Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dr. Seuss Week is coming: Seuss-inspired bulletin boards!

If you're like my librarian buddy and I, you LOVE Dr. Seuss Week, also known as Read Across America. It's really just a great excuse to proclaim loudly and long how much we love to read! What can be better?!

So this year, we've started a TON of initiatives. We usually do that, by adding one on top of another until we're about to lose it and we don't think we can do one more thing. And then we're like, "...wait! What if we..." and we add one more thing. I keep expecting my principal to say, "Ladies, seriously. That's enough." But she hasn't said it yet, so we keep piling on the fun stuff!

This year, we started out with bulletin boards in preparation for Read Across America (which we are celebrating a week early by the way, so we don't have to beat up all the other literacy coaches and librarians to take their guest readers).

We downloaded an app called the Cat Cam in the app store on the iphone. It is hilarious. This is my Cat Cam photo:

We knew we wanted to take pictures of the faculty and use them to make a fun bulletin board, but to build some anticipation, I put up this partial board about three weeks before Read Across America.

The kids kept walking by, reading, "It's coming..." and speculating about what IT was!
Then we took pictures of all of the faculty using the Cat Cam app and made this fun bulletin board!

The words are too small to read in this picture, but on the left it says, "Celebrate Dr. Seuss Week, Feb. 23 - 27" (Yes, I know that's not the REAL week!) and on the right it says, "From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere!"

The kids LOVED it! They kept pointing out their teachers and giggling, especially when their teacher was Thing One!

Here's what I used to make the board:
- light blue fabric for the background
- red plastic tablecloths for the curtains
- blue painter's tape to make the "windowpanes"
- black butcher paper for the kids' silhouettes
- red butcher paper for the chairs

I projected the image of the original pin my librarian friend found of this bulletin board:

 I taped some black butcher paper to the wall, and used a projector to project the image onto the black butcher paper and traced it. We cut them out. Then we did the same with the chairs on red paper.

I had stapled up the blue fabric on the board and the Dr. Seuss border my beautiful sister-in-law bought me for 80% off at an Office Depot going-out-of-business sale! We stapled up the silhouettes and the chairs and then I used the painter's tape to mark off the windowpanes, horizontally and vertically down the middle of the board.

I took the red tablecloths (we used two separate ones to make the two curtains) and I stapled the edge of one along the edge of the board. Then I stapled and scrunched all along to make the top look ruffled. I used some ribbon to tie them back like curtains.

We printed and cut out all of the Cat Cam pictures and I stapled them all up, adding the letters for the board last. Oh, and I stuck a cute paper banner I bought at Eraser Dust on top!

This is a different bulletin board I made last week, too.
We had all this adorable, brightly patterned fabric, so I thought, "Why not? Let's use it to make Seuss hills!"

I stapled the fabric...artistically? To make hills and valleys like in the book, "Oh, the Places You'll Go." Then I added another little layer in the back to look like far-away hills. The "balloons" are also made of fabric, and I stapled them around the edges and filled them with leftover fabric to make them puffy.

I recently had a realization that loofahs look like truffula trees. Well, used loofahs look more truffula-ish, but they're also disgusting, so I used some new loofahs to make our trees.

And I couldn't resist adding our school building.
What are your plans to celebrate Read Across America?
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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Deep in the Heart of Texas Link-Up: What I Love!


Welcome to the "Deep in the Heart of Texas" blog hop!  Over 40 Texas teacher bloggers have joined together to share what we love about our state as well as ideas and freebies that we love.  You will also have the opportunity to enter to win TpT products and/or TpT gift certificates by entering using the rafflecopters included in each post.  Down at the bottom, you will see all of the blogs participating in the hop.  Just click and you will be taken to their posts.  We hope you love what you find.  Happy Valentine's Day!

I grew up in a suburb of Dallas (and I still consider that green place to be where I am "from"), but now I live in a desert. El Paso, Texas is so far west that many don't remember we're part of Texas! 

I do love a few things about my city. I mean, it's got its issues, but there are definitely some pros to living here. 

1. Beautiful weather, 85% of the time. It gets hot in the summer (it is a desert), but you can still venture outdoors most of the time. That's important to a person like me who'd rather be in the country than a city.

 I don't want to tell you how much water it takes to make a yard green here.

2. Last year, El Paso built a new minor league ballpark for our team, (don't laugh) the Chihuahuas! The games are so much fun and the ballpark is beautiful. I love going with the hunny or my brothers.

I loooooove to teach writing. It's one of the things I miss the most - reading aloud a beautiful book, analyzing the author's craft, trying out some of the writing strategies and structures, and having students create incredible pieces. My favorite books to teach writing with are Cynthia Rylant's.

One of the pieces we worked on that seemed to grow students' expressive writing the best was writing texts using In November as a model. I wrote about how we wrote poetry using In November as a model in third grade here.

This student had struggled to write even sentences at the beginning of the third grade. During this piece, he seemed to find a voice! He integrated illustrations throughout all of his words - very interesting to see him begin to use expression this way!

I've also had classes write modeled books using In November. Each student chose a month to write about and then we brainstormed details that matched all the different categories you can find in In November - what the people do, what the earth is like, what the animals do, etc. Students created their own "In January," or "In October" books and they were so charming!

I love this freebie! It's a reading assessment tracker - you can have students record their scores by TEK! Third, fourth, and fifth grade are included, in English and Spanish. Check it out and see if your kids can use it! I also have some teachers who use it to record their students' percentages of success on multiple tests for their class overall.


Reading Assessment Color Code Tracker

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Click on the buttons below to visit some other awesome Texas bloggers!

Individual codes should you need them for some reason... TpT Rafflecopter Code: a Rafflecopter giveaway Prize Pack 1 Rafflecopter (PK-1) Code: a Rafflecopter giveaway Prize Pack 2 Rafflecopter (2-3) Code: a Rafflecopter giveaway Prize Pack 3 Rafflecopter (4-8) Code: a Rafflecopter giveaway Linky Code:
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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What We Love Link-Up with Primary Powers


Is there anything better in the world than a link-up? When I'm drooling and I can't think of any of the 100,000 different things I've done in the classroom to write about, I'm like, "Oh, good. They'll just tell me what to do." and then I do that. This is a Classroom Loves link-up hosted about Primary Powers- we're writing about what I, they, we love.  

So, when I was writing this post, I was like, "Oh! I know what I love! I love wine!" and then I realized that wasn't really appropriate. So then I thought, "Oooh, summers off!" But that's not really what this is about. Coffee in the lounge? When they bring me chocolate on Valentine's Day? 

Apparently, I am a very simple person with simple pleasures.

Anyway, I finally settled on something appropriate-ish, I think. I LOVE office supplies! Post-its, pens (preferably felt-tip), a special notebook to write in and white tape for mistakes. For Christmas, my sister-in-law gave me a big box full of supplies she bought at an Office Depot going out of business sale. Be still, my heart.

These are my favorite things and they make me happy, when I'm not allowed to drink wine...which is really just when I'm at work.

My students have always loved sorts. Whether they're in reading, math, science, or whatever, they love picking up little cards and figuring out where they go. 

 This sort required students to sort characteristics, examples, and questions into different genres.

They get such a sense of accomplishment from figuring out which categories everything goes in and having everything "in the right place". They love to talk to their partners and disagree and make decisions. Because of this, even though sorts require a little preparation, it's something I like to integrate whenever possible.

This one was easy. We. Love. Harry. Potter. My Harry Potter Book Club meets once a week, after school on Wednesdays for an hour. 

 Making bookmarks with another thing they love: glitter paint.

We read, take online quizzes to get sorted into houses, make charts and graphic organizers and crafts. We laugh at Dudley, are very impressed by McGonnegal, and are very nervous for Ron. The kids who come to the club are so much fun and I love to plan special activities for them!

Chocolate frog boxes!

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Messy Big Books?

  Do your big books look like this? Do you have a heart attack every time you look at them? Does it make teaching with a big book just so not worth it?

Then head over to the Primary Powers blog to read about how to organize and store your big books neatly!

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Historical Fiction: Accessing background knowledge with Goin' Someplace Special

With Black History Month underway, I wanted to share a successful lesson I delivered in a fifth grade class that might help your students understand the historical context of some African American literature. 

In our fifth grade classes, our bilingual students are spending the whole day in English for the first time in their school careers. We have a wide range of levels of English acquisition, from students who just arrived from Mexico to students who have spent their entire school careers in our school. 

To help the kids think about what they already know as well as develop their English speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills, one fifth grade teacher and I planned some specific activities for students while supporting their historical fiction unit.

If you haven't read this story, you should. It's a sweet story of a girl who wants to go someplace special by herself. Because of segregation laws, she isn't allowed in many places in her town. She finally reaches "someplace special," and it turns out that it's a library. Sob sob sob. 

I figured that, if students didn't understand the historical context for a story, they wouldn't be able to explain how the event created the situation for the story. So to help students as we read Goin' Someplace Special by Patricia McKissack, we started out with some pictures.

I scoured the internet (it wasn't actually that hard) for photos that depicted segregation. I wanted actual photos so students could reflect on actual historical events and understand that this story was based on true events in American history.

We divided the kids into five groups and gave each group a specific colored marker. The photos were glued on to construction paper and taped to the walls around the room. Each group went to one of the photos and had three minutes to write everything they noticed and thought on the construction paper. They used these speaking and writing stems:

I noticed...
I think...
This makes me think of...
This reminds me of...

Then they rotated to the next chart and read what the previous groups said. After reading and discussing this, they added their thinking in their colored marker.

By the time they'd been through several charts, they started picking up language from each other! They were using each other's words such as "discrimination", "strike", and "privilege."

We gathered some very interesting and enlightening background knowledge. They had a lot of concepts and were able to connect historical events and people (such as segregation, Martin Luther King, Jr., strikes, Ruby Bridges, and Rosa Parks), but they didn't have specific vocabulary. 

We worked on giving them words to express their specific ideas. A few that came up were "segregation," "African Americans" as a replacement for the outdated "colored people" phrase they were using, and "separate but equal".
After visiting each chart, I told them that the historical events pictured in the photos would be the context for our story, so we had to have a good understanding. The teams worked on writing a single sentence that would explain the historical event. 

Then we started to read the book. Each student had a copy of the story and a post-it. I asked them to read to find examples of how the historical event was represented in the story. Students marked several places where we saw the conditions of segregation affecting our story.

Using the ideas that students marked with their post-its, we created a simple cause-effect map to explain how the historical events affected the story. Then students chose another event from the story and used the sentence stems on the bottom of the above chart to record their thinking about the historical event and the story.

Students were really able to explain how the historical events affected the story! The above student obviously has a stronger handle on English written expression with errors common to English Language Learners, but even our newcomers were able to produce some response.

One student even explained, "She wanted to get to the library because all were welcome there." Awww, what a message!
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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Organizing Writing Mentor Texts

If you read my recent post about my closet, you are probably surprised that I would title any future post with the word "Organizing". My closet is, of course, an embarrassment I have recently shared with the world, but in general, I'm pretty good at creating organized systems. One of these I just started this year is our writing mentor texts library.
Not all of these books are writing mentor texts but about half of them are!
It's working for us, so I thought it might be the perfect idea to link up with Primary Powers' Organization Blog Hop!


As a Literacy Coach, I help teachers plan for writing. Sometimes, we are desperate for another kind of writing model text for a specific skill or strategy, and we are stumped! To help us plan effectively, I started ordering books based on specific traits. You can find one of the lists I used here at Empowering Writers. 
After the books came in, I set to organizing them. I wrote a specific characteristic of writing on each index card and made piles of books. 

From there, I divided them up into baskets and put them on specifically designated shelves:

 I labeled each basket with the writing skill or strategy that the books were great models of. Some of these are great beginnings, great endings, character development, sensory description with the five senses.

Of course, Patricia Polacco gets her own baskets, as do these other great mentor authors: among them, Tomie dePaola, Cynthia Rylant, Gail Gibbons, and more.

To help us use the books well for planning, I made little stickers that go on the inside cover of each book. The image and label on the sticker correlates with the basket label. I printed the labels on sticker paper.

I cut them into strips to stick inside the books.

Here's how it works. This basket is labeled "Generating Ideas for Writing." In it, I also include books about the idea of writing, like "Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street" and "What Do Writers Do?"
This book, Little Red Writing Hood, tells a story of a pencil character writing a story. It blends Little Red Writing Hood with writing tips. 

 On the inside cover, I include notes: just some ideas about how to use the book to teach writing strategy.

Throughout the book, the tips about writing are interwoven with the story. I used post-its to mark pages where there were writing tips, strategies, or potential for teaching. 

It's still a burgeoning system, and we're adding to our library a little at a time, but it's a start! Want a freebie to get started? Grab the basket and book labels for free on TPT! 
Check out our other organization tips by hopping to the next post - Mrs. Richardson's Class, and learn all about organizing guided reading groups! 
Mrs. Richardson's Class
Or, if you'd rather, start at the beginning of the hop and check out all the great organization tips!
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