Seasonal Scissor Bins


A lot of the stuff we throw away during the holidays are things kids can cut to develop their fine motor skills. I mean does anyone actually use ALL of the wrapping paper that comes on the roll? (If you do, please don't tell me. That'll make me feel bad.) Save the paper plates and napkins you didn't end up using. Gather up some leaves and pine needles. Yarn, feathers, straws, cards, ribbons, tinsel, bows, tissue paper ... it all works! Even the tiniest scraps of wrapping paper will do!

And if you have old, worn out holiday clothing (like gloves with holes in the fingers), add them to the scissor bin too. Different materials will help children adjust their strength and coordination while cutting. 

πŸ‘‰ TIP: Don't spend money building your bins. Ask your students' parents to save their unused holiday items as well. They can donate their leftovers to your classroom and you'll have tons of stuff for scissor bins in no time! 

Happy teaching!

Strong Women: Then and Now

For whatever reason, there are some topics we only teach during certain times of the year. We always do (fill in the blank) in November, and then (fill in the blank) in January, and, oh yeah, don't forget (fill in the blank) in March. This makes sense for holidays like New Year's Day, Valentine's Day, and the 4th of July.

But the plight of a people, the victories of the oppressed, and the daring journeys of underdogs should be shared and celebrated throughout the year. Those are the stories of real people solving real problems in real life. We should be studying them, questioning them, and allowing them to inspire and impact our own lives ... on any random day of the week, during any month we want.

So why do we wait to talk about amazing women in March? Let's talk about them now. And tomorrow. And next month if we want to. We need heroes every day because WE are also real people solving real problems in real life. 

I love this bookπŸ‘‡written by Chelsea Clinton. She introduces children to 13 outstanding women who changed the world because they didn't take no for an answer. They persisted. There are some familiar faces like Ruby Bridges, Helen Keller, Oprah Winfrey, and Sally Ride, for example. And there are other women who may be new names for children, such as Sonia Sotomayor, Claudette Colvin, Maria Tallchief, and Virginia Apgar. They are doctors, dancers, astronauts, journalists. Strong. Determined. Resilient.   

Finding quality picture books about these women (and many others) is pretty easy. You can find dozens of books in libraries and bookstores. I've even pinned several collections on a Pinterest board I used to call Women's History Month, but I dropped the word month as a reminder that their stories are relevant any time of the year.

Although there are plenty of great books to read aloud to my students, it's hard to find books at a level of text difficulty they can read and comprehend on their own, so I made a set of biographies they can tackle with greater independence. The texts have been differentiated to accommodate a variety of needs. The first sample shows a simpler version with a more predictable text format.

The book set also includes a more comprehensive biography for each of six amazing women and includes multiple nonfiction text features such as captions, labels, arrows, and fact boxes. 

The resource highlights the extraordinary lives of Jane Goodall, Oprah Winfrey, Amelia Earhart, Wilma Rudolph, Marie Curie, and Clara Barton. Written comprehension activities are also provided. 

Posters of additional women offer another text level and format for early readers along with (my favorite part) a notable quote from each. 

If you're planning lessons about informational text, biographies, or the important contributions made by women throughout history, check out the resources on the Pinterest board above. You can also check out this teaching resource to help supplement your instruction. Every sample you see above is included in the set below. 

One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world. -Malala Yousafzai

Happy teaching!

Sweet on Scarecrows

I don't know what it is about scarecrows, but I sort of have a fondness for them. Maybe it's because they're supposed to be scary, but they just aren't. And a scarecrow that's surprisingly not scary is a nice kind of irony. 

These are some of my favorite picture books about scarecrows. All three are great examples of how authors are intentional with word choice and how the detailed moves illustrators make affect our emotions in big ways. They offer up themes of love, loss, friendship, and undying determination. Grab two or more titles and your students can compare & contrast elements across the different books.    

πŸ’› The Scarecrow by Beth Ferry

πŸ’› The Little Scarecrow Boy by Margaret Wise Brown

πŸ’› Scarecrow by Cynthia Rylant

To tie in some word work, we build words using the letters in the word scarecrow. My students love making-words activities and trying to figure out what the big, secret word is in each lesson. 

You can grab this free phonics lessonπŸ‘‰HERE. It includes everything you need for one making-words lesson: student letter tiles, a recording sheet, a sorting sheet, pocket chart letters, word cards, and directions. 

Happy teaching!

The Science of Light and Sound: Part 2

I saw the idea for this activity in a library book and, to be honest, I didn't expect it to be that big of a deal (or even work, if I'm still being honest). But to my surprise, it actually delivered. I think I suffer from Pinterest Fail PTSD. 

Singing Spoons is a fun way to show kids how volume and pitch change depending on whether sound waves are traveling through the air or through a solid, similar to the way a stethoscope works. 

It's a pretty simple set-up. Using tape, connect three metal spoons to a piece of string. Swing the spoons so they collide with each other and notice the sound they make. Then, wrap the ends of the string around your fingers as if you're going to floss your teeth, but place the yarn-wrapped fingers in your ears (again, think of a stethoscope). Swing the spoons again and notice how the pitch and volume change.

This science activity can easily be done without the sheets above, but I like reading procedural and informational texts with my students and I also like having a place for them to record their own ideas during investigations.

Hands down, the most satisfying part of planning this unit was finally engineering a harmonica that works! I'm not exaggerating when I tell you how much we were geeking over this one... maybe because it was our third attempt. But that's the nature of science, right? In the one pictured above, changing the distance between the purple straws will change the pitch of the sound... shorten the gap and the pitch will rise. Spread them back out and the sound will become lower. It's all about vibrations and sound waves.

And the bee?πŸ’› If you swing it like a lasso above your head, it really does buzz! It's a fun way to teach children that vibrations cause sound.

Making a sound wave model takes some time, but the wow factor can't be denied! You only need three things to make your model: duct tape, wooden skewers, and clay. (NOTE: To save time, we built ours using jellybeans, but I think the weight of the clay would provide an even better result. If you use clay, roll the balls to roughly the size of a large grape.) 

You can find construction directions and step-by-step photos in the planning resource below.πŸ‘‡

If you're planning a unit on light and sound and need a few more ideas for your lessons, check out this Pinterest board: Light and Sound Science. You'll find so many great ways to support your instruction with videos, books, integrated projects, and more.

You might enjoy this related blog post: The Science of Light.

Happy teaching!

The Science of Light and Sound: Part 1

Nothing in the universe travels faster than light. (Rumors born in faculty meetings might be a close second, but light wins.)

It's easy to get kids engaged in the study of light. There are loads of investigations that spark anticipation and wonder ... some even feel like magic to young scientists. Like, Why does that perfectly good straw look broken?

And, How can we pop a balloon without even touching it?

You can also DIY a little laser light show in your classroom with a can of Lysol and a cat toy! (Any aerosol spray will work, but why not kill a few germs at the same time?) 

To do this, darken the room and spray the Lysol for a few seconds. You should basically see nothing. Now do it again, but this time aim the laser light into the path of the spray. As the beam of light reflects off the moisture in the Lysol, you'll probably hear "Cool!" and "Can we try it now?" 

TIPThe darker the space, the better the results.

❤️ If you can get enough laser/aerosol donations, students can work in small teams of 2-4 and together you can create quite a show! 

(Cat Lasers Purchased at Walmart)

If you're planning a unit on light and sound and need a few more ideas for your lessons, check out this Pinterest board: Light and Sound Science. You'll find so many great ways to support your instruction with videos, books, integrated projects, and more.

Aligned with NGSS for first grade, the lessons and activities in this resource are ready to print and use. It includes nonfiction books for children, hands-on investigations, key vocabulary posters, game cards, and more. You can preview it HERE.

You might enjoy this related blog post: The Science of Sound

Happy teaching!

Go on a Leaf Hunt! An Autumn Teambuilding Activity

I taught in Florida for 20 years, a place where books about seasons can leave you with a little feeling of FOMO. The leaves in Florida only come in two colors. Light green. And dark green.

Oh, and dead brown ... so three. 

Unless they've been on some grand vacation, kids from the tropics don't really have a mental framework for things like red and orange leaves. I once had an ambitious neighbor who planted a maple tree in her front yard. It stood out like a sore thumb among all the palm trees, but it did manage to survive the heat better than we all thought it would. When the first few leaves became red and dropped to the ground, I ran right over and asked if I could borrow them to show my students.πŸ˜‚

You can see why going on a leaf hunt might require a trip to the craft store first.

There are so many fun activities you can do after reading Steve Metzger's picture book We're Going on a Leaf Hunt. One of my favorites is to plan a leaf hunt teambuilder in our classroom. It's easy to do and once you've customized your leaves, you can save them and use them year after year. 

Planning Your Leaf Hunt

• Get a pack of artificial leaves. I found a set of 50 at a dollar store. 

• Customize the leaves with a specific skill you're working on. (See the examples above.) It works for several subjects ... math, reading, science ... anything that allows a match. Plan to make one leaf per student. If you have an odd number of students, you'll need to play too.  

• Hide the leaves around your classroom before the students arrive. 

• Have fun reading and talking about the book. Then, invite the kids to go on a leaf hunt! Each student should find only one leaf.

• Once all the leaves are found, have the children pair up by finding their match. For smoother management, I have mine stand back-to-back and wait until everyone has found their partner.

• At this point, pose questions to help them get to know each other a little better. The questions can be as silly or as serious as you want them to be, depending on the grade you teach, the time of year, and your students’ interests. You can even have the kids trade leaves with someone else and find new partners so they have a chance to talk to more than one person. 

WHY AUTUMN? πŸ‘‰Resist the urge to save all your teambuilding activities for the first week of school. Kids tend to stay in comfortable groups, which is normal, but communities grow stronger when we make an effort to get to know each other better over time. Often we’re pleasantly surprised by the connections we make when we’re gently nudged out of our comfort zones. 

Check back in a few weeks. I’ll be sharing another teambuilder inspired by Santa and his love for cookies!πŸͺ

Happy teaching! 

3 Children's Books That Inspire a Wonder for Words

When Moira Rose from Schitt's Creek referred to teachers as scholastic skippers, I was reminded of how much I love words and how important it is to make sure we’re helping our students develop deeper vocabularies.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but these are some of my favorite picture books for getting young kids curious about noticing and collecting new words. They're the kinds of books that suggest language and vocabulary are interesting. When we have that established, we start noticing cool words in many of the books we read and the kids feel pretty accomplished whenever they manage to use a new word in a conversation or in a story they're writing.

1. Thesaurus Rex
Written by Laya Steinberg, this is my favorite book for teaching children there is often more than one way to say something. I use this text during writing workshop a lot. Afterward, we spend several days making charts of synonyms for common or overused words. These charts often start off like: Other Ways to Say Happy, Different Words for Mad, and Specific Ways to Say Went.

2. Big Words for Little People
My students love Jamie Lee Curtis' books. In this picture book, she uses humor and relatable life moments to introduce children to big words. Because her examples are so age-appropriate, the kids are easily able to start trying out the big words in their own lives. 

3. My Father Knows the Names of Things
What I love about this book is that it's not obviously about vocabulary. Instead, Jane Yolen introduces us to a man who is so curious about the world and the things in it, he has become a walking encyclopedia. It's about being so interested in a particular topic, you start to learn and use the technical terms associated with it. For example, I've had my fair share of first graders who were so passionate about sharks, they could not only name more than a dozen of them, but also knew specific key words like dorsal, cartilage, and ambush

7 More Books You Might Like: 

The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter

Max's Words by Kate Banks

Dear Deer by Gene Barretta 

Pig Pigger Piggest by Rick Walton

Why the Banana Split by Rick Walton

Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish

Fancy Nancy's Favorite Fancy Words by Jane O'Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser

Happy teaching!
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