Friday, July 28, 2017

Let's Partner Up!

I love using cooperative grouping in my class and I try to group kids in different ways. I was so very fortunate to work beside a teacher who used lots of Kagan grouping strategies. From colored dots to letters on desks, this teacher was a master at pairing students up. I borrowed her strategies and use lots of grouping strategies in my classroom.

I must confess that I'm not so good at pairing up students. I try to give students choices to help them  take ownership in our classroom, so I'm not always as structured with pairs. I frequently let students choose their partners. At other times I pair students up purposefully. Other times I want to randomly pair students up. Enter the partner pair-up cards. 

These cards are set up in pairs. Pass out the cards randomly and then have students go looking for their partners. It's a fun way to pair up the kids. Interested in a set of cards for yourself? Click here to download the file!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Back to School: Personal Identity Maps

Summer is one of my favorite times of year because I can catch up on all of my professional reading. I have a stack of books by my bed that gets taller and taller throughout the year. I spend my reading time during the school year on books that I can recommend to my students. Summer is my time to dig deep into professional books to learn and grow.

One of the books that I'm reading this summer is called "The Curious Classroom" by Smokey Daniels. It is all about student-centered inquiry teaching. I felt like a lot of my teaching in the previous year was very teacher-driven. My goal for next year is to move away from so much teacher-directed activity to more student-driven learning. This book was filled with a bunch of great ideas and suggestions to get you started on inquiry teaching.

Something Daniels discusses in this book is the importance of building a strong classroom community by getting to know each other. He mentions teachers sharing personal information about themselves with students. Can students tell anything about you as a person? My students know all about my kids, my dog Chance (who can snarf down 4 blueberry muffins from the kitchen counter in the blink of an eye), my car named Dora, and my love for Walt Disney World. I make a video each year with pictures to tell the kids all about myself that I show on the first day of school.

(Here's my video from last year. It's a tradition and part of my summer homework. My son is already asking when I'll make my video for this year.)

It's not really practical though for kids to make a video about themselves to share. Enter "Personal Identity Maps" as described by Smokey Daniels in his book. For this activity, students make a concept web all about themselves to share. I decided to make one for myself. I like to have a sample ready to show kids for some assignments (but not for all - sometimes it can really stifle creativity), so I decided to make one for myself. Here's my identity map. I'll use this to show the kids as my sample so they understand my expectations for the finished product.

I made a little set of instructions for the kids to use. Click here to access the PDF file with instructions for students and possible categories of information that students might want to include.

When the students have finished making their web, they can share with a partner and use that as a basis to create a venn diagram to observe similarities and differences. The book suggests putting them up around the room and having students do a gallery walk and jot on post-its about things they noticed or were surprised about after looking at the webs. This sounds like a great way to launch into the year and building a great classroom community.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Let's Measure!

I love to integrate picture books into my math teaching. It is fun to weave in reading wherever I can in different subject areas, and math is no exception! 

One of my favorite nonfiction picture book authors is Steve Jenkins. He has written several books that focus on unique characteristics of animals - how they sleep, how fast they run, or why some animals behave the way they do. The information in the books is just plain fun, but the illustrations are awesome! His style is very distinctive and after showing the kids one of his books and discussing the illustrations they were able to find several other of his books in the nonfiction section of our classroom library.

During my nonfiction reading unit, I always make sure to read aloud Steve Jenkins' book Actual Size. This is a fun book that shows various body parts of animals in real size! The goliath spider is twelve inches in real life, and the illustration of it in the book is twelve inches. The saltwater crocodile's head takes up three pages to show it in real "actual size."

Image result for steve jenkins actual size

After reading the book I realized it would make a great resource for measurement lessons in math. The picture of the gorilla hand on the cover is also a page in the book and is a natural comparison point for children. They are amazed at how big the gorilla's hand is and how it compares to theirs. So for our comparing length lesson, we compared our hands to a gorilla's hand!

I took the gorilla hand from the book and copied it actual size on paper. This was challenging because it won't fit on a letter or legal size page. We had to use ledger size paper (11x17) to get the gorilla's hand to fit without shrinking it down. 

For the lesson I started by giving out the gorilla hand and ruler to the students. They measured the length of each of the gorilla's fingers. Then I had students first draw their hand at the bottom of the page and color it in using a bright colored crayon (yellow or white) so that it would be easily seen. Afterwards the students measured the length of their own fingers and record those and then find the difference between the gorilla's fingers and their fingers.

Add caption

Steve Jenkins also has another book similar to Actual Size called Prehistoric Actual Size. This book features dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals with their bodies again shown in real size. While I didn't use this book for a lesson, I did put it out as a station for children to visit. They read about the animal, made a sketch, and then measured to compare. Measurement is much more meaningful when it is hands on!
Image result for prehistoric actual size

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Writing to Inform

Our kids have been waiting and waiting and waiting all year long for us to get to the nonfiction writing unit. The time has finally arrived! We've worked for three weeks and are in the middle of publishing our nonfiction books.

When we began our unit, we talked about thick topics and thin topics. Nonfiction writers write their books to teach the reader, so they should choose a topic that they know a lot about and consider themselves experts on. Thick topics are those that they know a lot about - they could get up and talk and talk forever about those things! Thin topics are those that they may not know a lot about. They may know a few bits and pieces of information, but not enough to teach the reader anything. To start the unit we brainstorm examples of thick and thin topics for us and zoom in on a thick topic.

After choosing a thick topic, we start making notes and jotting down everything we know. We start by working in our notebooks and just listing things, but then we shift to a note facts page and start organizing our thinking. We cut the notes apart into strips, sort them into categories and glue them down to keep everything organized. This is an important part for kids. If students only have two or three notes for that category, we discuss if that category should be included. If students have only 1 or 2 categories of information, we go back and think about if the student truly is an expert on this topic or whether we need to go back and choose a different topic.

(Here's my example - my topic is Disney World)

Once our notes are organized, then we start drafting paragraphs and think about what text features we could add to really teach the reader and help them understand. We talk with partners about what would be helpful and what vocabulary words unique to the topic might need to be explained. We use a planning map to help us jot down what order the information will go in and what text features we might use. 

Then it's time to work on the final copy. We let the kids bring in photographs from home, but all other text features need to be hand drawn. Publishing can take a while for this unit simply because there's a lot to do! But the results are usually fabulous. Here is my nonfiction book that I made as a sample.

front cover

table of contents

text page - there is a definition for the word resort in one of the sentences

text page - the pictures are from a Disney World brochure that I cut up! I added the captions myself. I also included a pronunciation guide in the text.

maps - I drew them myself. I don't include anything in my samples that they can't do.

more text with photographs

a table to organize information

photographs with captions

the back cover - it truly is the Most Magical Place on Earth!


Here's a fun game for skills review called Heartbreaker. I can't remember where I found the idea from, but this is an easy game to create and can be used for all kinds of skills practice. 

To Make The Game Pieces
Come up with three types of game cards - Win __ Points, Lose ___ Points, and Heartbreaker cards. You can write these on heart cut outs, index cards, or scraps of paper. 
The win points cards can have all kinds of number values…2, 17, 146…whatever. The number is up to you. The same goes for the lose points cards. Choose any value…lose 5, 19, 44, 723 points…whatever. The heartbreaker cards have different things written on them, like take half the other team's points, lose a turn, give 100 points to every other team, etc. 

To Play The Game
To play, lay the heart cutouts face down on the table or place them face down in a pocket chart. Then choose some skill to review. Today we reviewed cause and effect. The team that got the correct answer got to choose a heart. They kept a running total of how many points the earned or lost. I also randomly award points throughout the game also (Suzie raised her hand, her team gets 10 points, etc.). You can end the game when you choose. ,When the game ended today I told the kids we'd take the winning team's number of points and have that many extra minutes of recess.

This is a fun game that the kids really enjoy because the point totals can change quickly due to the number value on the cards. Plus the cards can be used for a variety of activities. Tomorrow I'll use the same set of cards for a fact and opinion review activity. Have fun!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

We tweet!

This summer I had the opportunity to attend the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Conference in San Antonio with my team members. We had the absolute best time! I am so thankful my principal made the investment in my team and sent all of us. It was the best bonding experience (my goodness, I am so lucky to work with the people that I do...Mossman Third Grade Team ROCKS!) and we left energized about using technology.

The best session I went to was about using social media in the classroom, specifically websites like Schoology/Edmodo, Facebook, and Twitter. The presenters talked about "Twitter Tuesdays" they hosted at their school. Each class had a twitter account and they used it to communicate throughout the building. Classes might post announcements ("We're having an author's celebration, come and join us!") or even questions ("If the answer is 4, what could the questions be?"). You might also tweet an author and see if they respond. My colleague and I were hooked.

So we are launching into our own Twitter Tuesday of sorts at school. We have each set up twitter accounts and I have my twitter feed on the right side of the screen. Please feel free to follow us! We are looking to meet up with other schools by twitter and get in touch with authors, writers, and other experts. If you are interested in a Google Hangout, we are interested also! Tweet us!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Classroom Library, Part 2

One of my goals for the summer was to reorganize my classroom library. I have spent the past week or so getting my classroom library ready to go for this year. I bought new baskets so everything would match and I brought in a new bookshelf to accommodate everything. Here are a few of the changes I made.

I split my nonfiction up more. Previously I had a science basket and a social studies basket. That was okay but the books went everywhere. Now I split the science into three baskets: plants, animals, and other. I also made a basket for all the National Geographic Kids books. For social studies, I made a basket for people and places and a basket for holidays and history. I hope that by dividing the books into narrower concepts for each basket that the kids will have an easier time remembering which basket the books came from.

 Part of my library is arranged by genre. I didn't have enough baskets last year, so this year I added two more realistic fiction baskets, two more fantasy baskets, and another mystery basket. I also added a basket for graphic novels and a special basket for Bluebonnet books. 

Kids love magazines. My problem was that I had so many magazines that it would take over ten baskets just to hold each magazine. I decided to group them. One basket is all Boys Life. Another basket is Ranger Rick and Ranger Rick Jr. The next basket has science magazines like Ask, Odyssey, and Owl. Another basket has National Geographic Kids. The last basket has American Girl and Discovery Girl issues. The green shelf has other assorted materials (dry erase markers, scissors, notebook paper, erasers, magnetic letters, etc.) but can be emptied out and used for book baskets if needed.

The majority of my classroom library is arranged by series or author. All of the books on these shelves are by author or by series. The series that are more popular (Goosebumps, My Weird School, or Geronimo Stilton) have multiple baskets. I try to arrange the baskets differently throughout the year. As we start the year, I put the less challenging books like Ready, Freddy or Judy Moody at the top of the shelves so they will get plenty of action. As the year goes on and the kids become more confident independent readers, I put the more challenging books toward the top. Typically the top shelves get shopped first.

While I would have liked to put all the books together in one place in the room, it's just not possible without blocking part of the room. I want to be able to see all the kids while I am at the group table in the back. So I kept the section of the library by author and series up front and put the other sections with baskets by genre in the back of the room.