Thursday, April 27, 2017

3 Fun & Easy Around the Room Activities

Do you have a class set of clipboards? I do, and I love to put them to use OFTEN! I know that my kids need to be up and moving to stay engaged and focused. I love to allow them to do the same work that they would do in their seats by getting up and move around the room!

Last year, I bought these AMAZING StikkiClips! I have them hanging around my room for spur of the moment use! They are cheap and will stick nearly anywhere. They are an excellent tool to have when looking for around the room activities.

Task Cards

I love to hang task cards around the room. In previous years, I loved to play Scoot. But this year, I have 32 students, and since most sets of task cards have 24-28 cards, Scoot just doesn't work. I have grown to love placing them around the room for my students to solve.

I tell them that they have to be perfectly silent unless they are asking me a question. They don't want to share where the cards are hidden or what the answers are. The first person to complete all of the questions correctly wins a small prize! I typically give out Dojo Dollars, which we use in our classroom economy.

 Make Your Own Question

First off, I have to brag on Not So Wimpy Teacher's Vocabulary Units! I use the fifth-grade version to learn and practice five new words per week. The words are familiar, yet still new to them. For example, one of our most recent words was perspective. Many of my kids had heard the word, but not many could actually define it, tell what it meant in their own words, or use it in a sentence.

On Thursdays, our weekly routine is to create a multiple choice question using one of the five words from that week. After they finish writing their own question, I have them hang them around the room. I give my students TEN minutes and ask them to answer TWENTY questions! They get to choose which questions they like. After all, not all of kids have handwriting that is legible to their peers or are able to write perfect questions! 

I have a FREEBIE that includes the recording sheet and the sentence stems that I have them use while creating their own questions. I have them use their mailbox number to represent their question number, which they write in the upper left-hand corner.

Math Races & Scavenger Hunts

I have two themes, but the idea and the rules are exactly the same! I love to have Math Races or Scavenger Hunts around the room with my students. These are such a fun, self-checking way to allow students to practice basic math skills. 

Here's how it works. 

Show your class the "start" card. It has a problem on it for students to solve. I usually use my document camera or write the problem on the board. 

After they solve that problem, they look for the answer on the cards around the room. When they find the correct card, they solve that problem. 

And, look for the answer around the room. 

They continue working out the problems and finding the answers until they reach a card that says "THE END!" 

I shuffle the cards up really well to ensure that they can't simply walk around the room and solve them in order. I want them to think about their answers, know that they are correct, and move around the room. Many of them also test out their memory skills as they remember seeing a particular answer from an earlier stroll throughout the room! It is such a fun way to "race" through math!

What do you like to do keep your students moving and engaged throughout the day?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

3 FREE and Easy Ways to Communicate with Parents

Communicating with parents should always be a top priority in our profession, yet it is also something that is easy to let fall to the bottom of the to do list.  I wanted to share three of my favorite ways to communicate with my parents that are FREE and EASY!  As with anything, each has its own advantages and disadvantages, and I tend to have a specific purpose for each method.  Overall, I think that these three really allow me to keep my students and parents informed.

1. Classroom Blog

Anyone can create a blog through for FREE!  This is one of my favorite ways to communicate with both my students and parents.  It is also one of the easiest for me to use.  Each weekend, I usually take five to ten minutes to schedule out blog posts for the upcoming week.  I LOVE being able to schedule the blog posts, because I don't have to remember them mid-day or scramble to post throughout a crazy day.  Parents can also subscribe by email.  This is an amazing feature that my parents always rave about.  One parent said, "I love knowing what homework she has (referring to her daughter) before she even gets off the bus."  Since we are a 1:1 school, we don't have planners that are signed and returned each day.  This is also a fabulous way to put the responsibility back on students and parents.  In my opinion, there is really not an excuse for not knowing what homework should be done or what projects are coming up.  I typically use this blog to communicate homework and other reminders that apply to both students and parents.

2. Parent Facebook Group

Since I've been teaching general education, I have had a Facebook group for my parents.  And over the years, it has seriously saved so many headaches and even more time.  I only allow parents, guardians, or other family members who directly care for my students into the Facebook group.  It is set to private, and I approve each person who joins.  I love using this group to connect with my parents, not just communicate with them.  I go LIVE throughout the school day, share pictures of their students, and post parent only announcements when needed.  One worry that many of my teacher friends have is that they will have to "friend" all of the parents of their students.  You don't!  I give them a link at Open House each year, and they are able to join without friending me.  It is so simple to create and maintain, and I think has helped me have great relationships with my parents.

3. Class Dojo

I'm a little late to the Class Dojo party, but this year, I have really fallen in love with it.  I love that parents can see what points their child has earned or lost throughout the day.  In previous years, I used a clip chart, and if a child was moving their name once or twice per day, parents really didn't know unless I went out of my way to communicate it with them.  By using Class Dojo, they can see the positives and negatives every single day.  Now, I'll admit, there are times when I don't like that all subscribed parents can message me at any time. However, this isn't always a bad thing.  I would rather them have access to me than get frustrated over something simple.  

What communication tools do you use?  These are my favorites for keeps parents and students in the loop!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

4 Simple Daily Routines that Will Ease Test Prep Stress

Testing season is always stressful.  I don't know about you, but it seems that statewide testing always makes me doubt everything I've taught all year.  Please tell me I'm not the only one!  That being said, I feel like I've had a certain peace with the readiness of my students this year.  After thinking about it, I really think that it stems from great routines that require my students to demonstrate their ability to complete various skills all year rather than cram them in right before testing.

Mentor Sentences

Each week, we have a sentence that we really study, dissect, and recognize throughout the week.  I began using Jivey's Mentor Sentence routine, but I've made several changes this year to make it even better.  One of my newest additions is to require my students to seek examples of our mentor sentence.  I allow them to use their AR book or a textbook of their choice.  They search and search for examples and record them in their Mentor Sentence Notebook.

After searching for examples, I have them use Google Classroom and Google Docs to write ten sentences of their own.  Since beginning this routine about three months ago, I have seen their grammar knowledge skyrocket!  As they are writing, my classroom assistant and I roam the room and help them correct any errors.  I can also "spy" on them using Google Classroom to help them make changes, offer advice, or give compliments.  I have noticed MAJOR lightbulb moments when they are required to write their own sentences with correct commas, quotation marks, or apostrophes.

Every year, it seems like my kids struggle to with multiple choice grammar questions.  You know the kind I'm talking about---"Choose the sentence that is not written correctly."  Your kids panic!  Suddenly, all of the sentences look wrong!  It had seemed that my kids didn't always have the knowledge to choose an answer with confidence.  This year, when we practice the same types of questions, my kids seem bored with this seemingly obvious skill. 

Guided Reading

I have made some serious changes to my Guided Reading routines this year.  Wait a minute....that's not even the truth.  I can't say that in previous years I have really HAD a Guided Reading routine.  This year, I've spent a lot of time and energy developing a routine that works well for my kids and repeatedly covers critical skills.

Each Wednesday, my students are given two open-ended questions about their Guided Reading book.  At the beginning of the year, their answers were embarrassing.  I'm not even kidding.  They were horrible, but they were honestly giving it their best.  Through working in small groups and guided practice, my kids can write the answer to an open-ended question, while supporting their claims with evidence from the text, with ease.  It really allowed my students to enter the testing season with a sense confidence.  After all, they do this on a weekly basis!

Math Notebook

This year, I have a really large class.  On top of being a large group, they are the chattiest bunch of kids on the planet.  My typical math routine just wasn't working, and I knew I had to do something to change it up.  After several failed attempts, I found success with a math notebook.  It isn't anything fancy or genius at all.  When I began this, I gave each of them a spiral bound notebook and three Post-it notes.  We counted pages and divided our notebook into three sections---Word Problems, Computation, and Weekly Math.  Each day, we would work our way through a multi-part word problem, a computation problem, and several problems about whatever topic we were currently covering, such as finding the area area or classifying angles.

Usually, I really stress over my students' ability to organize and answer word problems.  Because of this routine, I'm honestly not worried.  Testing will either confirm my reason to be confident or make me look like a total loser!  Only time will tell.  At this point of the school year though, nearly all of my students tackle the word problem of the day independently and correctly.  

Problem of the Day

My last routine is my far my favorite and one that I have been using for years.  It is tested and proven to be effective.  Each day, I give my students one computation problem.  They range from adding fractions to multiply decimals.  They must answer the problem independently and drop it into a bucket.  While working on our Math Notebook from above, we complete the problem of the day together.  Anyone who has incorrectly answered the problem will work through a few additional problems with me in their notebook.  Then, they will have a page with twelve questions for them to complete on their own.  Students who are able to correctly answer the question are off the hook and can begin working on math centers.

I have an entire blog post about this routine, plus I've included data to support the routine.  During test prep time, I NEVER spent time on computation.  We focus on more difficult things like finding the area of a trapezoid and the complex vocabulary of ordered pairs (because the words horizontal and vertical are hard!).

What routines do you have that help ease the stress of test prep?  

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

7 Fun Ways to Study the States and Capitals

1. Introduce States & Capitals by Region of the Country

When I first began teaching fifth grade, I made many mistakes when teaching the states, capitals, and their locations on a map.  I threw all fifty states at them.  I gave a specific deadline and somehow expected them to memorize them all.  After many trials and even more errors, I have found that it is best to introduce the states and capitals one region at a time.  I really like having them work to memorize 8-12 states and capitals at once, rather than 50.  We can also really focus on the things that make each region special this way as well.  

2. Bring in FOOD!

Speaking of making things special, I LOVE bringing in food!  As I prepared my plans for this unit, I created a sign-up sheet asking my parents to send in food that matched each region.  The kids really loved it.  It made it so memorable for them as we worked through the unit.  

Here's the breakdown of what our week looked like:
Monday: We studied the Midwest and ate corn on the cob, wheat bread, and cheese.
Tuesday: We studied the Northeast and ate homemade clam chowder.
Wednesday: We studied the Southeast and ate Florida oranges and Georgia peaches.
Thursday: We studied the West and made homemade salsa as a class.  The students in the picture above are cutting up cilantro for our salsa!
Friday: We studied the Northwest and ate California grapes, apricots, and strawberries.

3. Listen to Songs on YouTube

You can find SO many songs on YouTube that include the states in alphabetical order or that put the capitals to a tune.  This song is SERIOUSLY so great.  It gets stuck in your head, and my kids are always amazed by the artistic ability of the guy in the video.  One of my students this year said, "He's crazy good!!!!"

4. Assemble Puzzles of the United States

I had an old puzzle in my closet of the United States, but I hadn't pulled it out in forever!  I found some United States puzzles at the Dollar Tree last weekend, and I couldn't resist picking up several.  I bought six, one for each of the tables in my classroom.  We've spent 5-10 minutes each day this week assembling the puzzle together and saying the states and capitals.  They have asked each day if they'll get to do a puzzle.  They're only 60 pieces, but they really seem to enjoy them!

5. Play iPad Games for Review

I think I've used a different app each year, but I really like this one.  There are many levels, some of which are not completely necessary.  My kids are challenged to constantly improve their high score on the levels which require them to select the capital of a particular state and find the state on the map.  I have been giving them about ten minutes after recess to practice while we take turns restroom.

6. Partner Quiz

My kids really like to pair up with a partner to practice their states and capitals.  I have a cheat sheet with all of the states, capitals, and locations.  I print four to a page and give each student one.

Here's what they do:
1. Partner one uses the cheat sheet.  They ask their partner for the capitals of twenty (you can vary this based on time) states.  They make tally marks for each correct answer.
2. Partner two uses the cheat sheet to quiz partner one.  Once again, they ask their partner to name the capitals of twenty states.  I always tell my kids to give them the "hard" ones.  They don't want their partner's score to be higher than theirs!
3. Partner one uses the cheat sheet to quiz their partner on the locations of twenty states.
4. Partner two uses the cheat sheet to quiz their partner on the locations of twenty states.
5. Who has the highest score? They win!

7. Yo, Sacramento!

I checked out a book from the library called The Little Man in the Map a couple of years ago.  My kids really seemed to enjoy hearing the silly stories to help them remember each of the states and their capitals.  This year, I bought the book Yo, Sacramento and my kids seem to really enjoy the pictures a bit better.  Some are much better than others, but they all make you chuckle!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Differentiation vs. Intervention: What is the difference?

Differentiation and Intervention are two very different things, yet I often see them used almost synonymously.  Funny story---Our school was audited by an outside company several years ago.  During their debriefing, they expressed that they weren't seeing much differentiation happening in grade level classrooms.  I heard one teacher say, "Well we send our kids to Title?!"  Although this is seriously a laughable story, when you understand the difference, it was sad that the two words were being confused.

What is differentiation?

Differentiation is part of the planning process where classroom teachers tailor instruction to meet the needs of all learners.  Teachers can differentiate in many ways, such as differentiating the content, the process, products that students create, or the environment of the classroom.  If you have been around education for a while, you likely know that the RTI process is often described using three (or four) tiers of instruction.  Differentiation occurs during Tier One, general education instruction.

The purpose of differentiation is to allow all students to be successful in grade level curriculum and to allow all students to progress at their own level.  I love differentiation and do my best to differentiate whenever possible.  You can differentiate by using Exit Tickets, Guided Reading or Math Groups, and choice boards.  I have a blog post (and a freebie) HERE full of ideas to help begin implementing differentiated strategies.

What are interventions?

Interventions are designed for students who fall into the bottom 25% of your classroom in a particular subject area.  Many times interventions are delivered by Title One or Special Education, however, there are many cases when intervention takes place in the classroom by a general education teacher.  Students should receive grade level content during the Tier One phase, but also receive instruction for an additional block of time, sometimes known as Tier Two instruction.  Typically, this intervention is a small group of 3-5 students for 30-45 minutes per day.  Often times, these interventions are based on a program that accompanies your reading series or a benchmark assessment used by your school district.

The primary purpose of an intervention is to allow a student or students to receive instruction in areas that are troubling them or preventing them from meeting grade level standards.  These interventions are also necessary if you are looking to identify a student for special education.

Why do we need to know the difference?

I believe that we need to know the difference to ensure that we are giving our lower performing students BOTH!  Both of these practices require time, planning, and knowledge to implement successfully.  Take a moment to think about the students in your class who fall below grade level or are on your radar for one reason or another.  How are you differentiating in your classroom?  For those same students, what interventions are they receiving to target their specific needs?

I love assessing and writing measurable goals that target the specific needs of lower performing students.  I created a video to share my steps for drafting the perfect goal!  Click the image above to check it out.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Book Clubs: 10 Books That Your Upper Elementary Students Will LOVE

Throughout the school year, we cover reading skills through a hardcore Guided Reading set up.  However, during this time of year, we are knee deep in statewide testing.  I like to make this week special and low pressure.  One of the ways that I do this is to by doing Book Clubs.  It is something that I look forward to every year, and my students always seem to enjoy the week!

I begin by showing book trailers for each of the books I have selected.  My principal generously allows me to spend a little money each testing season to grow our Book Club library.  I keep these books stashed away for the special occasion. Over the last few years, I narrowed down top ten list of books that my kids LOVE!

Chocolate Fever

This is the silliest book but is always enjoyed by all groups that read it.  It has a lower reading level and only twelve chapters.  This is the perfect book for lower level students or students who could use a confidence boost.  This book is a funny story about a boy who comes down with Chocolate Fever.  He suddenly has chocolate spots from eating too much chocolate. 

Class Dismissed

This is a book has thirty-two short chapters and also has a lower reading level.  It is a cute story about a teacher who suddenly quits teaching after a little mishap.  Due to an oversight, the teacher is never replaced and her students are left teacher-less.  The students work together to try to keep their secret!


Hatchet is seriously a classic book that all students must read before they leave elementary school.  This is a great adventure and survival book that my boys typically love.  However, even my girls enjoy it when they take the time to sit down and read it! With an upper elementary reading level, it is the perfect challenge for my boys!

Number the Stars

I also love the book Number the Stars and would consider it a classic, must read book as well.  This book touches on a sensitive topic of being a young Jewish girl as Germans take over her Denmark community.  It is well written and always a favorite of my students.


This book is the PERFECT book for your kids who dislike school, reading, and all things that require sustained mental effort.  Slacker is a funny book about a boy who is a total slacker.  He lives for playing video games.  When a little mishap occurs at home, he is forced to get his act together.  We also read Ungifted by Gordon Korman in the fall, so my kids look forward to reading another book by this author.  

The Bridge to Terabithia

Although I can't read this book without crying, my kids look forward to it year after year.  It is a loveable, heart-wrenching story about two young kids.  I love that it is a quick, easy read for my higher level students, and the perfect challenge for my lower level students.  

The Great Gilly Hopkins

I have had kids begging to read this book for the last two years.  Since I love The Bridge to Terabithia, I am reading it myself at the moment.  It is a story about a girl, Gilly Hopkins, who has been in the foster system for a long time, and she works hard to sabotage her foster care placements.  This is the perfect girlie book!

The Honest Truth

This was the new and popular book last year.  My kids fought over who "should be allowed" to read one of my coveted five copies.  This is about a young boy who has cancer.  It is a tough topic but is written SO well.  Both my male and female students have fallen in love with this book.

The Watsons Go To Birmingham

This is a popular book by both my male and female students.  It is about an African American family currently living in Flint, Michigan, who are moving to Birmingham.  Their family drama and issues with segregation keep the reader eager to read the next chapter. 

The Westing Game

This is one of my all-time favorite books.  I didn't read this as a child, but I read it during my first year teaching fifth grade.  It is a mystery involving the heirs of a millionaire and is a serious page turner.  The characters in the story are trying to piece together clues that seem to make little sense. I seriously had to order more copies because SO many of my kids wanted to read this book.

Click the image above to grab my Book Choices FREEBIE!

If you would like the printables used in this blog post, click the image above.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Evidence Board FREEBIE: Help Your Students Easily Cite Evidence

In my opinion, citing evidence is one of the biggest standards in upper elementary.  I would even assume, that regardless of what state you are teaching in, citing evidence is a core part of your upper elementary curriculum.  Over the last few years, I have felt that my students are typically doing well with restating and answering a question, but they struggle to cite evidence in a way that flows and makes sense.

This summer, I was extremely bored with my bulletin boards, and I wanted something that would be utilized on a regular basis with my students.  I decided that I would create an Evidence Board!

I created speech bubbles with stems for my students to use to cite evidence.  I love being able to have a reference when students are stuck on how to transition from their own words to citing evidence.

I even created a printable page to use to see how many of these phrases students can remember on their own.  

You can grab these printables to create an evidence board in your own classroom by clicking the image above!

If you are working on making inferences and citing evidence, I LOVE using The Giving Tree!