Video: Teaching with Toys

Back in February, I wrote a blog post about how I use common children's toys during my writing workshop. The toys keep the students engaged in the lessons and their connections to these familiar objects help them remember the ideas and transfer that learning to the process of writing.  

This 12-minute You Tube video brings some of those ideas "to life" for teachers who don't get a kick out of reading blog posts.  If you'd like to see more detail though, you can check out the original blog post HERE.

Happy teaching!  :)


Building Vocabulary: Game On!

I'm a geek for "Game Night."  If you've read earlier posts, you know I collect children's books... it's a pretty big collection.  And I'm guessing second to that collection is my stash of board games.  There are quite a few.  Actually, they fill an entire armoire.  

One of the occupational hazards of being a teacher is that you tend to look at everything with a teachery-eye.  You know what I mean?  It drives other people, non-teachers, nuts.  But I can't really help it.  So when I play these games, I'm thinking, "Oh this would help my students get better at __________."  (Fill in the blank.)

I just put together a little video of my favorite board games that help children exercise their vocabulary muscles.  Come check it out... you may even have some of these games at home already.

{Click on the picture for link.  Video time 10:43.}

Happy teaching!  :)


Science "Matters"

Science matters, yes.  And so do the states of matter.  I just finished putting together a science set focused on teaching young children about the  different states of matter.  It's super engaging because it's hands-on and many of the investigations include food... and food is ALWAYS a hook! (Except for this one time... *many years ago... when we made homemade applesauce in class and this one child would NOT even try it.  We actually got into a small fight about it.  I know how ridiculous that sounds, but I'm much more mature now.)

*Emphasis on many.

Did you know you can make ice cream in a bag?  It's one of those things you see on the Internet and doubt.  But it's real.  It works.  And it tastes good, too.  This investigation, Baggie Ice Cream, is a fun, kinesthetic way to teach children the science concept that states of matter can be changed by cold temperatures. And depending on the age of your students, you can even dig a little deeper as you explain why salt is needed to make ice cream.  (The explanation is included in the packet... don't worry.)

And root beer floats are a treat with all three states of matter... a solid, a liquid, and a gas.  The recording sheets for this investigation are inside the root beer float cover and the patterns for making it are included in the set.  Make butter, freeze some popsicles, pop some popcorn, and do a little cupcake magic.  The packet is loaded with several investigations, anchor charts, student printables, assessments, games, and extension activities for writing.  Take a look!

I also have a States of Matter board on my Pinterest Page.  It has really cool ideas and kid-friendly videos on it.  You can "Follow" the board to see new ideas and activities that I pin to it as I find them.  

Thanks for reading... happy teaching!  :)


High FIVES All Around!

Who doesn't like big numbers?  (Besides the scale and your age, I mean.)

I am so grateful and excited about reaching a personal milestone on TPT... 5,000 wonderful followers!  To celebrate, I'm sticking with the number 5, so... for the next 5 days, 5 different items in my store will be marked down by 50% each day.  All you have to do is visit my store, browse through, and find them.  It's kind of like a scavenger hunt of savings!

You don't have to be a "follower" of my store to enjoy the savings, but if you're new to my store, consider following by clicking the star.  It's the easiest way to stay notified of new and updated items in the store.  

And, to make shopping easier, there are custom categories on the left. That way, you can get a little more narrow in your search if there's something specific you need for your classroom.

So stop by August 21st - 25th and take a look around.  I'll choose 5 different items every day, so be sure to check back each day to find the savings... I hope you find something that makes your teaching life a little more enjoyable.

Happy teaching!  :)


5 Awesome Back-to-School Boards!

I know it's only June, but some of you are already out of school livin' it up and some of you are totally eager beavers and are already thinking about next year... right?  If you're like me, you have a bad habit (or maybe it's good, I don't know) of rethinking EVERYTHING before the current school year even ends.  Does any of this self-talk sound familiar?

• "This summer, I'm going to completely reorganize my guided reading area."

• "My classroom library could be cuter and more inviting."

• "Are these curtains a violation of the fire codes?"

• "I wonder if those pom-pom trees I saw on Pinterest are hard to make."

• "I really need some new activities for the first week of school." 

Pinterest (thank goodness for Pinterest) is a teacher's treasure trove of ideas.  If you're looking for ANYTHING new and inspirational to help you prepare and get motivated for the upcoming school year, you're bound to find it on Pinterest.  Just use their search tool to discover tons of new ideas.  These are my TOP 5 "Back-to-School" Pinterest boards:

This board, Library Spaces for Kids, is a favorite among my Pinterest followers.  It is loaded with pictures and links to dozens and dozens of classroom (and home) libraries for children. They are cozy and inviting and inspiring to young readers. You'll find great tips for not only redesigning your library space, but organizing it as well.  

If you're ready to re-imagine your classroom, you'll find great photos and ideas on this board, Comfy, Cozy Classrooms.  It's similar to the board above, but it's focused on the general classroom space and not specifically the children's library.  The pins on this board are intended to help you create inviting, comfortable, home-like settings for children with cozy furniture arrangements, lamps, no-sew window treatments, and more.

Oh my gosh... who does not want to be more organized?  I'm usually pretty good at this.  I know this because I've been in some teachers' classrooms that you'd swear had seen a mini tornado whip through.  I'm talking years and years of "stuff" just piled and thrown onto shelves, into cabinets, behind bookcases, in closets, sometimes even the floor... you probably know this teacher.  (Do her a favor and share this Pinterest board with her.)  And even though I'm pretty organized, I always think it could be better.  This board, Classroom Organization, includes clever tips and strategies for making your classroom function a little better for you.  (Your super-messy teacher-friend may need a stronger intervention than this, though.)

Wondering what to do with a kid who needs to fidget?  Do your groups need to work on teambuilding skills?  Need to help teach kids what perseverance means?  Ready to rethink your discipline plan?  This board, Classroom Management, has several ideas for helping you effectively negotiate and manage student behavior to keep your classroom running smoothly.  (As smoothly as possible, I should say.)  

Ok, speaking of organization (and in the interest of being honest), this board is a little like my "junk drawer," although it's not junk.  It's just the place where I keep every other back-to-school idea.  So, in that way, it's a smidge more random, but it's loaded with LOTS of great ideas to help you get ready for the school year, including tips for Open House, the first week of school, icebreaker activities, and more.  You can check it out at this link, Back-to-School Ideas.  

Happy teaching!  :)


How to Use Wordless Picture Books

A book without words?  It seems like an oxymoron, right?  If there are no words on the pages, is it still a book?  Can it be "read?"  Will children be challenged to think deeply when they're only looking at pictures?

Yes.  Yes to everything.

I think some teachers look past wordless books because, well, there are no words. They seem like books for little kids... for "kids who can't read yet."  And they are great for children who aren't yet reading words, but they can also be very challenging for older children who are reading and learning how to think deeply about stories.  

They're ageless.

For the little ones (ages 3-6), wordless books give children the chance to actually process and understand a book all by themselves.  They learn about sequence and about how stories are structured.  They learn early on that clues for understanding can be found in the pictures, which is a critical reading strategy to know as they begin reading text in later years.  Learning how to be a storyteller, especially when supported by an adult, is a great way to develop a rich vocabulary, and because the books are not defined by words, there are multiple opportunities to elevate language skills while building the story.  And I love how wordless picture books take time. Because there are no words, there are also no cues as to when to turn the page. Readers can take their time on each page, studying the illustrations to make sense of the story.

But how can we use them in meaningful ways with older children?  I'm talking about children in grades 1-5.  Yes, 5th grade... kids who are ten.

Interestingly, wordless books tend to level the playing field.  Text can be intimidating for a struggling reader at any grade level, yet many standards and strategies can be taught using a book without words.  In fact, you don't always need text to create higher-order questions and engage in rich literacy discussions.  Often, less proficient readers will shine during the discussions surrounding a wordless book because more competent, conventional readers tend to put a greater emphasis on the text vs. the illustrations.  It takes a great deal of questioning, inferring, and synthesis to comprehend a book without words.  (Frankly, that's why I used to be scared of them.)

These ideas are packed with the language of rigorous standards and I've watched teams of older students work hard to process a wordless book.  Read through these, grab a wordless book that appeals to you, and give it a try.  I think you'll be amazed at the cognitive load it requires and the thoughtful discussions that will take place.

Reading Ideas
  • As with any book, have the children make predictions and anticipate events of the story by reading the title and studying the cover illustrations.
  • Students can understand different perspectives as each reader (or group of readers) constructs their own storyline.  They can compare and contrast different versions, justifying and explaining their decisions.  There is no one "right way" to read a wordless book.  This makes it perfect for developing the understanding that different people will have different opinions and perspectives based on their different types of background knowledge.
  • There is an element of close reading that can occur with a wordless book because there's much discovery that takes place after repeated experiences with the book.  On the first look, just enjoy the pictures and get a sense of what the book is about.  On the second and third visits to the book, really study the pictures and notice the details the illustrator uses... notice how the pages go together... how does one page "fit" with the one just before it?  Through collaborative discussions and a close study of the book, students will rearrange their own thinking and likely have new a-ha moments, leading to a deeper understanding of the story.
  • Give children sticky notes because they will have many questions as they work to understand the story.  This is an important comprehension strategy and is in the language of many standards.  I often see more questions generated from our time with a wordless book than a book with words.  A wordless book is like a mystery... and students will likely have a lot of questions.
  • Copy the pages of a wordless book and divide the class into three groups. Give one group the beginning pages, one group the middle pages, and the other group the final pages.  Challenge each group to sequence their own pages by studying the illustrations and discussing how the pictures go together.  Then, challenge the whole class to work together to put their parts in order.  Can they tell which group has the beginning of the story? Ask, "How do you know?  What clues are you using?"  Continue, working to find the middle and the end of the story.  (This can be harder than it sounds, depending on the book you choose.)
  • And plan to talk about synthesis at some point.  Wordless books often lead readers to change their minds... sometimes more than once.
Writing Ideas
  • Wordless picture books are perfect for creating writing opportunities. Invite children to write an original story to accompany the illustrations.  It can be really interesting to let groups of students work together and then have a "Share Fair" where each group presents their final story.  Compare and contrast the different versions.
  • Using a wordless book with strong characters, challenge the children to write an original readers theater script for the book.  Students can perform while projecting the pictures electronically on a large screen for everyone to see.  As an alternative, and depending on your available technology, older children can use iMovie, Keynote, or Power Point to produce their stories.  This could lead to a fun "Film Festival."
  • Allow the children to tape record their original stories, using a "ding" to signal when to turn the pages.  Let a class with younger children borrow the book and recording for their listening center.  Older children can be very creative with this, adding in sound effects, trying different voices, and including background music. 
  • I found speech-bubble and thought-bubble shaped sticky notes at office supply stores.  Use these to help children think deeply about characters. Because there are no words in the book, invite children to place speech bubbles near characters on each page and brainstorm the dialogue they might be having.  They can write their ideas directly on the speech bubble. Again, this is a perfect opportunity to talk about how different readers have different ideas... compare and contrast these ideas.  Sometimes, a character might not be speaking (you can tell by the illustration), but may be deep in thought.  These are perfect places for your students to infer internal dialogue.  Use thought-bubbles to encourage children to write what characters may be thinking.

These sample pages are from one of my favorite wordless books, Chalk by Bill Thomson.  It's a fun story with bright illustrations and is a nice one to start with because it's not too challenging to comprehend.  My kids always like this one.

For more wordless picture book titles, see the photo at the top of the blog post.  My favorite books are pictured there and you can read the titles on the spines.  I'm always looking for new ones, though, so if you have a favorite (or you find one because now I've inspired you to at least think about wordless books... wink), let me know. 

Do you have a tip for wordless books?  

Happy teaching!  :)


A Backpack of Writing Ideas

My last post, Gathering Writing Ideas: 5 Tips to Generate Ideas, really should've been 6 tips because I totally forgot about this idea... A Backpack of Ideas.  This idea is similar to the strategy of using children's literature to generate writing ideas, but instead I use my own personal treasures to stimulate thinking about topics.  It's super simple, but very effective.

All you'll need is a backpack (or a bag or a basket... just something to hold your goodies) and then fill it with items you think lend themselves well to topics that are age-appropriate and interesting to the students in your grade level.  These are examples of some of the things I've had in my backpack over the years:

• my camera ... so I can talk about a favorite hobby

• a tennis ball ... so I can talk about a sport or game I like to play

• a dive mask and snorkel ... so I can talk about something I'm learning how to do

• a dog leash ... so I can talk about pets

• a trophy ... so I can talk about an "I did it!" moment

• a plastic frog ... so I can talk about something I'm scared of

• a picture of my cat ... so I can talk about something sad or something I miss

• a band-aid ... so I can tell the story of a time I got really hurt

• a sand bucket and shovel ... so I can tell about one of my favorite places to go

• a gift box ... so I can share about a special gift I once got

• a book ... so I can talk about things I collect

You get the idea.  The items in the backpack are completely up to you.  Think about the kinds of topics kids like and then gather items that will allow you to share and brainstorm story ideas with them.  The possibilities are endless.

At the beginning of the year, my main goal is to make sure the children have plenty of time and encouragement to collect writing ideas, so I pull 2-3 items out of the backpack during each writing workshop lesson, going through the same exercise as I take each one out:

1.  I make a big deal out of the item... "Oh my gosh, this dancing trophy is so special to me!"

2.  I share my memory... "It reminds me of the time I worked really hard to learn..."

3.  I model jotting this idea down on my Idea List in my writing notebook.  "Wow.  I can't wait to write about this one day."

4.  I invite the children to turn and talk to a partner about a time they worked really hard to do something challenging.  In first grade, that's usually something like riding a bike, learning to swim, or hitting a baseball.  

5.  I ask a few volunteers to share out their ideas with the whole group.  "Oh... that's a neat memory.  I think that will be a great story for you to write very soon." 

6.  I give them a few minutes to jot or draw their ideas on their own Idea List.  At this point, we're just collecting ideas, not actually writing the stories.  

Then I pull out the next item and start all over again.  It can take me a few days to get through the whole backpack, but the kids love it because they're eager to find out what else I have in the backpack... it's a total surprise to them... and they LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to talk about themselves.  The collaborative nature of these discussions also means that some children are getting ideas from other children, and that's good because not everyone can think of ideas as easily as others.  

TEACHING TIP:  Consider leaving the items out for several weeks.  Either prop them up on a shelf where everyone can see them or hang them from the ceiling with fishing line.  It can be very helpful to have them displayed so that when you're conferring during those first weeks of school and you kneel down next to that precious little one who cries, "I don't have anything to write about," you can have fun going through the items again for inspiration.  You can even invite them to create their own little shoebox of artifacts to bring to school.  Then, on days when they're stuck for an idea, they can search through their personal items for a story spark. (A family photo album is a great personal artifact to bring to school.  Pictures often lead to powerful memories for children and these are the seeds of stories.)

TRICKY TIP:  Don't worry if your backpack is too small to hold all the things you want to put in there.  You can secretly add more items after school, when everyone is gone.  It'll be like the "clown car" of writing ideas.  By the end of the week, they'll wonder how you got all those items in there!  :)

If you try this idea, leave a comment below and let us know what you put in your backpack.  It's great to get ideas from other teachers!

Happy teaching!  :)