Sunday, April 12, 2015

Potter Fans: Harry Potter Book Club Activities

Harry Potter Fan Club!
Is that not the best reason to go to work? Every Wednesday, from 3:00 to 4:00, an adorable group of students arrives at my room to read Harry Potter. They are the cutest, because they are staying after school, by choice, to read! 
I started out by inviting any interested Potter Fans:

After we started reading, one of the early activities we did was making bookmarks to mark our books!

  After Harry got his wand at Ollivander's, we logged on to to see what wand we  would receive!

When we read about Harry and Ron on the Hogwarts Express, we made these chocolate frog boxes using this template I found at The Leaky Cauldron.

I had students choose their most interesting character and we started these character maps, using evidence from the text that shows us what the character is like!


We started a couple handy charts based on the kids' observations after reading a few chapters.
We hunted for characteristics of each Hogwarts house.

 After they noticed the connections between Harry and Voldemort, we started a Venn diagram.

We used an online quiz to figure out which house each student is in (BTW, I'm totally down with Hufflepuff).

 And then we worked on creating our house crests!

We took pictures and put it all together for a nice little display outside my classroom door! The Potter Fans are in!

We made some fun golden snitches using these materials: styrofoam balls, spray glue (which I managed to spray pretty much all over my table, and papers stuck there for weeks), glitter, sparkly pipe cleaners, and sparkly gold foam fun felt.

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Rainforest Museum for Earth Day!

I've been teaching for twelve years. Unfortunately, I really didn't start documenting and photographing my teaching  until about four years ago. That means there are about eight undocumented years of teaching. And that really stinks, because during that time I remember doing some very awesome stuff with my kids. 

There was the year we collected funds for the World Wildlife Fund, made informative presentations about endangered species, and invited classes from around the school to learn about why we should protect the environment.
A jaguar in its rainforest habitat.
There was the year we made books based on "When I Was Young in the Mountains." Each student wrote a memoir and created a bare book to read to their little first grade buddies.
I don't have one single picture of these events. So please, take pictures of your teaching. You'll wish you had them.
Today, I came across a set of pictures about six years ago that I didn't know I had. They were from our fourth grade museum.

For several years in a row, the fourth grade hosted "Fourth Grade Science Museums" at the end of the school year. We chose a science topic that we had to teach at that time and each section took a different part of it. For example, one year, we divided up the Earth and Space standards among six sections and I got the objects in the sky part. Another year, we divided up the Changes to Earth standards, and I took fast changes - volcanoes and earthquakes.
A lemur, lollygagging in a rainforest tree.

This was the year of the biomes. Each teacher took one biome, and I had the rainforest. We. Had. A. Blast. I took black butcher paper and covered the entire back wall of our room. Each student received colored chalk to create a mural of the rainforest. It was beautiful! Of course, I don't have pictures of that.
Each student chose an animal to research. We used Zoobooks from the classroom, library books, and a multitude of resources online. I provided a list of some great places to get rainforest research below.
The golden lion tamarind, resting against a tree.

After gathering their information, students created a short presentation about their animal. At home, they built a model of the animal including important details about their habitats. 

They each created a book about their animal. I provided each student with a small bare book and we discussed how to create a nonfiction book - we planned out the pages: life cycle, food chain, a description of the animal's habitat and more. Then we added glossaries in the back. I love having students create books! Bare books are the best investment!

The last piece was a powerpoint presentation - each student added one slide about their animals to a class presentation. We projected it and left it on a loop. Classes from across the grade and a few from around the school were invited to come and visit our presentation. We set up a schedule to visit each others' classes. The students were so proud to share their learning! And I truly believe it helped increase their environmental consciousness. 
Students teaching each other about their animals.
Teaching about the rainforest? Check out these resources:


I love these Magic Tree House guides - 
full of great information and very readable!


And here's a handy product to use with The Greak Kapok Tree. It integrates the story, reading about rainforest animals, and ideas for extensions! Grab it on TPT!

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Five Ways to Keep Test Prep Fun!

Dun-dun-dunnnnn. It's that time again. That all-dreaded testing season. If you're like me, you love your job from August - January and then you'd like to use up all of your saved-up sick days to take a vacation until May.

Actually administering a state test is a horrendous experience. There are dozens of hilarious tips about what you can do during testing, but the truth of the matter is, you can do nothing. Nothing but walk around incessantly, glancing to "make sure students are working on the appropriate section of the test" but not looking closely enough to actually read the test. You have to look over their bubble sheet to notice that they bubbled, but not close enough to notice what they bubbled. Not that it matters, because you have no idea what's on that test anyway.

Basically, the test is a blind date your friend set you up with who gets to judge you by watching you through the window of the restaurant as you wait patiently for them to arrive. You don't actually get to meet them yourself, or to hear the results of this observation until months later, when you're no longer interested in meeting such a creepy person, and your opinion does not matter.
Anyway, there's not much I can do to make delivering the test more interesting, but your test preparation and review can be fun. Here are four tips to keep your test prep engaging and interesting! I've used each of these tips in third - fifth grade classes, and they worked for me!

#1 Play BUMP!

 Target: Get kids moving while practicing strategies with accuracy. Timing it creates a sense of urgency.

This is a great way to get kids moving when all you're really doing is having them answer questions you would've had them answer at their desks. To play BUMP, you'll need the questions you want students to answer all cut apart. Because I require students to use strategies on each question, I make enough copies of the question so each student can have their own.
You stack all the copies of #1 up on one desk, and all the copies of #2 at the next desk, and so on. When you say, "GO!" the kids have to use their strategy to answer the question. You give them an appropriate amount of time (maybe three minutes) and then shout, "BUMP!" The kids have to move to the next question (and I make them take their copy of the question they just answered with them) and answer that. Then you shout "BUMP!" again and the process continues. My kids loved it!

To keep it focused, I always do a little minilesson on the strategy first and then all the questions are focused on kids using that exact strategy. 

#2 Toss the question ball.

Target: Hold everyone accountable, but in a (slightly) fun way.

My kids loved anything where they got to move. To keep them all engaged during not-so-exciting test prep lessons, I used to use the "Smushy Apple of Knowledge." It was just one of those little stress reliever apples. Being soft is important, because basically, I spent entire lessons throwing the apple at my students.

 Oriental trading has a whole collection here. I also used to have a little Earth that we called, "The Smushy Earth of Science". We were inspired by Bill Nye.

These are the rules:
- I ask a question.
- I say a name and toss the ball to that person.
- They must answer.
- I ask another question
- They have only three seconds to decide who to toss it to.
- They say the name and toss it to that person.
- If you take longer than three seconds, I choose where the apple goes.
- If the ball bounces away from the person it was aiming for, only one person who is closest can get up to get the ball and give it to the original person.
- No one can ask for the apple. No one raises their hand; no one shouts out, "ME!" 

The last two rules were (obviously) the result of trying to use the smush apple and realizing I needed some specifics. They keep two things from happening. 1. A student will be ready to toss the apple but spend five minutes looking around the room at all the eager faces, thinking about who to toss it to, and saying, "ummmm." 2. Half a dozen students abruptly leap out of their seats and head for the same tiny apple. 3. Half the class has their hands waving frantically in the air, shouting "OVER HERE!" and the other half isn't worried about participating because those other kids will get the apple.

#3 Partner A/Partner B

Target: Each student is accountable to their partner. Great for differentiation.

In any class, you have a diverse bunch of kids. If your class requires a lot of differentiation (even in their testing), this strategy works well. Even if it doesn't require that, this will still work well. You just won't differentiate the questions.

Here's how it works:
You identify who is Partner A and who is Partner B throughout the class. You assign one problem to Partner As and one problem to Partner Bs.  This is where you can differentiate, subtly. There can be a difference in the problem you assign Partner A and Partner B.

Each student is given an appropriate amount of time to work on their problem. Then they meet with their assigned partner. Partner A teaches their problem to Partner B and Partner B then teaches their problem to Partner A. Easy peasy, but it gets kids showing their best work, communicating about their work, and listening to another student.

# 4 Stations with test prep questions

Target: Have students practice a variety of concepts or one concept in a variety of ways. Includes some movement, and timing it creates a sense of urgency.

Stations are a great way to get kids to move through a variety of practice materials while creating a sense of structure. The day feels pretty long when everyone does this, and then everyone does that, and then you do this other thing, etc. By using stations, students feel like there is a little more energy and movement in the room and adding a timer helps them stay focused and energized.

Look at the concepts you want students to learn. For third grade math, for example, I isolated six main concepts I wanted students to practice. I made a stations activity - usually a matching activity - for each concept. For example, for fractions, I made this fractions comparing station:

For 3-D shapes, I provided students with the 3-D shape forms they could hold and manipulate, and a table to record their faces, edges, and vertices.You can also find it here.

Then, I found about five test-ish questions for each concept. I wanted students to do something hands-on and then apply that immediately to some test questions. This is the bridge we have to build for many of our struggling students. They learn the content, but they don't always know how to demonstrate that on a test! I could then collect those questions and identify who was on target and who needed more support in which areas.

You can also read these posts about the fractions stations I used to prepare my kids for their test! Fraction Fanatic and Fraction Frenzy.

#5 Sorts

Target: Have kids think critically in an easily manageable format.

I love sorting activities! To help my students prepare for their big reading test, I made a sort that included the categories of the main genres tested (fiction, drama, expository, and poetry) and little cards with the characteristics of each genre and the strategies they would need to use. Then I added a sample of each genre and a ton of questions.

They had to sort the characteristics, strategies, and sample into each genre category. Then they had to read the questions, mark up their observations and decide which genre this probably came from. For example, if the question says, "Read the following stage directions from 'Bill and Pete,'" I know it's asking about a drama.

What fun ways do you get kids energized about test preparation?
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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Biography Museum!

When we were planning our biography unit, we scoured pinterest to find the most interesting, engaging, and purposeful way for students to demonstrate their learning about important people. Using a pin we found here we decided to have students create an interactive biography board!

Students researched an important and interesting person to gather information about their lives: birth, important events and contributions, and their current status or death.  

We wanted students to do a little rigorous thought by having them speak from the perspective of their important person. To do this, they had to practice saying, "My most important contribution was..." and "When I was young,..."

Each class made their boards a little bit differently - the variety was great! Students from each class presented to the other classes.

One of our adorable teachers saved the lids from her baby food jars and painted them red. They glued them onto the boards and this became the "Go" button! When the students were ready to present, the listener walked up and pushed the "Go" button. This was the cue for the presenter to share their biographical information!

It was a fun, interactive learning experience that gave students the opportunity to share their learning!

Looking for some other fun projects to teach biography? Check out my Biography Teaching Tools: Graphic Organizers and Projects for third and fourth grade!
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