small piece of magnetic tape on the back so that it could stick to my file cabinet.  You can find the cards I made to use in my own classroom in my TPT store by clicking here.

Here is my final product:

What other class helper jobs do you use in your classroom?

Rocket Math - Helping Students Master Basic Math Facts

"Rocket Math" is a nickname given by many teachers to the program Mastering Math Facts which was created by Donald B. Crawford, PhD. and published by the Otter Creek Institute.  Many teachers have shared resources they have made to accompany this program and they can be found by searching the Internet.  DadsWorksheets.com has also published at-home practice pages to accompany this program on their website.  It is a research based, strategic method for helping students master basic math facts.  I have used it in my classroom for years and I love it!  It only takes about 5 minutes each day to complete.  

How I Organize and Run Rocket Math in My Classroom

First, I create a box or crate for each type of Rocket Math.  I use the file boxes with a snap on lid from Wal-mart but you could use an open top crate or some other configuration.  You need only to be able to separate the differently lettered levels.  In the crate, I put 26 hanging file folders and label each tab with a letter of the alphabet.  I color coded the file folders, using red folders for addition, green folders for subtraction, yellow folders for division, and blue folders for multiplication.  I print pages for each level of Rocket Math and file them into the appropriate hanging folder.  So, I print the Addition Rocket Math pages and then put the A’s in the A folder, the B’s in the B folder, etc.

Next, I create a Rocket Math folder for each student.  You can use a two pocket folder or a plain file folder.  On the front of the folder, I glue the RocketMath Folder label.  Then, I write each child’s name on it and laminate.  After the folders are laminated, I staple in the student rockets for tracking their progress.  On the inside, on the left, I staple the addition student rocket.  I would wait until they are ready to staple the subtraction rocket on the right.  You could also use a 2 pocket folder for this.

I also enjoy having a class rocket where students can move their own personal rockets up as they achieve higher levels.  It is a good motivator and source of pride.  I project the student rocket onto a large sheet of bulletin board paper and trace it to create this class sized rocket.

Then, I send home my parent letter explaining the Rocket Math process.

After this, I begin Rocket Math with my students.  We begin with the handwriting assessment included in the Rocket Math packet from Otter Creek.  It assess how quickly students can write and gives them a goal number of problems to complete on the timed test based on their ability.  Students who have goals below 40, I indicate this goal on their folder so I don’t forget.  On their worksheets, I use my red pen to cross out the problems they don't have to do to earn 100.  After each 100, I increase the goal of these students by 1, so that eventually, they have a goal of 40 like everyone else.

After we have a goal in mind, we learn how to do Rocket Math.  We talk about moving quickly and not looking around at our neighbors or at the window.  We talk about not stopping to erase, but instead, crossing out the wrong answer and writing our new answer nearby. 

All students begin with a level A sheet in their folders.  I give my students 1 minute and 30 seconds to reach their goal.  Before we begin writing, we spend the first 1 minute and 30 seconds practicing in our heads.  They use their fingers to point to each problem and to say it silently along with the answer.  Students are instructed to continue until the timer beeps.

Once their practice is finished, then I say “pencil’s ready” and my students know it is time to write their answers.  I give them a “ready, set, go” and then they can write their answers.  When the timer beeps to indicate the end of the time, I ask students to hold their hands up in the air to ensure no one keeps writing.  Then, I have students put their papers inside of their folders and close them.  I then ask who thinks they made a 100.  We discuss that to make a 100, they must have finished all of the questions, or all of the questions that were not crossed out (if they had a goal lower than 40).  I take up these folders and hand them off to my assistant to grade.  I take up the rest of the folder by saying “who needs to practice more tonight and try again tomorrow?”  The students who did not achieve a 100, I go ahead and replace their worksheets with the same letter they had before.  If they made a 100, then I replace their worksheet with the next letter up.  If they made a 100, they get to color in the corresponding letter on their student rockets inside of their folder and move their rocket up on the class rocket.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Teaching Writing

I struggle with teaching writing to my second graders and feel like it is my weakest subject.  I have made a conscious effort to work on it this year.  It is definitely still a work in progress, but this is what I have done:
Each student has a writing folder, a writing portfolio, and a writing notebook.

  • Writing folder - This is used for weekly writing projects.  It has an editing checklist, a writing process outline, editing marks and their meaning, etc.  Next year, I think I will also put student dictionaries in this folder.  

  • Writing portfolio - This is used for saving writing samples for each student.  It is made with hanging folders labeled with student names.  

  • Writing notebook - This stays in student desk groups.  Each day, students respond to a journal prompt during guided reading time (students rotate between guided reading, centers, and writing notebooks).  Other teachers have students respond to a journal prompt for morning work.
For each grading period, I focus on one genre of writing for our Weekly Writing projects.

  • Expanding Sentence (first six weeks)
  • Personal Narrative
  • Imaginative Narrative
  • Procedural 
  • Opinion - Get my Opinion Writing unit
  • Informative 

On the first day, I introduce a writing project for the week (usually it takes me 2 weeks).  It relates to what we are learning about in some way.  I model using a graphic organizer to organize my thoughts during the prewriting phase.    After I model, then students complete a prewriting activity of their own.  It gets placed in the writing folder until the next day.  
On the next day, we revisit our prewriting.  Then, I model using the prewriting to create related sentences (a paragraph).  I am sure to model starting with a topic sentence (I sometimes call it a main idea sentence) and a closing sentence.  Next, students use their own prewriting to generate related sentences on their first draft.  Students use notebook paper for this.
On the following day, students continue working on their first draft.  If they have already finished their draft, they can move on to editing and revising using a "Writer's Eyes" checklist with a partner. 
The next day, students use their "Writer's Eyes" checklist with a partner to be sure that they have used complete sentences, capital letters, punctuation, etc.  After meeting with their partner to edit and revise their work, they sign up for a Teacher Conference.  They just writing their names on my clipboard.  I cross off the names after I have met with each student.

During Teacher conferences, I read over the students' work and ask questions to help them notice if they have complete sentences, if words are missing, if punctuation is missing, etc.  I do not mark on students' papers.  Instead, they use a red pen to make corrections as we meet.  I have them circle misspelled words and then they can correct those words by asking a friend or using a dictionary.  I do not nitpick every single misspelled word.  I try to point out high frequency words that are misspelled.  For advanced students, I hold them accountable for all words being spelled correctly.

Once students have corrected their spelling and any other mistakes, they must show it to me.  If I am satisfied that they have made corrections to the best of their ability, then I give them a "final draft" paper.  Sometimes this is thematic stationary, sometimes it is paper stapled to make a book, or it may just be lined writing paper.  On this paper, they copy their corrected work.

Finally, when they are completely finished, they turn in their whole folder to me.  I remove the 3 pages from each writing folder (prewriting, rough draft, final draft) and staple them together so that parents can see the progression in their writing.  Students can choose anything they want to write about while waiting for everyone else in the class to complete their project.  I call this "Free Choice Writing".

So that I can monitor each student's progress on the project, I created a Status of the Class chart.  It has a section for each stage of the writing process.  Students get a clothespin labeled with their name or identifying number.  As they complete each stage in the writing process, they move their clothespin to the next stage.  Download a copy of my Status of the Class Writing Tracking Chart.
As for the writing portfolio, I collect all writing of a particular genre in the portfolio until we finish that unit.  Then, students select which is their favorite to keep in the portfolio.  The rest are sent home for parents to review. The portfolios are a requirement of my school district.  They get passed along to the teacher next year. 
I hope this is helpful to someone!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Roll and Read Learning Center Games

I was inspired by my teaching intern this semester (who uses a fun Roll a Vocabulary Word game with our students).  So, I made two Roll and Read games for learning centers.  I plan to use the nonfiction one in my science and social studies centers (paired with a nonfiction book that matches our topic of study).  I plan to use the fiction one in my partner reading center (paired with a fiction book).

I hope someone can use them!