Book Talk Tuesday

This is one of my favorite books... especially for the first week back to school.  My friend, Susan Minner, introduced the book to me years ago.  Susan taught 3rd grade and I taught 1st grade, but all the children loved it regardless of their age.  It's a lively read-aloud and a great conversation starter for topics like selfishness,  teamwork, and forgiveness... just to name a few.  I think you'll love it, too.

It's about a group of prairie dogs who get tangled up in fuzz when a tennis ball accidentally lands in their burrow.  Get familiar with the book before you read it aloud and be prepared to read with a couple different voices, especially for Pip Squeak (little voice) and Big Bark (gruff voice).  Your kids will be glued to you.

This story actually begins on the title page and dedication page.  I love when authors do that... so don't skip too fast over those parts.  They give clues as to how the ball lands in the burrow. 

When the ball lands in the burrow with a big PLUNK (lots of sound words in this text), the prairie dogs aren't sure what it is, where it came from, or what to do with it.  But, after much pondering, they decide it isn't going to hurt them and they start playing with it.  All the while, grouchy Big Bark does not think this is a good idea, which he makes very clear.  :) 

All's well until the fuzz runs out.  (Gasp!)  The prairie dogs start arguing about who has the most and the once-friendly community becomes greedy and unkind.  They fuss until they're tired and fall asleep.  But later, when they wake up, the notice all their fuzz is gone.  Big Bark has stolen the fuzz!

Well... Big Bark is making such a ruckus, he's snatched up by an eagle.  (Another good time to gasp!)  But, like a good group of friends, all the prairie dogs rally around him and save him.  Of course he's super thankful, everyone learns their lesson, and life is well again.  

Or is it?  (I love a teaser on the last page!)

Happy Reading!


Building a Classroom Blog

A few years ago, I bought an awesome blog from Alicia at Dreamlike Magic.  (She designed the blog you're currently reading.)  But then, last summer, I wanted to design a blog for my classroom... a blog dedicated just to my students and their families... a blog that would not only chronicle our year together, but provide the parents with important (and fun) information along the way.  If you have been thinking about becoming a teacher-blogger, but haven't started yet, I encourage you to try it out. I started a Blogger blog... all by myself!  It wasn't hard, but it did take some time to poke around, click buttons here and there, and experiment with what looks good.  Don't be afraid to give it a shot... plus it's free, so you can't lose.  :)

Start with a cute name.  My last name is Knight and I knew my blog would contain a lot of "news," so The Knight Times seemed perfect for what I was doing.  Then, I just designed my own banner with the moon and stars to fit the theme and play on the words.  

I started with only a "Home" page, but as the year went on, I knew I wanted to have different categories for the parents to click on, so I created a variety of tabs which are actually called "Pages" in the Blogger template.  Adding different "Pages" allows you to organize your blog into different topics.  You can add as many as you want and at different times.  You can even rearrange them and delete them if no longer needed. You can see mine above.  I chose these, but the possibilities are endless... it just depends on your needs and your creativity.

• Home
• Class List
• Class Scrapbook
• Our Daily Schedule
• Classroom Instruction
• Word Wall Words
• Homework
• Story Time
• Behavior Plan
• Requests

These are some of my favorite parts or ideas from the blog:

1.  Use cute clip art.  This was the first thing parents saw when they visited our classroom blog (until my "Home" page became too long).

2.  Of course, pictures of the children are a must!  Parents are more likely to follow your blog and check in if they know they'll see photos of their children.  (Don't forget to obtain permission first.)  I like to mix it up by posting photos of classroom work, special days, and fun events.

{Preparing for our readers' theater performance.}

{Celebrating the 100th day of school!}

{The tug-of-war contest during Field Day.}

3.  Include important information about schedules, homework, and school supplies. (This is a great way to be "paperless" and save your school money on dozens of handouts.)

4.  And I am not too proud for ask for extra goodies either.  Consider keeping a wish list on your blog.  Many parents who can't volunteer their time because of work schedules may rather contribute with gifts.  My favorite thing to ask for?  

5.  A blog can be a great place to explain your classroom discipline policy. Try to use pictures to make the process more concrete for the parents and be specific.  If they know your clear expectations up front, it could save you from unnecessary confusion later on.

6.  Be informative by sharing current instruction, anchor papers, games to play at home, learning resources, etc.  Many parents want to support their child's education at home and they need to know what their child is learning about in school.  I have a tab that explains our current instructional goals per quarter (but I only display one quarter at a time... I don't want to be overwhelming) and I also have a graphic that helps families keep track of all the word-wall words we've learned (I add the new words each week).  The more information I can provide, the better the connection between home and school.  Here are some examples:

7.  Mix fun fonts and lettering with your photos.  It makes them stand out (and it's just fun to do).  You can be so creative with your blog!  

Some of my favorite fonts and letters come from the Hello Literacy Blog and
Lettering Delights, but there are tons of options.  Pick your favorites and go crazy!

8.  Some of the homework assignments were connected to literature, but I knew some of my children didn't have access to quality literature at home.  I always made sure they were taking home books from the classroom each day, but then I had fun trying out another idea, too.  To make the reading a little more personal and inviting, I started taping myself reading some of my favorite books... anything that would be aligned to our current unit of study, whether it was fiction or nonfiction.  I had to get over the feeling I had every time I watched my videos because the kids loved them. Some parents told me their child would watch the videos over and over.  (Can you imagine?)  My point? You can add videos of yourself to the blog, too... so fun!  (These are just images.)

I learned most of the "tech stuff" by just playing around and experimenting... you can, too.  However, I also watched my fair share of You Tube videos whenever I had a question I just couldn't figure out and I was always able to find the answer. 

You can click HERE to see my first grade classroom blog, The Knight Times.  Let me know what you think... ask questions... share your own.  If you have a classroom blog you're willing to share with our followers, I invite you to leave your link in a comment below.  We'd love to check it out!

Happy Blogging!

(Careful.  It's addictive.)


My Summer Scrapbook

I'm not quite ready for school to start... are you?  We've had a crazy and fun summer. I can't believe how fast it went.  After living in Florida for more than 40 years, we decided to trade our beaches for mountains, moving a lifetime of "stuff" 700 miles north to the Carolinas.

"Good-bye" Beautiful Beaches of Florida

"Hello" Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina

We went from "neat and tidy" to chaos.  I wanted desperately to ignore the boxes, but I'm a smidge Type-A, so you know how that goes.  We were fully settled and ready in two days.  :)

From "Neat and Tidy"

To "Chaos"

You can't beat the weather in North Carolina, that's for sure, but I do miss my friends. They are awesome, though, and made the 12-hour drive up here to visit us in our new home.  {Thank you, Trina and Emily!}  So what did we do?  We crammed everything we could into these few short months.  Thank goodness school is starting soon so we can rest and start saving money again.

Our kids miss the pool terribly, so we put a trampoline in the back yard.  It's actually the third one we've owned over the years.  A tornado took the first one out of our yard and dumped it in a nearby swamp.  And my husband "gave" the second one to the garbage men the day we moved.  When I bought the third one, he groaned.  It took 4 1/2 hours to assemble.  (Insert nervous laugh.)

I totally reorganized my entire collection of children's books.  There were books everywhere... the hallway, the dresser, the bedroom floor, the basement... but now they're all settled in some new bookshelves that my husband put together.  Again, more groaning.  :)

We went to Las Vegas for the first-ever TPT conference.  It was fun to see all the different hotels, but the best part was my friends and I met Deanna Jump and Emma Farrell and, in teacher-world, that's a really cool thing!

My daughter and I discovered "Charming Charlie."  What a fun store!

We went whitewater rafting with Trina and Emily on the Nantahala River... awesome! And, best part, nobody fell out of the raft!

We hiked up Mt. Pisgah, which is a climb of over 700 feet.  For this long-time flatlander, it brought tears to my eyes and pain to my thighs.  I'm going to have to work on this.  There are inclines everywhere around here!

And we ate our first flowers.  (I don't recall ever eating flowers in Florida.)

The Biltmore house is a really neat experience.  I highly recommend visiting it if you're ever in Asheville.  It's the largest private residence in America... it's crazy BIG! (Warning:  The food is expensive.  Hot dogs and pretzels for three teenagers... $40.00!  Hide a sandwich in your purse.)

I hope all of you had (or are still having) an amazing summer!  For those of you already back at work, have fun meeting all your new little friends... I hope it's a wonderful beginning!

Best Wishes!


First Week Favorites ... "I Will"

{"I promise to do what I promised to do."}

Not much is more important than being trustworthy.  People need to know they can count on you and it's never too early to teach this to kids.  In our school, we live by the Lifelong Guidelines, so our kids learn to understand important concepts throughout the year like:

• personal best
• truthfulness
• active listening
• trustworthiness
• no put-downs 

In this activity, the children are paired up with their shoulder partner (Kagan Cooperative Groups).  One child is gently blindfolded and led around the classroom. The goal is to protect the blind partner from bumping into anything and carefully lead her back to her seat.

Because we do this activity during the first week of school, a good amount of trust is needed.  The children don't really know each other very well yet, so faith definitely has to be earned and exercised. It's easy to find other trust exercises on the internet... try to plan fun, age-appropriate ones about once a week, or every other week.  They're great team and community builders.  


Back-to-School Shopping

My kids, who are now 12 and 14, STILL love to go shopping for their school supplies. Everyone has a favorite.  My son... mechanical pencils.  My daughter... journals.  I do, too... don't you?  I love looking for supplies for my classroom and I'm a sucker for things that clip some things to other things.  I don't know why.  I just like clipping things together and tabbing other things.  So...

These new binder tabs are perfect for me.  The sturdy cardboard tabs are connected to the clip and you can write on them and then clip them to anything... files, pages of big books, calendars, bins, cups, cans, team caddies, anything.  

And look at these shaped sticky notes... one like a speech bubble and the other like a thought bubble. I can see many uses for these during reading time.  Kids could write what they're thinking about or what questions they have on a thought bubble while listening to a book and then keep them in their reading notebooks.  Or, even during math, when we're studying a graph (like how we all get home on the first day of school), we can write what kids notice inside the speech bubble shape and attach it to the graph as a record of our observations.  Love these!

I LOVE sticky-tak.  I actually don't know how teachers do without it.  (I panic when I haven't kept track and run out of it.)  Today, I saw it in packaged in tiny, pre-cut pieces.  Have these always been out there and I just didn't know?

Because this always happens to me (see cartoon, except switch curtains to scented markers and glitter glue), I'm sure I'll come across more to share soon.  I'm not sure we ever grow out of that fun feeling we get when looking for new school supplies... even when we're not the kid anymore.  :)