April 22, 2018

8 Ways to Promote Independence in Writing in the Primary Grades


I don't know about you and yours, but my students this year have had a difficult time writing independently. Yes, even this late into the school year (it's April!) and even with writing on daily basis, this year's group of kiddos has struggled with writing on their own. The environment is a bit different for me this year as I teach a Gen Ed and ESE inclusion class (second grade) with students ranging in ability level from Pre-K to 3rd grade. With that wide of a range, no wonder I have resistant writers.



So how can we as teachers help these students with independent writing? Although my students have struggled, they have come a long way since the start of the year. Here's what I have found to be successful, even when my students want to give up.

1. WRITE EVERY DAY.
Every. Single. Day. This seems like a no-brainer, but it is hard to implement with the tight schedules we are faced with. I squeeze in journal writing in the 20 minutes I have between PE and Lunch. Students are given a topic to write about and they write independently for that time. I usually put on some quiet music to keep students from talking loudly. During this time, I allow students to ask their shoulder partner for assistance in spelling or to help check their writing. This took a lot of time to teach the procedure early in the year, but it has helped tremendously with my lower students.

2. ANCHOR CHARTS.
Every writing unit we do begins with an anchor chart. Start your mini-lessons or writing time off by reviewing what is on the anchor charts you've already created together. For those struggling, draw pictures for guidance. A lot of words may intimidate those reluctant students. Check out Pinterest! There are SO MANY anchor charts!!! Here's a link to some Pinterest ones I like:





3. WRITING FOLDERS AND LAPBOOKS.
There are several ways to "collect" or "keep" writing material. You can go the pocket folder route or even the binder route. I also dabbled in lapbooks this year and my class really loved making them! Creating their "Fact-Folio" for informational writing really added to their sense of accomplishment when at the end of the unit, we had a LOT of items inside! Adding in that element of interaction with their research and planning makes the writing a lot more fun. You could do this with narrative writing as well. Click the pictures below to see a narrative writing lapbook that has just been added to my TpT store.

Providing students with a checklist will help them go to the next step on their own.


We use the Collection Pocket for graphic organizers, illustrations, and rough drafts. It is so nice to have everything together.


4. MINI WORD WALLS/DICTIONARIES.
When you give a topic to write about, brainstorm with your students some words they may want to use and write them on the board or chart paper. Recently, my students wrote in their journals about immigration and how they thing immigrants may have felt when they finally arrived at Ellis Island. My students this year tend to get hung up on spelling and won't move on until they feel it is spelled right. Anyone else experience this?! I look up from the one student I am assisting and 14 more hands are up. That makes the 20 minutes fly by and only a few students helped. By making a mini word wall with words that make sense for that topic, students can refer to it as they write and keep going! Our immigration mini word wall included words like "immigrant," "Statue of Liberty," "countries," and "relieved." These words were thought up by my students, so there was a level of collaboration and students were able to form ideas for their journal entry by listening to word suggestions from their peers as well as spell these large words without getting stuck. I include word wall cards and headers in every Vocabulary Activities Set in the series (which is always growing!), so if you have a specific topic and need the materials, click the images below.

ALSO AVAILABLE: Weather, Life Cycles, States of Matter, Rocks and Soil, Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall


5. VISUAL RUBRICS.
This is a big one. Sometimes students don't understand the rubrics we lay out. And they definitely won't understand if we don't TELL them what they are. What are your expectations? Do they know what they're expected to do? Do they know if you care about grammar and punctuation or do you only care about the content? Primary students may not know to ask these questions. Creating a visual rubric gives students the opportunity to self-check and keep on track even without your assistance. You can make these rubrics for literally anything. Here's one I made for staying on task! Adding in those colored levels gives you and your students an opportunity to reflect. I often ask my students, "What color would you say you are on this chart?"



7. CELEBRATE!
Do you have an author's day? Or an author's chair? Students love to share what they've accomplished, especially if you have build a strong community within your classroom. For some units, I've had short pieces read by every student in the room in one day, or for larger scale writing, we have split it up for students to share a few at a time across a week. I know we all love to post student work on bulletin boards, but writing is one of those things that students LOVE to see posted, especially if they've published it in an attractive way.

Check out these super creative author's chair/celebrations I found on Pinterest! Don't forget to follow!



8. PUBLISH IN MULTIPLE WAYS.
Make that final draft a work of art. There are hundreds of ways to jazz up the final product that will give students the excitement of finishing this laborious task. Add in toppers for them to color or decorate and simply tack them onto construction paper. Use colored pencils or pens to carefully write the finished product. You'd be surprised at how they take their time doing this! And if you're really looking for a beautiful finished product, spend some time allowing students to type their final draft! In the primary grades, this does take a while, but having it as a computer center is one way you can try to fit it in.


Was this post helpful? Check out these other great ideas to implement in your classroom today!
Seven Ways to Use Fairy Tales in the Classroom
Clever Center/Task Card Storage
Using a Hundreds Chart to Promote Mental Math
The Human Body Unit

March 5, 2018

Second Grade Science: The Human Body

For Second Grade Science, one of our units is The Human Body. I have to tell you, I was not impressed with the curriculum and resources available to my students for this topic, so, of course, I made my own. I made the pieces as we went along and kept adding to this growing project.



Before diving into the writing and the INB pages, my class and I did a lot of hands-on activities and read-alouds. We read The Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body, Parts by Tedd Arnold, and after learning about the brain, we totally learned the song "If I Only Had a Brain" from The Wizard of Oz. They loved it! I loved hearing, "Wait, Mrs. Smith! He would NOT be able to dance and sing if he didn't have a brain!" 

I turned to Pinterest for a couple of hands on ideas, especially with the heart and the brain lessons.

Here's my Pinspiration for a timed "Beat the Clock" activity to help kids realize how strong and amazing our heart is! They had a BLAST. I found this idea through Pinterest which led me to The Primary Theme Park blog:


The heart pumps 1.3 gallons of blood per minute! So we got a gallon of water in one bucket for students to try and scoop to another bucket in a minute! I couple of kiddos got close but no one was able to. Of course it was raining outside the day we did this, so we did it inside, carefully on our Superman blanket. Thanks to the Pinspiration above, here's our try below:


Also during the lesson we did on the heart we did an AWESOME and extremely easy activity with our pulse. We put marshmallows on toothpicks, balanced them on our wrists after finding our pulse, and watched the toothpick dance! To spice it up a bit, we did an exercise video and then watched our toothpicks REALLY go wild with our heart rate even higher. The students were amazed at how the toothpicks were moving. Here's the Pinspiration from What the Teacher Wants blog:


And here's our try! I will be doing this every year. It was easy and it really stuck with the kids.


As we moved through the unit, my class did a fabulous job keeping track of their learning activities in their Interactive Science Notebook. I pulled a couple of resources from the Florida AIMS Life Science book, but I made a lot of my own. Check out the photos below. These activities are included within The Human Body Unit on TpT.



We also created "brain hats" which was another Pinspired activity. The students looked so cute walking around with their brains on all day. LOVED IT!

Here's the Pinspiration from Ellen McHenry's blog. The free download for the template is there. The Pinterest photo shows the different sections of the brain. I printed the template without that and the students colored the different sections.


Here's one of my kiddos sporting her new awesome brain hat! Here's what I learned: card stock is WORTH IT; use Scotch tape instead of glue and don't be skimpy on it; print the adult size version because there are some kids with BIG heads. 


HOW CUTE IS THIS?! While we wore them, we read a mini-book from the Florida AIMS Life Science book (Brain Power) and learned "If I Only Had a Brain." I linked the video below. The kids loved it and it was a nice little break from the "work." ;)








Within the Human Body Unit, I included integrated Literacy and Math printables. The writing task cards were a big hit in my classroom and not only allowed me to see if the students understood the human body, but also allowed them to make self connections. There are several full color and black and white centers, including a True/False sort (perfect for practicing for true/false test prep), Word Wall cards (very handy to go with those writing task cards), and some really neat "brain games." Take a look at the preview and larger pictures below:




Check it out in my TpT store HERE or click the image above. I hope you enjoy this unit as much as I did!



September 2, 2017

Return of the Teacher


Disclaimer: This post contains sponsored content, affiliate links, and review products. Regardless, these are 100% my own opinions.

I'm BACK! After taking a year off from working to stay home with my son, I have returned to the classroom for the 2017-2018 school year. I just finished my first week back and I am thrilled to be there. I miss my baby, of course, but I belong in the classroom and I missed it tremendously. Baby is home with work-at-home Dad and is growing like a weed! He just turned ONE and I can't believe it! Here's a collage from all his monthly photos. <3



A new year means a new bunch of kids and I feel refreshed and ready for this new start. I decided to change up my classroom this year and went with a fun and exciting Star Wars and outer space theme. I am excited with how it turned out! I got many of my decorations at the usual IKEA, Dollar Tree, and Target, but I also snagged some amazing goodies at Oriental Trading this year, too. Take a look at the photos I took of my classroom setup!



I made that long poster and sacrificed a LOT of black ink to make it a reality. But it is definitely my favorite classroom decoration! It was worth it! I snagged the Vader poster at a yard sale for FREE! And with it being at the entrance to the classroom, students are asked what their expression is for that day. Let's hope it is a good one!


The next classroom view is to the left of the door. You can see my shelving unit and some classroom seating. I have a "Paw Wars" poster also found at a yard sale and some cheap DVD shelves for some DVD case centers. If you'd like to store your centers in DVD cases, here's a FREE template to make the covers!


Here's a better look at my shelf. Some cases are still empty so they are blank, but you can easily see how the printed template wraps all the way around so you have spine label, too!





This view shows my Jedi Focus Wall! I am loving my sparkly blue border paired with the plain black border from Oriental Trading. I used black fabric this year, which is something new for me. I usually do paper, but I'm tired of the fade!

The next few photos are just a tour around the room.



Why, yes, that is a sideways IKEA bookshelf.

How adorable are these library pockets from Oriental Trading?! Paired with the space name tag labels, also from Oriental Trading, they are perfect for Exit Tickets on the door! They have a ton of designs of name tags and they come in rolls of 100! Click HERE to see what they've got. I'm sure they've got your theme, too.

Plain and boring now, but those cabinets will be covered with Science Vocabulary as the year goes on!

Hard to see, but those blue labels are the CUTEST Star Wars stickers of all time. The folders will house recording sheets or corresponding worksheets that go with the centers in the same color (and sticker label) bucket which are on the shelves to the right (not pictured here).

Those are the colored buckets mentioned above. They are the colored drawers from those drawer systems from Michael's... but sadly... the metal part didn't hold up.



Probably one of my favorite B2S purchases are these Star Wars buckets. Students who are seated at that area place their pencil pouches inside and their notebooks underneath. Nothing fancy needed and they LOVE the characters on them!

Here's what they look like up close:



I LOVE LOVE LOVE these star and moon garlands that I attached to tension rods for this huge window in my classroom. I got them on Oriental Trading and they are HUGE! I was surprised at the size of them. They go across the entire massive window with no problem and they are perfect for my Star Wars/space classroom this year. The cool part, too, is they are made of foam. Not cheap cardboard. They will hold up a long time!





The VIP Desk! This is the first time I've ever used a VIP Desk. Do you have one in your room? I have an awesome antique desk, which was a gift from my mom, cozy IKEA pillow, a VIP journal, and that box is filled with all kinds of special supplies... including the highly sought after "shuttle pens" which are super cheap on Oriental Trading right now:


Kind of reminds me of my childhood! These pens were all the rage! They come in a pack of 12, ya'll. Can you say, "epic rainbow write?!"


Thanks for stopping by! I hope you are having an amazing back to school season.







April 5, 2017

7 Ways to Use Fairy Tales in the Classroom

Who loves a good fairy tale? I know I do and I also know that my students love them, too. There are plenty to choose from, multiple versions of them, and so many great learning opportunities wrapped up in one. So, besides simply reading and responding, what else can we use fairy tales for? Read on to see topics you could address with a simple fairy tale.




1. KEY DETAILS
As with any text, fairy tales can easily be used to work on finding key details. Aren't the characters, setting, and plot in a fairy tale a lot more engaging than most other stories? Students are still practicing the skill, but are enjoying the story simultaneously. I like using graphic organizers for students to practice writing down key details in the story. I also like taking a commonly known fairy tale and shortening it (or finding an already shortened version - check out KidsGen for some shorter versions that you could read aloud, print, or adapt even further - they also include videos). Once I have a shortened version, we can then practice our close reading and answer questions for students to go back into the text to find. You know, the usual! ;) The Fairy Tale Unit on Teachers Pay Teachers includes close reads as well as graphic organizers and you can get a sample of the graphic organizers for free below.



This free pack of graphic organizers will help you get started on key details with your students. Click the image to grab it.


2. STORY ELEMENTS
Fairy tales are a little unique in that they have a few other elements that set them apart from other fiction. Yes, we have characters, setting, problem, and solution, but we also sometimes have "magic," and always a "happily ever after." Adding in those extra elements makes learning all of them that much more special. Hang posters throughout the room with these fairy tale elements. They will help us remember them through the recall questions, but once students are beyond that, they can use these story elements to answer higher order questions as well as create their own. The posters below are FREE on Teachers Pay Teachers. Click HERE or the image below to get your set and hang them up, ready to go in your classroom.



How to Use These Posters:
- hang them up and use them for student reference
- read aloud parts of the story and ask students which story element it belongs with. You could also provide written cards and students can sort them as a learning center/station.
- hang them up or attach them to a binder ring to place within a writing center for students to use while writing their own fairy tale (more on that later).

Paired with this fun graphic organizer, students can analyze and break down fairy tales they are reading or they can use it to write their own (again, more on that later).



3. COMPARE AND CONTRAST
We know that fairy tales have a lot in common, so let's compare! Using a simple venn diagram will have students using those fairy tale story elements we already learned about and thinking about what these stories have in common and what sets them apart.



4. RETELLING/SUMMARIZING
We all know the kid(s) who summarize by telling you the WHOLE story without leaving out any detail, right? I can't be the only one that has seen that! Summarizing is a skill we use throughout our entire lives and we practice it starting in Kindergarten! Fairy Tales are amazing stories to use to practice this skill. There are opportunities for puppet shows for your younger grades and, what I like to call, The Ultimate Retelling Challenge for your upper grades. Students retell a story either by writing it or acting it out. Read about it on this excerpt from The Fairy Tale Unit on TpT:



Here's a couple of my lovely theater students using puppets to retell a fairy tale.


5. READER'S THEATER
I. Love. Reader's theater. LOVE LOVE LOVE it. Fairy tales are exceptional stories to use for reader's theater because there are so many different ones, they are easily modified for any reading level, and students love them. Not only that, but Disney has helped a lot in this area, too. Odds are, most of your students have seen or at least heard of the Disney movie of Cinderella or Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, so even if they aren't great at acting out a part, they have a character they've actually SEEN to refer to. The Fairy Tale Unit on TpT has 5 reader's theater scenes as well as 5 reader's theater monologues at varying levels of reading difficulty. This is also a fun time to add in costumes (again... sucker for theater...).


Here are some of my students watching another student perform a monologue. Gotta love those costumes!


6. CREATIVE WRITING
Now that students know the key details of their favorite fairy tales and they know what makes a fairy tale, it is SO exciting to have students write their own. By exposing students to multiple fairy tales, they'll have an idea of varying characters and different problems and solutions. I've had some students come up with every detail brand new, but I have also had students that combined their favorite parts of various fairy tales to make a brand new mashup of sorts. Both are awesome and both are showing the creative side of your students while using this new found style in story telling. Below is a game I call "Roll a Fairy Tale." Students roll the dice and develop their story that way. There's never the "I don't know what to write," issue with this game and it is a fun addition to any writing center. They just choose a sheet (character, beginning, middle, end, finish the story, or how did this happen?), roll a die, and basically fill in the blanks. This is included in The Fairy Tale Unit on TpT.



7. CREATIVE APPLICATION
We just used our fairy tale knowledge to write our own, but there are so many other opportunities for students to be creative with fairy tales. Here's a bullet list of just some of these opportunities:

- For younger students, dress up in costumes for retelling purposes or have them create their own crown.


- For older students, play the Creative Castle Card Game where they write about or draw a castle with combinations of various fairy tales.


- For any grade level, have students discuss, write, or act out "What If..." questions, such as "What if Cinderella didn't make it back before midnight?" There are many of these included in the Fairy Tale Unit on TpT.

- Read fractured fairy tales, such as The Stinky Cheese Man and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and have students write their own taking a fairy tale and twisting it around. This is GREAT for teaching point of view!
Here are some GREAT fractured fairy tales to go with your unit. I absolutely LOVE The Stinky Cheese Man.

- For older students, have them write and perform their own fairy tale reader's theater or have them write a skit to have others perform. This is also really fun for those fractured fairy tales. I had a student write a monologue from the point of view of "Awake Beauty," a princess who was given the curse of never being able to fall asleep. LOVE kids' creativity!


For everything you see in this post and MORE, check out The Fairy Tale Unit in my TpT shop! And definitely make sure you snag those free posters and free graphic organizers to use with all these other fun ideas for using fairy tales.