Monday, December 31, 2012


I always go into denial over school breaks... especially when it gets closer to break ending. But it is time for me to get out of denial and get back into lesson planning. With that said, I am having a quick 15% off sale for everything in my TpT store until tomorrow.

We have plans to go out to dinner and relax at home tonight with the best part of our lives (our daughter). Between today and tomorrow I must:

Grade all my papers (a good 100+)
Input report card grades...we do standards based... so over 30 categories for 20 kids....
Plan lessons for the week
Get my New Year's Resolution activity made and ready for my kids to complete Wednesday and Thursday (it is going on my board- which is due Friday)
And I would like to get my January centers done... but since I haven't even started those yet I am not so sure...

Ok off to get ready for dinner and maybe get one or two things done before we leave :) have a great night!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year's Linky

I am linking up with Jen from The Teacher's Cauldron to share some New Year's Resolutions! Every year, people make resolutions. I have made them. I never stick to them. So this year, I am making goals for myself. Jen shared ONE personal and ONE blogging... but in order to keep myself accountable (and sane) there are a few things I know I need to do this year... so here they are:

*Grade papers every free minute while at work (NOT during planning time though- unless ALL planning and prep is done). I try to take papers with me every where I go. When we take bathroom breaks, when I am waiting to pick my kids up from support, when we are going to an assembly and I know we will have to wait 15 min for it to start. I have been slacking on this and I need to get back to it. Because without fail- my bag is overflowing with papers that need to be graded by Wednesday.

*Understand that I can't do it all. There is one of me, 20+ kids, 20+ sets of parents, a bajillion administrators/board members...and all pulling me in all different directions. I have to accept that I can not possibly do everything. I have to do what is best for my students and myself. End of story.

*Try to post 3x a week (using my friend Tara's lovely calendars is helping me a lot!). I also want to try to make sure that my posts aren't rushed. I have a lot that I want to share but often leave it out because I am rushing.

*Read for enjoyment. I have to. It is my downtime.

*And my GOAL is to lose some weight (I have a number that I won't be sharing). I am in a wedding in Sept and I would like to feel good about myself- not just then, but always.

So what are your goals/resolutions? Link up! (Click the image below to take you to Jen's blog.)


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Motivating my kids to write...

I hope your family had a wonderful holiday! As you can tell, I have somewhat fallen off the face of the blogging earth... but I was just using my vacation time to be anti-productive. I spent a lot of time relaxing and doing anything Payton wanted. Our house still looks like Christmas threw up in it, and I really need to get that taken care of, but that's ok.

Today I want to share one of the best things I have done this year. You see, I moved 4.5 years ago from home (Buffalo NY) to Memphis. One of my best friends in the entire world, Jackie, is a teacher of 2nd grade special ed students in Buffalo. I am not sure WHY this took us 4 years to decide to do, but this year we decided to match our kids up and have pen-pals. My third graders are ALWAYS struggling with writing. There just isn't enough emphasis on it I guess and at third grade I spend forever just working on getting sentences that are more than 4 words long. Her students, of course, need help in writing and reading as well, so we figured this would be perfect!

Behind the scenes of the actual lessons, Jackie and I had to match our students up. Which was semi-difficult because I have 20-23 students at any given time (our kids are VERY transient) and she has 16 kids. It meant some of her students had to write two letters. So on top of trying to match girls with girls and boys with boys, we tried to match based on ability and who in her class would be able to do 2 letters.

In the classroom, I started out by teaching my students about friendly letters. We looked at a few of our reading stories (Night Letters, and The Gardener) and the book I Wanna Iguana. Students were assigned a story and had to look at the letters and find similarities between them. Students pointed out that every letter started with Dear _____, every letter had "words" (the body), the letters were signed by someone. Not all of the letters had dates so that was something we had to really search for. I told them WHY we did this and explained what a pen-pal was. We made a list of a TON of topics they would want to write about in their letters. And left it at that for a few days. Every day the kids were begging me to start writing, but they weren't ready just yet.

Next, I set up an anchor chart with The Friendly Letter song (I can't remember WHERE I found this but if it is yours let me know so I can give credit) and a little stick figure person. We read the song first (I made small copies for each student) then sang it. After we sang a few times, we labeled the parts of the letter on our little stick figure.

The next day, I made a little boy and girl foldable for students to label the parts of a letter on their own. If you look closely, you can kinda see what I am talking about. Students cut on the dotted line. Then when they opened the book, on the left flap they wrote what that part of the letter meant/did. On the right flap we wrote examples. (Sorry, I have no pictures of this). Students then colored their people. These stay in their writing folder with their song lyrics for each time we write a letter.

We finally started writing our friendly letters. I handed out post its with their pal's name on it and we started writing together. After the first couple sentences (My name is ____ and I am ___ years old. I live in ____.) they were on their own. I wasn't thinking and didn't take pictures of their letters. For this first letter, we were writing at the same time as Jackie's class since these were just introduction letters. While working through the next few days, we got our first package in the mail! The kids were SO excited to get their letters.

Not only did they get letters, but they got chocolates molded in the shape of buffalos. (From one of the BEST candy places ever..but I digress..) Jackie also sent me a pad of to do lists...because she knows my obsession.

We FINALLY sent our letters out a couple weeks before break (I think...I can't even remember now) and with our letters we sent the book Ten Little Elvi (since Elvis is from Memphis and all...) and a cute little Christmas gift for Jackie. It is an ornament with a fish on it writing on a chalkboard that says "One FINtastic Teacher". (If you check out her blog here, you will understand why I would send her a fish ornament.)

We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of our next package! And once we get the letters and get back into the swing of things, we will be writing back to our friends and sending them another awesome surprise!

Who knew that pen-pals would motivate these kids to write so much?! And why did we wait so long to do this?!

PS... as if this post wasn't long enough- if you made it this far, you will definitely want to know this BIG news... as soon as Jackie gets to 25 blog followers (she is halfway there) her and I are going to be giving away a couple prizes. She is giving away her polar animals unit (I have this and LOVE it... not that I can teach it this year- don't get me started..) and I am going to let the winner of the giveaway choose one item from my store. So stop on by her blog and show some love!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Power Reading Workshop

A week or two ago, I received one of the best early Christmas gifts ever. I have been trying to wrap my mind around reading workshop, daily 5, small groups, and every other method you can think of, but wasn't sure what route was right for me. In fact, a while back I posted asking for some suggestions here and I continued to hunt and hunt and hunt. And then I remembered a while back seeing Laura Candler's Power Reading Workshop. So I went to look at that and her post about how it compares to the Daily 5. I enjoyed the idea of Daily 5 from what I saw from bloggers this summer, but after looking at the book in B&N I just wasn't convinced. I bought the Book Whisperer instead (in October) as a starting point, and I read it within a few days. To say I loved it would be an understatement. But then...I needed to figure out how to implement her ideas in my class. So,  I debated on whether I should get Power Reading Workshop for 2 months. Or should I get something else.. or just go for it.

Well my personality wouldn't let me go for it. I need things to be straight forward, in your face, "do it like this". But then, while in search of help, I got Laura Candler's book. And I have been obsessed. (Read-I have used every free minute to read it, even if it was only a page or two at a time.) I had it printed and used my binding machine to bind it (so that I could highlight and write in it...I can't read a book like this online). And I knew from the beginning that THIS was the book I should have gotten from the start. And just HOW did I know this? Well within the first ten sentences Laura expresses my exact thoughts... "Why couldn't they see that reading a book was like watching an amazing movie in your mind...?" THIS is exactly what I try to tell my students ALL.THE.TIME. I tell them how when I read my books I feel like I am watching a movie and I laugh at the book, or gasp when something shocking happens. I just couldn't understand why kids don't see the movies in their minds! And Laura clearly felt the same way.

And then just a few paragraphs later she expresses my other huge concern... "I wondered if it could work in today's climate of testing and teacher accountability." Yes that is my huge concern. I can't imagine if my administration walks in and I have kids scattered around the room reading while I am holding individual conferences. In my mind, it would be GREAT to see 20 students actively engaged in their reading. But according to our rubric (yes we have one for what should be going on at all times), this isn't meeting expectations because I am not doing small groups (or may not be THAT day...PRW DOES have small groups but I will get to that in another post) or differentiating (though students are reading on THEIR level and my conferences will have different purposes with different students- someone just walking in won't know that), among other things. But I have decided that I need to try something else because following that rubric isn't working for anyone. And so...


I am going to start Power Reading Workshop with my students after break. And I plan to share this learning experience with all of you. I will share successes and moments of failure (because I will have them) as well as my thoughts on each part of the book. And if you are looking for the perfect guide to help you implement Reading Workshop in your class, I HIGHLY recommend this book.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

No words

I had a blog post planned for today, but in light of the recent tragic events, I just don't feel now is the time to share. I will save it for next week. Thinking about what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, I can not fathom being one of the teachers there that had to be brave for the sake of their students, when deep down I am sure they were as scared as the little ones. I try to think of what I would do in these situations (and my kids have asked me during lockdown drills) and it is scary to think that such things are not just practice, and that people have had to use what they knew to protect kids at school. A place where kids should feel safe at all times. And those 20 sets of parents who sent their kid to school like a normal day, I just can not fathom. My prayers are with this entire community. Please join me (and many other teacher bloggers) in a day of silence tomorrow, December 16, by ONLY posting the picture below and titling the post Silence for Sandy Hook.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

We had a General visit...

and by General... I mean the one and only General Ization. Never heard of him? It's ok me either until this year (and if I am the only one who has never heard of him, keep that to yourself so I don't feel like a big loser). So who is he? Well he is a HUGE help in teaching about generalizations. Every year my kids struggle with this concept. It is very difficult and I have truly never found anything to really help them get it. Until this year.

Amanda at One Extra Degree (surely you know of her... and if not, get out from under that rock and get to her blog quick- it is amazing!) has created an amazing generalizations pack. I started teaching the skill with a powerpoint (not found in Amanda's pack) and we talked about clue words that a sentence was a generalization. We talked about how a generalization applies to most or all of a population, but I did tell them to be careful about using words such as ALL and NONE (all children like chocolate... I have a niece that will very nicely tell you you are wrong if you make that generalization). We came up with examples and decided if they were good generalizations or not.

The next day was when we had a visit from the General. I told the students that he had seen us at recess and made some general statements. I started with giving them ONE example of a general statement he made about kids at recess. And after that... they were on a roll... just take a look at the picture below.
The last thing we did was to become Generalization Gurus... it seriously could just be how cute the kids are on the cover of Amanda's file but I had to just use that term. Students were split into random groups and given a marker (the marker traveled with them so that we knew which group wrote the sentences on the posters). They started at one poster and wrote as many generalizations as they could come up with. I think I gave them 4 minutes at each poster. When time was up, they rotated. They did a total of 4 different posters. When we finished, I gathered up all the posters and ready some examples and even some non examples from the posters. Students identified which ones were not generalizations and explained WHY they were not. (And we told the group that wrote that one "it's cool" because it is completely acceptable to make mistakes as long as you are trying your hardest.) For example, on the spiders poster someone write spiders are scary... we talked about how this is an opinion and isn't something that can be supported by evidence and that to make a generalization you "kinda hafta have proof".

We played generalization scoot using the amazing Rachel Lynette's task cards. I have a few sets of her task cards and I use them as assessments all the time. The kids look at it as a game/challenge to get them done quickly AND correctly (which is helping with keeping on pace when we have timed tests) and as I was walking around I noticed they were doing really well! I was so proud!!

If you need to teach generalizations and want to pull your hair out every time like I do... check out both of those mentioned activities because they are positively amazing. I have never seen the light bulb turn on so quickly with this skill like it did with these kids!

Also, I forgot I had some pictures of my class working on my Snowy Suffixes unit, so I added those last night. Check them out here. And don't forget to enter my giveaway for the most amazing pencil sharpener here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Snowy Thoughts...

It's almost winter break so we have been doing all kinds of wintery activities... even though it was in the 70s last week. This week it is actually cold. One of the things we did was my new Snowy Suffixes mini unit. Our last set of spelling words were words with suffixes. I differentiate my spelling in that students take a pretest on Monday and get all the words they missed as their spelling words for the week. If they miss less than 10, they get the challenge words (to make them up to 10.... if they still don't have ten then I tell them they are lucky). If they miss more than 10, the first 10 missed are their words. I have had weeks where students only have 5 words because they got 100 on the pretest so only had the challenge words for the week. Students only have to do spelling homework with THEIR words and for a while they had their own choice from a tic tac toe board each night. They weren't studying. So... I had to come up with a plan to incorporate more spelling into our days. I started that with this mini unit. On Monday, as usual, students took their pre-test, identified their words for the week, and we discussed the suffixes and the meaning of each word/suffix. We also reviewed what a root/base word was (I wish tests would just stick to one or the other but they don't so I am constantly using both words).

The following activities ALL students completed with ALL words:
On Tuesday (mind you up until this point, third grade as a team wasn't doing much of anything with spelling in was one of those things that just HAD to be done at home. But I couldn't sit back and watch these kids become worse and worse at spelling.)- students completed the separating suffixes activity (you see that on the bottom right of the picture above). They had to cut the root word apart from the suffix and glue them into the correct snow globe.

Wednesday- we differentiated and each group had a different level of activity to do. Some groups just sorted and recorded the words by suffix (those are the snowflake cards on the left and the recording sheet below it). One group did that PLUS write the meaning of each word. And my advanced group sorted AND chose 5 words to tell me the meaning and use in a sentence.

Thursday- students worked with a partner to complete a page that required them to add the correct suffix to the base word and make a new word.

Friday we took our tests and the scores were much better! Granted, some of these activities took a LOT longer than they should have and cut into other time, I am at the point where if we want something done right, we have to spend time. So time we spent... and we will continue to spend time.

On another snowy note... my friend Lindsay created a Snowmen at Night mini unit.

Now mind you- I had never read the book before. But when I looked it up it sounded cute so I went to Barnes and Noble to buy it. And what did I find?? There are OTHER snowmen books. So I bought them. And decided that I needed to use them during winter time. So I created a Snowmen at Christmas mini unit (and have another one coming soon). If you have never read these books I highly suggest you check them out. They are absolutely adorable and my third graders loved them! The picture below is a preview from my Snowmen at Christmas mini unit.

There are ten activities that relate to sequencing, comparing and contrasting, writing, and acrostic poems. Even if it doesn't snow in our part of TN, we can pretend we know how to enjoy the snow (I know snow... my kids... well, they think frost on the grass is snow. It does snow here, but not often, and not a lot like back home). Personally... I like the first snow of the season and then to have some snow on Christmas. Other than that, I could live without it. What about you? Does it snow where you live?


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Literacy Centers in Action..and a couple other misc things

Seriously readers- you should thank Tara for my consistant blogging. At least for now. Her calendar is all I needed to get it together! It could have something to do with my self-diagnosed OCD where I have this inner need to cross things off a to do list. But hey...whatever works right?!

A while back I decided to give it a go at creating my own literacy centers. I don't do centers in my classroom as I have never really figured out what worked for me. But I figured I was never going to figure it out until I had something I liked to try it with. And so I went for it. And posted about them here. In the past I have used some folder games and center games so I had an idea of what I wanted to do but no clue how I wanted to run it. Well one thing led to another and next thing I knew, November was practically over and we hadn't touched them! I decided to use them the Friday after Thanksgiving break (which I believe was actually December...) as a Fun Friday type activity. Each student had a partner and was given a game to play. When they finished their game, they kept the recording sheet and found someone else to swap with. At the end of the day, I collected and stapled their papers together into a packet for me to grade. (YUCK for this time but in most months I will only have 2 a week to grade per student so it won't be as bad!) Students had a blast doing it this way. We ended up completing all 10 activities that day but in a typical month, I would do maybe 2 rotations a week on Fridays and then finish them all by the end of the month. Of course, December wasn't a typical month because we are only there for 2 weeks and the ONE person who can laminate has been out so my December Centers aren't ready :( and I am terribly sad about this because I have some AMAZING games from some other teachers as well. On top of using my own center games, I also use math games from Stephanie at Sparkling in Third Grade  and literacy centers from Amanda at One Extra Degree

But since I have two weeks off coming up, surely I will have time to get everything ready to really do this right in January. Anyways... here are a few pics of my kids working on their November-but done in December- center activities.

I know I don't do centers like most teachers, but I found that this Fun Friday method is what works for me. We have a ton of testing that has to be done on Fridays so this is a nice end to all that. And I am in the process of figuring out how to do a reading workshop, compliments of Laura Candler's Power Reading Workshop, and I hope to have that up and running in January. We shall see...and I will post as I learn as I go.

On a completely unrelated note, we had the cops come visit our school recently to teach the kids how to stay away from trouble (gangs, drugs, etc). Our program was at the end of the day so my class brought all their stuff for dismissal with them so we didn't have to trek all the way back to the trailer and then all the way back in. Since we had extra time, my class got to have some personal time with the cops and they were just so fascinated. It was so cute that I had to snap a couple cell phone pics!

Seriously the one in the boots there...she would have stayed there all day talking to him if she could. They also got to spend some quality time with the Officer Visa... the drug dog. I know that some of these kids may not end up on the right path, but at least for that day, I had hope that these cops got to them.

And not to be a pain- but if you haven't entered my giveaway- hurry and do it! The sharpener is amazing. And my kids even told me yesterday after I got to work in the afternoon (half day due to sick baby) "The substitute almost broke your new sharpener...we told her not to use it."... they know I would have been crushed if it got broken. And luckily for that sub it wasn't broken because she would have been ordering me a new one! 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Gobble Gobble... in December?!

No we aren't still doing Thanksgiving activities in December. But I have been so behind on everything that I am going to share with out what we did in November! If you recall, a while back- a long while back, I posted about my Turkey Treats writing and craftivity. My students LOVE doing these writing assignments because they get to make something edible first. The first time we did this was using Nicole Shelby's Owl S'mores (which if you haven't checked that out, it is a MUST have). After I saw how motivated they were to write, I decided to create one for November. I got right to work and created a Turkey Treat writing. Now- the actual turkey treat I did not come up with. I found it...where else... pinterest.

So to start this lesson, we completed a mystery box activity. We were working on inferencing this week, so I figured this would be a fun way to start. In the box I had a little bag with some Oreos, a whopper, and some candy corn. Students first made guesses with NO clues to what could be in the box. (I'm sorry I thought I had pictures of this but I can't find them.) Then I passed out one of four clues to each student. They had to make a group so that their group had all 4 clues. They copied the clues down and then tried to infer what was in the box. They actually had some good guesses based on the clues. When I told them what we were doing they were ecstatic!

So we made some Turkey Treats.

And then we spent the rest of the week writing. I worked with my struggling writers to help them really grasp the concept of writing sentences in logical order and not just listing things. Pull.My.Hair.Out...

In these pics above they were working with groups to try and write out the steps in order before writing a paragraph. Shortly after they started this, I pulled a few kids to work with me on it.

But the end result was super cute anyways!

And I just want to give a huge shout out to my friend Tara at ...and they all fall down... Last night we were having a discussion about to do lists.. if you know me, you know I have many of them...all over the place. And if I lose one...look out because I will be a one woman wrecking crew until I find it. Well you see this post is almost a month late... because I just had no way to keep track of what blog posts I wanted to do and when. And then I would forget. So she whipped up this snazzy little thing and I am in my glory!
Don't mind my blurred out writing.. I don't want to spoil any surprises.

And she also found ANOTHER phenomenal list of to do lists for me to choose from. And choose I did. This page is second in my stapled pack and is what I am going to be using each week for my school to do list.
Don't get excited for me that there isn't anything written. I just haven't written on it yet because I am in denial that I have anything to do this week!
And this last page is where I am just going to keep a running list of ideas for blogs that I may not get to this week but want to put on next week's to blog about list. And this page will just be taken out of this packet and stapled into next week's packet.

Tara- you rock! Thanks for all your help! last thing... if you are looking for a bargain or something to get you through the last few dragging days of school...check out this linky at Classroom Confections where you will find plenty of items for $1.99 or under. Items that are normally priced higher than $1.99 in this link up are subject to go back to normal pricing after 12/13. So don't waste time! And if you are a seller on TpT, link up as well :)

Don't forget to enter my giveaway for only the most amazing pencil sharpener ever!!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Could it be?!

Another giveaway?! Yes It is! And this is one that I promise you will want to enter. If you read my blog in the past few days, you may have noticed that I did a review of the Quietest Classroom Sharpener. Well... I could go on and on about how amazing this sharpener is. But instead, I (and Classroom Friendly Supplies) am going to let you have a chance to see for yourself just how amazing this product really is! After writing my review of the sharpener, I knew that I wanted to have the chance for one of my readers to experience this fantastic-ness. So I emailed Troy, and what do you know... he wants you to have the opportunity to check this out for yourself too! And just in time for Christmas! And if you already have one... still enter. Who doesn't want/need more than one of these? And if you don't want or need one.. make someone else's Christmas spectacular by wrapping this little beauty up and placing it under their tree.

And just in case some people thought I was being sarcastic about just how many pencils I sharpened when I got it (because I loved it that much) here is a picture of my freshly sharpened pencils.

I brought it to school and started sharpening my stash of pencils so when my kiddos need to swap I am ready. I got a good 100 pencils done in less than 10 minutes. And that was with stopping a couple times. Even if you don't win.. I still suggest you check out Classroom Friendly Supplies... consider it a to me from me gift for making it through 2012!

Ok so enough of my ranting and raving... you want to win. So here is what you have to do. Enter the rafflecopter below. It is MANDATORY that you like Classroom Friendly Supplies on facebook and that you follow this blog. Once you do both of those, the remaining entries will be opened up! You will have until December 17 to enter this giveaway. A winner will be chosen and emailed by me to get the information needed to send your sharpener your way. Your sharpener will be sent by Troy.

The fine print.. this contest is only open to US residents. Sorry!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And if you just can't wait to win one and need it now... click the image below to get one for yourself. Or a friend! Or a few friends (they have a three pack that turns out to be about $17 a sharpener! What a steal!)

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