Saturday, August 25, 2012

Great Classroom Pets Explained ~ Bearded Dragon Edition!

There are SO many great reasons to have a classroom pet.  Many students never get to have a pet of their own at home so this is their only 'pet' time, it builds interest in your classroom, they are great for writing about, kids learn responsibility by caring for them, develop empathy taking care of them, they get to learn about a new organism, develop their observation skills, you get additional inside jokes with your students, etc.  I have had about a dozen different species of animals in my classroom over the last few years, and I'll talk more about having a tank of fish in another post, but this post is about why you should consider getting a bearded dragon for your classroom pet!

You will love a bearded dragon. I know.  It's a lizard.  I had never had a reptile before I got my two bearded dragons for free, so I wasn't sure how I'd like them and how they would interact with my students, but I thought the worst that could happen is that they'd be lame and I'd just give them to a student.  Wrong! They are so fun!   There are some simple things to do to set up your bearded dragon system, and then they are very low maintenance and low cost.

First, you'll need a really big tank ( like 50 gallons big!) within a few years, so I suggest just starting with a large terrarium now. Check at garage sales, put an ad on Craigslist, or check goodwill if you don't want to pay around $300 for a new one. My dad found mine at a crazy Goodwill on Portland Road in Salem where they have everything in huge bins.  It was just over $20! You'll probably have to get the accessories new, unless you can get some nice Craigslist person to donate them to your class, which will run just under $100.  Beardies need a special UVA UVB light and a heat lamp(or a heating pad).  They are desert animals, so it needs to stay warm and dry in their habitat.  Putting the heating pad/heat lamp at one end of the tank is good because then they have a cool end of their terrarium to escape to if it gets too hot.  You can get climbing rocks/branches/foliage if you want.  My students love rearranging Chubb's 'furniture' in her terrarium! Get a deep bowl for the food/water that they can't tip over (mine is a cat bowl because my beardie, Chubbs, tracks her substrate (bedding) all over). Do not pay gobs of money for the stupid sand they sell at petstores, which can give them skin irritation and kill them. Just buy millet, the plain bird seed that they sell in feed stores for $5 for a gigantic bag. It looks nicer too and is easy to clean with a kitty litter scoop.

Here is a picture of my students with their candy Native American dwellings, but you can see the tank in the back of the classroom.  You have a lot of options when it comes to feeding. The colorful pellets they have at petstores are great and you can get a yogurt type food they love too. I feed ours crickets every once in a while, but they are more expensive. I usually keep the crickets in a separate terrarium and then dole them out one by one and let my little table groups come up to watch if they want to, which they all do! Feeding your beardie live crickets is the fastest you'll ever see them move! When they get big, you can feed them live mice too! I have never done this in front of the class (somehow it's okay if a lizard eats an insect, but if it eats a mammal then it's gross and cruel...).  If you want to see Chubbs eat a mouse, click this link:  and  Bearded dragons do well with a variety of fruits and veggies, and you can google what's safe for them to eat. I give mine the smooth-leafed dandelion from the playground (free!) and little pieces of whatever fruit/veggie I'm having for lunch.

Bearded Dragons are low maintenance.  I do not feel like coming in every weekend to feed Chubbs, so I always give her enough pellets to last her through the weekend with some little fresh greens on top and she is as happy as can be. I do this right before I leave work in Friday as well as fill her water bowl. During the week, I have two responsible students, who applied for and got the 'zookeeper' job, feed her, once in the morning and once in the afternoon/lunch time. On Friday, they get to stay in for recess and clean her cage. The crazy thing is that they love it and all the kids want to be zookeeper so badly! This is great because then I have to do very little care for her and can just get her out to run around before school or carry her around on my shoulder (she sits on my shoulder for picture day) or whatever I feel like instead of wasting precious time caring for class pets. I usually come in once or twice for Christmas break and spring break, but that's it. They are very low maintenance!

My bearded dragon is very calm (except when eating live food!) so every Friday, during our classroom meeting time when all my students are circled on the carpet, I get Chubbs out and let her walk around. Sometimes we feed her a grape or a cherry tomato. Because they roll, she chases after them, which the kids love! The general rule of thumb for feeding beardies is that the piece of food needs to be smaller than the bottom of the triangle shape on the top of their head (just before their neck). They don't really chew up their food with teeth; they just kind of mash it with the sides of their mouth (except mice they eat whole) so it's important to not feed them something that's too big that they'll choke on. They can bite, but I've only been bitten once when one of mine was a baby and she was eating off my hand, and it felt like a tiny pinch. Generally, if you don't wiggle your finger right in front of their mouth like a worm, you won't have any problems.

When I have my students pet Chubbs, I just put her on my arm and have them pet from the top of her head gently down towards her tail. Make sure to tell your students about the possibility of salmonella and have them wash their hands thoroughly after touching your beardie or its things. Make sure they know to be gentle with her, not to pull her tail, to gently touch her spikes (they all want to do this), to sit still, etc. Apparently you can take them outside if it's warm, but you have to be really careful that they don't eat any bugs or plants, because there is not a complete list for all the plants/insects that they're allergic to in a schoolyard/backyard setting. As a general rule, I do NOT let my students hold Chubbs now that she is about 2 feet long from head to tail because if she tries to wiggle free, her spikes DO hurt a little, and her tiny claws make miniscule scratches on bare skin. I just don't want to risk anything happening to my students or her, so we stick with petting and watching, and I do the picking up and holding.

Generally, the more you get your beardie out to walk around (before or after school when the students aren't there to step on her and when the floor is clear of debris is best) the better. One time, I thought I had clean floors, but then Chubbs found a red hot cinnamon candy that was underneath a bookshelf and almost ate it! I had to pry it from her little mouth! They will eat anything that looks like food/that can fit in their mouths, so you have to be careful with them. They generally chillax in their terrariums and only move a little, but they are always watching, and soon you'll notice they have their own personalities too (which I never expected from a reptile). I'm sure I'm forgetting cool things they do/important care tips, so leave a comment below to remind me.  Because they are so low maintenance, they're safe around kids, and they're fun to watch, pet, and feed, I think bearded dragons make great classroom pets!

 I also have two tanks of fish, a terrarium of crickets throughout the year, and "visiting" pets, like rough skinned newts, banana slugs, pill bugs, snails, etc that just stay for a week or two before being released into the wild again.  Do you have a classroom pet?  Which animals do you think do best as classroom pets?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Writer's Notebook Organization!

I've been using the Writer's Workshop model of teaching and celebrating writing for the last 8 years, but this is the first year that I feel I've got a good grip on how to help my students organize their Writer's Notebooks (WN). This blog will show you some options for organizing WN's and some sample lessons to help you implement the Writer's Workshop model easily.  Please visit my TeachersPayTeachers account to support the work I've done here at   For everything I sell on the site, I give 10% to and an additional 10% to Food for the Poor.  The complete kit is only $5 for all that you see here, plus Writer's Notebook labels and additional information for everything you  need to start your Writer's Workshop off on the "write" foot!

Here is the cover of my Writer's Notebook. I usually show my students a few of my WN's that I've used over the years (including one from 2nd grade!).  This is my newest one and it's still a work in progress. I encourage them to put anything that is school-appropriate on their WN, including photos, magazine & newspaper clippings, stickers, and words that symbolize who they are. The point of decorating it is to have more ownership in their writing/WN and to garner ideas for their writing based off of what they included on the covers of their WN. My first year I had my students decorate them in class, but I find it to be a huge waste of time when I have SO much else to teach them.  After explaining it, I make decorating their personal WN homework for over a weekend.  It makes for pretty fun homework!
I also decorated the back of my WN.
Here is the title page, which is the first blank page in the spiral/composition book:

Next comes the dedication page. Again, this brings more purpose to students' writing- they are writing for someone or to someone and get to choose who their audience is.  This is the first tab in my WN, but I probably won't have my students tab theirs, simply because they won't use this much after they write it. I made up some little tabs that are easy to print and put them on Teachers Pay Teachers so no one has to write all these by hand or deal with the crazy formatting!  I used the little Staples sticky notes that I got 100+ of for a quarter, and then put clear tape over it to help it stick better.  Most of my students have their tabs last for the entire year, but a few have to retape theirs.
The next tab is for the Table of Contents and it's just one page long.  This is a section that students will add to throughout the year, so I like to have it tabbed for easy access.  It's organized by the title of the work and the page number, just like a real non-fiction book or chapter book, which helps solidify the text features lessons too! 
 Now for the Writing Ideas tab, which is the next five pages.  This is another area where students will be flipping to on a regular basis for ideas on what to write, so a tab makes this search much more efficient.  The first ideas for writing activity that I do with my students is their Authority List.  I do a quick-write where they finish the sentence, "I know a lot about..." and they jot down as many things as they possibly can.  I give them different categories, like sports, animals, colors, friends, activities, places they've been, books they've read, favorite authors, things they do at home, things their family does, what they do on the weekends/summer/mornings/etc.  The idea is to get as many things down as quickly as possible so they have a lot of options to write about when they come back to this page throughout the school year.
For even more ideas on how to get kids excited about writing and give them a plethora of ideas on it, visit my TPT site!  There are four additional pages with pictures and descriptions to help your students have a never-ending supply of things to write about!

The next tab is My Writing.  This is the largest tab because this is where all the student's fabulous writing will go!  Brainstorms, graphic organizers, rough drafts, editing, and final copies can all fit in here.  Frequently in my classroom, I get out our "Final Copy Paper," which is designer paper.  Students can choose from dozens of different designs to find the one that fits their story the best, and then they write their final copy on the fancy paper instead of on regular paper in their WN's.  This mostly just serves as extra motivation to write their story out all over again after the long editing process!  Notice the date column on the left so you can see what they've produced each day, and so can they. :)

 Second to last in the WN's is the Writing Notes tab.  This is found on the second to last page of the book, and this is the one section that we write "backwards."  While the My Writing section slowly progresses towards the back of the Writer's Notebook, the Writing Notes section moves steadily towards the front.  This is where any notes from our daily/weekly Writer's Workshop lesson is recorded.  You can see the column with the date in the left margin (I love dating things so students have more accountability for what they have achieved each day).  Pictured are notes about types of punctuation, tips for narrative writing, and some great ways to start your first sentence of your story.

This is the very last page in the book, and it is reserved for Writing Goals.  These are the goals that I help each student write based on their particular struggles in writing.  Here are some sample goals from my classroom.  In the past, after my student and I create and record their new writing goal, they get a colorful sticky note.  On the front, they write their name and on the back, they write their goal.  Then, they place this sticky beneath the writing trait poster that they're working on (Conventions, Organization, etc).  From time to time, I'll have my students write about how they are doing with their writing and/or literacy goal, talk to someone about it, tell their parents about it, etc.  Ideally, I meet with each student at least every other month to assess their progress on their old goal and to create a new one if necessary, but this doesn't always happen.  I'm sure in your classroom, you will magically find time to meet with every student all the time! :)
What do you put in your Writer's Notebook?  Which lessons are best for the beginning of the year?    I do want to note that some of these WW lesson ideas are not mine, but can be found in Teaching Quality Writing or are from district workshops that I attended regarding Writer's Workshop.  This is simply my own take on it, and a nice way to organize everything.  What tabs would you add to your WN?

Again, all of these fun things, plus easy-to-print labels and additional information can be found on for only $5.  Thank you preemptively for supporting my work, and for sharing your love of writing with your students!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

One Cent Conditioner (& Shampoo Too!)

I've been thinking about trying these very inexpensive, less chemical-filled, alternatives to shampoo and conditioner for some time, and I'm wondering if any of you have tried them?  I've tried the conditioner on my dog, and it seems to work well.  As a general rule, I try to only buy shampoo when I can get it for $1/bottle for namebrand stuff (this is usually accomplished by combining sales and coupons together).  This recipe is cheaper and it has fewer chemicals/detergents/harm of the environment.  Here's how to make shampoo and conditioner for about a penny per use:
Mix a cup of water and a tablespoon of bakin soda in a bottle.  After wetting your hair in the shower, just squirt it on the roots of your hair and rub it in.  This is supposed to be a gentler way to clean your hair with fewer chemicals than regular shampoo and no detergents that strip the natural oils from  your hair. 

For the conditioner, just mix 1 cup of HOT water with 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a bottle.  Then squirt it on the tips of your hair to condition it.  This seemed to help soothe the irritated skin of Keely Dog, our pooch, when she had some hot spots, and the apple cider vinegar smell was an improvement from regular dog smell!

I've heard that, depending upon your hair/skin type, it can take some adjusting to get used to this new shampoo/conditioner system as it no longer strips all the oil from you hair.  For some people, it takes a few months for their hair to stop producing so much oil, but I've heard that for most people it just takes 2 weeks or so to make the change. I'm thinking over Thanksgiving Break would be a great time to try this.  Have you tried this or another homemade recipe?  Are you brave enough to try this one?

P.S. The pictures are borrowed from another blog, who borrowed it from somewhere else, so thanks to "Heather" for the borrowing of your graphics! :)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sample Math Workshop Lesson - Fractions & Polygons

 Here is a math workshop lesson plan that I wrote towards the end of the school year.  How do you use/plan to use Math Workshop in your classroom?

Math Workshop
Topic- Describing Polygons & Comparing Fractions
Teacher- Stephanie Madison Grade Level- 3

State Standards & Objectives
3.1.2 Recognize and demonstrate that sizes of fractional parts are relative to the size of the whole.  Students will be able to use sentence stems and models to write about how the same fraction of different items can be different sizes in center 1.

3.3.3 Identify, describe, compare, analyze, and classify quadrilaterals (square, rectangle, parallelogram, rhombus, and trapezoid) by their sides and angles.
Students will be able to correctly identify the names and characteristics of the polygons in center 2.

3.3.4 Identify, describe, and compare pentagons, hexagons, and octagons by the number of sides or angles.  Students will be able to correctly identify the names and characteristics of the polygons in center 2.

Language Arts
EL.03.RE.12 Understand, learn, and use new vocabulary that is introduced and taught directly through orally-read stories and informational text as well as student-read stories and informational text.  Students will increase their understanding and correct use of math vocabulary in the vocabulary development center and math chant & journal center.

EL.03.RE.19 Read written directions, signs, captions, warning labels, and informational books.  Students will read and follow written directions in each center.

EL.03.LI.01 Listen to text and read text to make connections and respond to a wide variety of significant works of children's literature--including poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and drama—from a variety of cultures and time periods.  Students will read and follow written directions.  Students will fluently read and attentively listen to chants based on mathematical concepts.

EL.03.WR.01 Find ideas for writing stories and descriptions through various sources, including conversations with others, and in books, magazines, textbooks, or on the Internet.  Students will be able to write in their math journals about a variety of topics, including patterns observed in the classroom, reflections on their mathematical learning, conversations with others during math, reasoning behind mathematical processes, etc.

Instructional Organization and Learning Format—

1.    Describing & Contrasting Different Shapes instructions
2.    Polygon manipulatives
3.    Comparing the Same Fraction with Different Items instructions
4.    Fluency Center (wipeboards, markers, timed tests, flashcards, games, etc)
5.    Math Chant & Journal Center (student copies of all math chants, highlighters, whisper phones, student math journals, vocab books, etc)
6.    Vocab Center (student math vocab books, highlighters, colored pencils, etc)
7.    Computer Center (internet access, student passwords to,,, headphones)
8.    Intervention group materials (quadrilaterals, post assessment, fraction comparison worksheet, fraction test 3.1.1, blank paper, wipeboard)

Procedure, Process, and Instructional Sequence—

1.  Anticipatory Set— Building off the previous day’s lesson, the teacher will remind students of the key math objectives of the workshop time and review the 2 new centers.  The teacher will also remind students of potential rewards for productivity.
2.  Get Every Student Involved— Each student will quickly reflect on what they did well the previous day and how they could improve.
3.  Relate to Prior Learning—All of the students have experienced 4 of the 6 centers previous to this workshop, and the analysis of yesterday’s work will help them access their prior knowledge with these new centers.
4. State the Learning Objectives for the Lesson—“In center one, we will focus on using sentence stems and models to write about how the same fraction of different items can be different sizes.  During your time in center two, you will identify the many names of different polygons and describe their characteristics.”
5.  Input/Present New Knowledge/Skill to the Students— On day one, the teacher introduced the two new centers and modeled how to do each.  Then students helped the teacher complete a few more examples for each center.
6.  Check for Understanding/Ask Questions and Paraphrase— Throughout the lesson on day one, the teacher paused to ask for questions and answer them.  The teacher also asked students to non-verbally give a sign of understanding (thumbs up) for each center.
7.  Independent Practice with Feedback— Students will work through each of the 6 centers (completing centers 1, 2, & 3 on day one and centers 4, 5, & 6 on day two).  The student teacher will be available for assistance at this time as well as pulling individual students for intervention work.  The teacher will pull intervention groups for fraction test 3.1.1 & fraction test 3.1.1, and the struggling math test takers. Each student will turn in their work at the end of the workshop.  Reviewing this written work, the teacher will conference with any students who are still not meeting the lesson objectives and students who appear to be ready for an additional challenge.  Public congratulations of students with high levels of productivity and effort will also be given based off of this work.
8.  Closure— Each student will turn in their work at the end of the workshop, and students will be asked to reflect on what they did well and where they can improve at the end of the lesson. 

Adaptations—Each student is working exactly at their own level for the fluency center; this differentiation allows students to develop fluency with the particular operation on which they are working.  If students complete any task at a math center, they are encouraged to challenge themselves by taking the learning to the next level, which is often evident in the problems that they make up for themselves after they’ve answered the given set of questions. 
            All students, including ELL’s, are encouraged to further develop their mathematical vocabulary understanding & use and are supported with multiple opportunities to practice their oral language skills (chanting to a partner, reflecting on what went well/what to improve on with the aid of sentence frames, etc).  ELL students also practice their written (math journal, center 1 & 2 writing with sentence frames, fluency practice, etc) English skills as well as developing their reading skills (reading & following written instructions, reading & choosing an option for each center, listening & reading  computer instructions, etc). 
Struggling students, often on IEP’s, are supported through extra time to introduce topics with teach guidance, an early introduction to the unit & vocabulary, and intervention time if they are not gaining the necessary skills.  Although there are no official IEP’s in this classroom for math, any student who is not showing an understanding of topics is met with in intervention groups.  This lack of understanding is assessed through teacher observation, formative assessments, class assignments, homework assignments, and summative assessments.  The students who met with the teacher for intervention on day one were identified through a lack of proficiency in class assignments, a student request, and lack of proficiency in homework.  During day two, the student teacher continued to meet with students to quickly assess their understanding of previous units and to create intervention groups based off of those assessments, while the teacher met with groups of students who didn’t show proficiency of 80% or better on the first two fraction standards. If time allows, the teacher will also target students who generally struggle with test taking in math to assure their success on the upcoming post assessment.  Intervention groups are always fluid and change from day to day as student needs change.
Although there was a challenge group for the first fraction test, no students showed proficiency with this particular set of objectives prior to the workshop.  Talented and Gifted (TAG) students generally get into the ‘challenge group’ and work on independent projects, higher level centers, meeting with the teacher to learn the ‘next step’ of the same concept, more challenging homework, etc.
Multiple intelligence learning styles include verbal-linguistic (listening, writing in math journals, chanting, math vocab books), and auditory (listening to computer program, chants, & fluency games).  Another multiple intelligence employed in this lesson is Interpersonal (class discussion, chanting with others, reviewing vocab with others, partner flashcards).  Visual-spatial (computer programs) and bodily-kinesthetic (body spelling vocab words, moving around to different centers, flashcards) intelligences are also present in this lesson.  The intrapersonal (personal journal, vocab work, personal reflection, independent center work) learning style is also included in this lesson.

Assessment Procedures/Criteria—To check for understanding of each objective, the teacher will review the work done in each center by each student, pulling students who are ready for more challenging work and those who need extra support to meet in intervention groups.  Participation in the personal reflection and group sharing and the teacher’s observations will provide opportunities to assess each child’s understanding of the lesson’s objectives.


Math Workshop Made EASY!

Math Workshop revolutionized my math time last year.  Although my class came in almost all reading at grade level, they were VERY low in math.  Less than 1/3 of our class passed the state test the first time.  Around March, I started using Math Workshop, which allowed me to pull intervention groups for nearly an extra hour every day!  With a huge focus in math, I'm proud to say that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF MY STUDENTS PASSED THE STATE MATH TEST!  Yes, even my IEP students, my ELL's, my students living in poverty, etc!  I'll have to do a whole new post on running smooth, thorough interventions later.  There are a lot of different ways to implement Math Workshop, and I'm just going to present one possible way to run it that only requires you to make about four 15 minute activities to keep your students engaged per week. 

A typical Math Workshop week starts with a lesson about whatever standard you're covering.  After this introduction (following the gradual release of responsibility), you introduce the first two centers for the week.  Students are already familiar with the other four centers because they've done them before.  Then, you remind students of expectations (quick transitions, quiet work, high productivity & focus, etc) and start the timer (15-20 minutes worked best for my class last year).  Students jump to their center, you pull your first intervention/TAG/challenge/assessment group.  Twenty minutes later, the timer beeps, students hustle to their next activity, and you either continue with the same intervention group or pull a new one.  Because my students were so low, I spent a lot of time running intervention groups during this time, and my fabulous student teachers and any IA's I could get my hands on did the same.  Repeat one more time, and your hour of math has come to a close after pulling multiple intervention groups, providing meaningful practice for students along with choice and variety. 

Classroom management is easier because they are always moving to something new and they (for the most part) get to choose what they want to do.  I also have clear expectations for students; if they cannot handle choosing a good activity/transitioning quickly/staying focused the whole time/etc, then they will spend the rest of that week doing whatever I choose for them instead of getting to switch through the centers like everyone else.  The students move through the centers with their table group, which are heterogeneously grouped.  I have one super-responsible student switch the table group clothespins after each center transition so students know where to go next.  This is what it looks like, with Activity 1 & Activity 2 being the only two that are different every other day, this time filled in with fraction activities:

The reason I only need to plan four, 15 minute activities for my students for the whole week is because I have four Math Workshop centers that stay the same every week.  You might be thinking, "How boring!  My kids will get restless with the same thing week after week!"  That is where the huge list of options comes into play!  Although four centers are the same each week, there are about a dozen different options for each one, so it never gets old.  I also throw in some random options throughout the year just to spice things up even more. Here is an example of what one looks like:
 Each center has a page of options like this one.  It is important to remember that these are not just lists of busy work, but different ways to learn important, standards-based material through a variety of learning styles.  These are differentiated for each learner and are catered to their individual needs as well as the needs of the whole group.  It is not just finding 4 worksheets for students to work on each week and sitting around twiddling your thumbs while they seamlessly move through the centers.  This model of teaching/practicing math allows for a great deal of teacher intervention time, and many teachers sit at one of the centers to teach a topic more in-depth or to assess students during this time as well.  Below, I've pasted all the text for each of the little posters, but if you'd like a digital copy of the Word documents, just leave your email in the comments and I'll send it your way.  I'll post a sample lesson plan using Math Workshop in a fractions unit in my next post.  Enjoy!


1               Activity 1

2           Activity 2/ Teacher

3            Fluency Development

4          Vocabulary Development

5            Computer Skills

6          Math Journal & Math Chants

Fluency Development
*Practice timed test
*Independent flashcard practice
*Wipeboard practice
*Colored pencil fact writing
*Partner with timed test (one person says the equation, the other solves it, then switch)
*Fact games (set on the quiet mode)

Vocabulary Development
*Whisper read your math vocab book
*Rewrite your math vocab words and definitions on a ½ sheet of paper
*Quiz a partner (one person says the word, the other defines it, then switch)
*Highlight the vocab word in one color and the definition in a different color
*Trace each word & definition with colored pencil
*Body spell each math vocab word & definition
*Rainbow write each word & definition on a ½ sheet of paper

Computer Skills
Work on your math skills from one of the following websites:

Math Journal & Chants
Sing a math chant in a whisper phone or write about your mathematical thinking, including:
*brainstorming ideas
*recording predictions, observations, & patterns you see on the calendar & number line
*listing questions you have
*justifying answers by solving them two different ways
*explaining the steps in solving the type of math we are doing as though you’re writing to a Kindergarten student
*summarizing the main points of the lesson
*reflecting on what
*creating story problems and solving them
*drawing your own calendar with patterns

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Wonderful Word Work Choices!

Part of our daily literacy block is Word Work.  I pull a lot of intervention/TAG/Challenge groups at this time, so students need to be working completely independently and quietly.  These are the options that I have for my students to practice their words (they start with the week's spelling words, and then have the choice to do words from their vocab cards or word lists from our unit of study).  If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments section, or drop me your email and I'll send you the Word document that has these ready to print along with the teacher copy!  If you have a fun word work idea that is not listed here, please let me know so I can add it!


*Vocab Ring- Find a challenging vocabulary from your reading & write it and the word’s definition on one side of a note card.  On the other side, use the word in a sentence, and draw a picture that symbolizes its meaning. Note cards are hole-punched and collected on a metal ring.

*Wipe boards- Carefully write each word on a wipe board and then on your word work page.

*Stamps/Beans/Wikki Stix/Pipe Cleaners/Scrabble Letters/Alphabet Blocks- Use these or other small manipulatives to spell each word and find patterns between them.  Write the patterns you notice on your word work page.

*Write a synonym & antonym for each word.

*Body Spelling is something we do in class.  For tall letters, like t, h, and l, raise your hands, letters that go below the line, like p, y, and q, bend over, and stretch your arms out to the side for the rest of the letters.  After you body spell the word, record it on your word work page.

*Stencils-Use stencils to write out each word.

*Rainbow-Use three different colors, and write the word three times, overlapping the colors.

*Alphabetize the words.

*Ladder Words- Write the word horizontally, then write it vertically from the same starting word.  (This works best on graph paper!)

*Circle the vowels & underline the consonants in each word.

*Make flashcards with the correctly spelled word on one side and a picture about that word on the other.  Practice with these by first holding up the word side and repeatIing the word aloud, followed by how to spell the word (“Dog. D-O-G. Dog.”).  Then flip the card over to remind yourself of the picture you drew that symbolizes that word for them.  Then practice the words by looking at the picture side and whispering how to spell the word it represents. 

*Beat/Clap the syllables- Write each word, clap the syllables, then draw vertical lines through the word to show where the syllables start and end.

*Make the words with play-doh or cut them out of paper

*Read the words aloud, letter by letter, for one of your words.  Then write the word down.

*Write each word 10 times as you whisper it aloud.

*Stair Step- write the first letter of the word on the first line, the first two letters of the word on the next line, and so on until the word is spelled completely.

*Look up each word in a dictionary and thesaurus.  Write the definition below the word on your word work page.

*Use each word in a sentence, or make up a story with all the words in it.

*Sort the words, by length, sounds, vowels, or any other attribute.

*Four Square- divide a piece of paper into four sections.  Choose four of the words and write one of the words at the top of each box.  Write a detailed sentence using that word and draw a picture to illustrate your sentence.

*Type It- Carefully select a computer keyboard.  Type a word on the keyboard, and then write it on your paper.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Stocking up for Back-to-School on a BUDGET!

Here are some of the awesome things that I've been able to buy for my classroom and to share with others in my school & district.  Just by checking the weekly ads (I get the Sunday and Wednesday paper for the coupons anyways) and having a teacher card at Staples, Office Depot, and Office Max, you can get an incredible amount of stuff very inexpensively.  Take my loot from the South Salem Office Depot yesterday:

That's 30 new rulers, 30 colorful spirals, and 30 pencil pouches for $0.90 total!  NINETY CENTS!!  Any one of those items alone would normally cost at least $1!  Plus, I went there with my husband and Grandma after church, so I had them get the regular limit (3 of everything).  These deals are good through 08/18/12.  I'm really loving the 1 cent deals at Office Depot-there are no catches or crazy rebates or anything, and the customer service there is phenomenal.  I can now trade out my miss-matched set of old rulers and donate them to a new teacher or kids who don't have one at home.  The spirals will soon be transformed into fun, colorful literacy journals (see 08-12-12 post).  As for the pencil pouches, I will probably sell a few at my Circle the Wagons party, which I'll have to explain in an entirely different post, and give the rest to the school or the school depot that our district recently started.  I figure that if I'm getting them for a penny each, I'm sure I can find some good use for them, or some students eager to have one! 

A similar buy was a bunch of glue bottles.  I have glue coming out my ears in my classroom, so I have no use for these whatsoever.  However, our school's supply runs low towards the middle of the year, so we end up having to buy more at a higher cost.  I bought these glue bottles for a penny each, and they will go right into the supply room at school for others to enjoy. I also got these three packs of Pink Pearl erasers for only $0.25 each!  These are my favorite brand of eraser; they beat the cheapie Dollar Tree kind for durability, clean erase, and non-student-distractability!  The other great deal at Office Depot last week was handheld pencil sharpeners, which were also just a quarter each!  I love to have these for quiet moments when students need to sharpen their pencil, but we don't want to disrupt the whole class to do so (I also have a class pencil pouch with sharp pencils that a student attends to every morning to cut down on wasted/noisy sharpening time throughout the day).  This is about $90 worth of supplies that I got for about $12!

Staples changed their Teacher Rewards Program this year, which is unfortunate.  It used to be the same as Office Depot's, where you could get a class set (25 at Staples as opposed to 30 at Office Depot) for the "Extreme Deal" price.  However, now teachers can buy only the regular limit (usually 3) at the sale price, and then have to pay the regular price for the rest of the class set.  Staples then gives you a gift card type reward for the purchase price you had to pay over the sale price.  It still ends up that you get 25 for the sale price, but you have to go through the whole rewards program redemption to actually get your money back, and you can only spend it at Staples, so it's kind of a hassle.  Still, some great deals were had, like this:
Twenty-five tiny sticky note tab sets for $0.25 each instead of $2.00 like normal, plus 200 index cards for 2 cents and 2 packs of pencil eraser tops for 2 cents!  This is around $54 worth of stuff for under $7!  Most of these will be put to use in my classroom, but I'll be sharing stickies with teacher friends!

Last is another Staples deal.  Again, you have to deal with their crazy rewards program this year, but you can get about $76 worth of supplies for around $  !  I use the pocket folders as back pack folders (for students to bring their things to and from school in) and desk folders (to keep loose papers organized in our desks.  The pocket folders with the brads/3 hole thingies I use for Chant Folders.  Throughout the year, I print out educational chants based off of the subject that we are learning that have high level vocabulary and catchy tunes.  We use them to increase fluency, practice presentation skills, review previously learned material, etc.  At the end of the year, students get to take their chant book home.
I also got around 2,500 paper clips (can you tell my classroom colors are blue and purple this year?) and I will probably end up donating most of the paper clips to the school and other teacher friends.  A few little packs of mechanical pencils to keep in my desk are pictured too.

If you're a teacher, get bargain shopping!  Even if you're not, take advantage of these great deals, and donate whatever you don't need to your local school or a school supply drive!  There are so many families who desperately need supplies for their children, and budget cuts have put a spending squeeze on nearly every school throughout the country.  Take advantage of the generosity of large corporations and help someone out. :)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Literacy Journal Organization & Sections

Here begins the saga of a new teacher blog!  I thought I would begin by posting some ideas I have for my fourth grader's literacy journals this year.  I've used similar sections in my students' journals for a few years now, but this will be the first year trying the fun, colorful tabbies.  I'm hoping this will help them cut down on wasted time looking for the different categories in their books, and this way they will be able to easily flip from one section to the next.

You can see from the attached pictures that I have put the $0.25 pack of sticky notes from Staples to good use already.  I divided the journal into five main sections, My Level, My Goals, Notes, Word Work, and Vocabulary List, as seen here:
 Students also get to decorate the covers of their literacy journals with stickers, drawings, etc.  I just wrote each section title with a Sharpie on the sticky note, and then folded a piece of transparent tape over each sticky so it will hold fast through a lot of flipping back and forth between each section.  

The first section, My Level, helps students keep track of their assessment results and track their progress throughout the year.  These are some of the assessments that we use in our district, and the students know where they should be throughout the year on each assessment.  This usually only takes one page, so I have this at page 1.  It looks something like this at the end of the fourth grade year:

Next, students record their reading goals.  These are a combination of teacher & student made.  When I conference with each student throughout the year, I usually suggest two different goals for them to work on after completing a running record, unit test, or some other assessment.  The student gets to choose which one of the two goals they want to work on the most.  Then, following the CAFE model, the student writes their name on the front of a sticky note, their new goal on the back of the sticky, and then posts it beneath the appropriate CAFE category on our bulletin board (pictures to come!).  This is what it looks like on page 2 of our literacy journal:

The notes section comes next, and this is where students record whatever random goodness we are learning during literacy time.  Some examples might include copying notes directly from an input chart that we did as a class, summarizing what they talked about with a partner, identifying the main ideas in the book they are reading, recording synonyms that they come across in their reading, etc.  You'll notice that I like to leave the left margin for the date, as I've found that this can really help with accountability for what they've gotten done each day!  For this section, I left about 25 pages, and this is what the first page might look like:

 Word Work is the next section, and I'll do a whole new blog entry for all kinds of fun ideas for Word Work time!  This will be the first year that I'll have students record their word work in their literacy journal instead of on a separate piece of paper to turn in, and this is where I'm expecting many students will need a second journal (thanks to great back to school sales where I get them for $0.01-$0.10 each, I have plenty to spare!)  I left about 30 pages in here for the students, and I expect them to use the front and back of every page before being rewarded with a new journal especially for word work.  I split this section into three columns; one is for the date, the second is for the work, and the third is for a quick self-assessment for the student to do at the end of our 30 minute word work time each day (I pull nearly half the class in some kind of intervention/TAG group during this time, so this is also where they would record what group they were pulled for).  Here is how rainbow words and ladder words would be recorded:

 The last five pages of their literacy journal is for their Vocabulary List.  As students read their just right books, they collect unfamiliar vocabulary words in this chart.  Any word they can't explain or use in a strong sentence, they can write here.  Later, we make vocabulary cards with these words and play some games to help increase their vocabulary.  Date, Book Title, Page Number, and Word are the column headings for this section, as seen here:

So there you have it!  A fun way to organize the students' literacy learning and make it easy for them to find each section as they need it throughout the year!  I would love to get your feedback on  how you've used something similar, or ways to improve this method.  Happy Teaching!