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.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Reader's Notebook 3.0

A lot of the traffic I see on the blog is related to readers' and writers' notebooks. I understand why because I too go searching for information about notebooks! If only there was a strong, meaningful, user friendly example of a reader's notebook out there. There are plenty of examples of notebooks out there but they look complicated and I like to keep things simple. I think readers' notebooks are hard for most of us because it is not something we were taught to do as a child when we were developing our own reading identities. It's hard to teach something when you have a fuzzy grasp on it yourself!

I've taken a few weeks of summer off and tried not to think about school at all. No pinterest, no nothing! But now I'm starting to see the back to school displays going up in the stores and my little teacher nerd heart is starting to go pitter-pat and it's time to start thinking about reader's notebooks again. So here's my thinking about last year's notebooks and this year's notebooks.

Last Year's Readers Notebooks
The reader's notebook has always been a work in progress for me...a hot mess, if you will. Last year I decided to break the notebook up into sections or chapters according to each unit. There was a section at the beginning for a reading log and then after that the notebook was divided into units. This worked well as a more structured step for me and I felt like the notebooks were moderately more successful but not as great as I wanted. Here's the issues I had.
  • Reading log: out the window this year. The kids wrote down what they read religiously every day at the start of the year, but by December, that slowed to a crawl. Few did it at all. This year we are moving to a different strategy for recording what you've read. (Stay tuned.)
  • Organizing by unit made it difficult to find their reading responses. They didn't do much responding independently at all (but hey, that's on me - I need to set up something to hold everyone accountable for that next year), but it was hard to find the responses they did do because it was mixed in with everything else.
This Year's Readers Notebooks
So dividing the notebook into units was a good intermediate step for me because it made me think about what to put in the notebook during each unit. But they didn't respond enough! I want them to see the readers' notebook as a place to respond and show their thinking. Maybe I need to make more of a connection between showing your thinking in math and showing your thinking in reading by writing it down. Anyway, here's the grand plan for this year:

  • Continue with the word READ on the cover of the reader's notebook and WRITE on the cover of the writer's notebook. That made it really easy for the kids to figure out which notebook was which!
  • The notebook will be divided into three (not necessarily equal) sections:
    • Me as a Reader: goal setting, reading identity work, etc. goes here
    • My Work: this is the place where kids will put the work that we do together, whether it's making a concept web or jotting down ideas to share about a read aloud
    • My Thinking: here is where they will write down their responses to their reading. Giving it a separate section should make it clear that responding to your reading is valued and important, hopefully. I don't know if we will call it my thinking or my responding or something else.
  • No reading log at the front or in the book at all. We are doing something different with that this year. Part of me wants to frown on the reading log anyway. There's got to be other ways to gather data that a reading log shows besides having the kid write it down every day. 
  • More reading identity work. This lends itself to learning about genres and other important reading skills. Kids need to know about the kind of reader they are and be able to say the genre they prefer, the types of books they prefer, and why. 
I haven't made the notebook for this year yet. I bought the paper and have the composition book but just haven't gotten to it yet. We're busy enjoying summer!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Classroom Library

One of my goals for the summer is to come up with a new plan for my classroom library. In my opinion the classroom library is the heart of the reading teacher's classroom. A strong library is well organized, accessible to kids, includes a variety of genres, and is constantly updated. I am always thinking of ways to change things up in my library and keep it fresh.

This is the main part of my classroom library. Each of these baskets contains books from a series. Any time I get 3-5 books from a series, I make a new basket. It just makes it easier for the kids to find the books. I have collected so many series of books that I'm running out of baskets. I got these baskets at the dollar store several years ago and haven't seen them since. Now I need more of these baskets and can't find them! For series that are more popular (Geronimo Stilton, Goosebumps, My Weird School, the Fairies and Wimpy Kid come to mind) I use larger baskets. I may take the plunge this year and buy new baskets so that I know I have enough and they all match!

I also have a large collection of magazines. In the picture below the magazines are on the bottom two rows. I subscribe to Ranger Rick, OWL, Ask, Boys Life, Highlights, and Discovery Kids magazines. I also have old issues of Zoobooks, Discovery Girl, American Girl, and Sports Illustrated for Kids, so I have a LOT of magazines to choose from. I like the magazines to face out so the kids can see them. My problem is shelf space. If all my magazines face out they take up way too much room, so I've got to find a new solution. I am thinking about facing out just the newest copies and then putting the older issues in separate magazine boxes. You can cut down cereal boxes and decorate (hello, mod podge!) to save some money and make it look cute!


The rest of my library is arranged by genre. I have baskets for realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, poetry, biography, and others. I also have baskets for nonfiction. My problem with this set up is a nice one to have: as my collection of books has gotten larger, I have added baskets and need more space. Also, my nonfiction baskets are a hot mess. The kids just chunk the books in any basket they please. And that is totally on me - I need to label the baskets better so it is clear which books go in each basket. So my plan for this area is to totally reorganize the nonfiction baskets so they stay neat and "shoppable" throughout the year.

One thing that I do like to do is advertise or display books all around the room using picture easels. You can get these at Wal-Mart or Target in the picture frame section for $6-8. I like to put out picture books that I will be using for read aloud on display or books that I want kids to ask about. In the picture below I have two books out - one at the top corner of each bookshelf. My collection of easels grew throughout the year. I have books out everywhere.

So here's my plan for sprucing up my library next year:
redo baskets for series section
redo baskets for nonfiction and make the topic of each basket more narrow
make a separate nonfiction library area of the room
find something to use for displaying current magazines
make the area more interactive like adding a book recommendation board

What are your plans for your classroom library?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Our Best Books

We have one week of school left. As we wrap up the year, I have the kids think about all the work we've done this year. I ask them to think about the growth they have made as well as some of their favorites from the year. One of the things I ask the kids to do is choose a favorite book we've read this year. It's a hard thing to do! We read so many good books  this year that it was hard to narrow it down to just one. I had the kids quickly jot their answers down on a white board for me. This helps me make decisions about what books to include as read alouds next year. Take a look and see if there are any books you might like to try.

I don't stick to just picture books for read aloud. We started reading The One and Only Ivan and I dropped off about a fourth of the way into the story. I wanted to read just enough to get them hooked and the kids took it from there. It's easy to read a short part of a chapter book aloud as a way to get kids interested in a series or particular book. You'll see that some of the books in the list are chapter books instead of picture books.

Here are the books that are mentioned in the video. I'll try to include the author if I can remember!
The One and Only Ivan - Katherine Applegate
The Hobbit
Whatever After  (a series by Sarah Mlynowski)
City Dog, Country Frog - Mo Willems
The Fire Within
Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman - Jerry Pinkney
Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed - Mo Willems
Clever Jack Takes The Cake
Tikki Tikki Tembo
The Wump World - Bill Peet
The Doll People - illustrated by Brian Selznick
Ruth and the Green Book - Calvin Alexander Ramsey
Zita the Space Girl
The False Prince
The Curious Garden - Peter Brown
Each Kindness
Extra Yarn
Poop: An Unnatural History of the Unmentionable - Nicola Davies
Chowder - Peter Brown
The Fabulous Bouncing Chowder - Peter Brown
The Paper Bag Princess - Robert Munsch
Zombie Chasers (a series)
The Memory Coat
Robot Dreams - Sara Varon
Wings of Fire
Thea Stilton (a series)
Anansi the Spider - Gerald McDermott
Nicki (from the American Girl series)
Animorphs (a series)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Writing Units of Study

Here is our list of writing units of study. Our district relies on Lucy Calkins' Units of Study as a basis of some curricular units, but some units rely on other resources. Because writing units often end with a celebration or end product, I'll list those also. I'm wondering if we should start doing end of unit celebrations in reading also...hmm..something to think about over the summer!
  • Quick Write Week - (1 week) - Students follow the steps in the writing process with minimal teacher prompting to choose a topic, draft, revise/edit and publish within one week. This is a simple task designed to let you see where your kids are and begin to observe strengths and weaknesses in kids.
    • End of Unit Product: Simple story written on notebook paper. 
  • Using a Writer's Notebook - (3 weeks) - This unit is designed to help kids become familiar with the writer's notebook and its purpose. We use this unit to help kids develop strategies to find a topic (like the heart map, questioning, describing items, etc.) and draft during this unit. They learn how to use a writer's notebook and what it is used for.
    • End of Unit Product: Because we spend most of our time on generating ideas and drafting in this unit, there is no formal end of unit product.
  • Writing Personal Narrative - (5 weeks) - This unit is based on one of the books from Lucy Calkins' Units of Study. Students learn the characteristics of personal narrative and write a personal narrative story.
    • End of Unit Product: We keep this one simple and have the kids write a draft on special lined paper and add a color illustration. This is a big deal because we often don't have time for illustrating during workshop time.
  • Writing to Persuade - (3 weeks) - In this unit students learn about how to take a position, generate reasons to support that position, and the format of a letter. They have to decide who the audience of the letter should be as well. This is also a great unit to integrate fact and opinion because strong arguments are built of facts, not opinions! 
    • End of Unit Product: Kids write or type their letter and mail it.
  • Writing Fiction - (4 weeks) - Students create a character and draft a story that features that character. We try to keep it simple and stick with realistic fiction.
    • End of Unit Product:  Students write their story as a picture book with illustrations at the top of each page.
  • Bringing Words to Life With Poetry - (4 weeks) - Students learn about the various "doors of poetry" that poets use to find inspiration and write poetry. This is a unit that always goes particularly well.
    • End of Unit Product: Students choose five or six of their favorite poems to publish in a poetry anthology. We let them add an illustration to each poem and then create a cover and title for their anthology before spiral binding the pages together.
  • Writing to Inform - (4 weeks) - This is our nonfiction writing unit. Kids choose a topic they are experts on and then write what they know about the topic. Afterwards, they categorize the information and plan the text features that would help their reader understand.
    • End of Unit Product: Students publish a "hardback book" that features sewn pages and endpapers. Kids write an "about the author" blurb on the back cover.
  • Writing About Reading - (4 weeks) - This unit is all about book reviews. Kids choose a book and then give a short summary (without giving away all of the plot!) and comment on the quality of the book. This is a great unit to kickstart reluctant readers. The kids love reading book reviews by their peers!
    • End of Unit Product: Students write book reviews on small paper and paste inside the book reviewed. You could also have them publish on or the Spaghetti Book Club website. 
  • Writing Personal Narratives - (4 weeks) - Students again revisit personal narrative but this time the goal is to raise the quality of the story by focusing on telling the story with extra action, dialogue and details. We want the kids to focus on ways to keep your reader engaged in the story.
    • End of Unit Product: Students publish a picture book featuring extra illustrations.
  • Writing to Share Research - (5 weeks) - This unit is combined with the reading research unit. Kids choose a topic and then research it. After researching, kids take that new learning and create a product to show what they learned. 
    • End of Unit Product: Kids have a menu of choices to demonstrate what they learned during research: create a game; draw and illustrate a comic strip; or write a play, news report, song, rap, or magazine. 

Reading Units of Study

I've had several requests for a list of the units of study we follow in reading and writing. I am absolutely happy to share. Our units of study are crafted by our fantastic elementary language arts coordinator and the instructional coaches in our district. We are given a written narrative for each unit that describes what the classroom should look and sound like by giving guidance in areas such as read aloud, guided reading, independent reading, and readers' and writers' workshops. The units are revised each year as a result of teacher feedback. I can't praise our LA coordinator enough. She is very knowledgable and very accessible to teachers! She truly listens when we offer feedback or suggestions.

Here are the reading units of study that we follow in third grade. I'll give the title and then the instructional focus of each unit.

  • Launching Reader's Workshop - (3 wks) - This unit is all about teaching those rules and routines necessary to make your classroom and workshop time work. The First 20 Days of Reading from Guiding Readers and Writers (Fountas and Pinnell) are a big resource in this unit.
  • Readers Build Good Habits - (6 wks) - This unit is designed to help kids review and learn strategies that good readers use, including reading with phrasing and fluency, interacting and staying engaged with the text, and monitoring for understanding.
  • Readers Make Inferences and Draw Conclusions About Fiction Texts - (5 wks) - This is one of my favorites! This unit is all about characters in fiction texts and the changes they undergo. We also look at plot and story structure during this unit.
  • Reading Poetry and Drama - (4 wks) - During this unit we focus on building meaning and understanding of various types of poetry. However, we also do daily focus poetry lessons (similar to shared reading) to help expose kids to poetry and the vocabulary associated with it from day one. You can't wait until this unit to begin exposing them to poetry and expect them to master it in four weeks! :)
  • Readers Read Nonfiction Text To Gain Information - (4 wks) - This one is all about nonfiction: various text features readers find in nonfiction, main idea, ways the author can structure the text, and responding to nonfiction. We don't save nonfiction for this unit, though! We include nonfiction in our regular read aloud rotation throughout the year.
  • Readers Infer and Synthesize Themes in Texts - (4 wks) - This is a fun unit that the kids enjoy. This unit is about theme across all genres. The kids think about the big picture in reading. What is the author trying to teach or tell you? What can you take away from this unit and apply to your own life?
  • Readers Maintain a Reading Life While Preparing for STAAR - (5 wks) - This is our test prep unit. We use this unit to teach good test taking strategies and help the kids understand that the test booklet is similar to a magazine but with questions after each article. We still read test passages the same way - by reading, thinking, and responding - even though the text and booklet may look different!
  • Readers Read and Research for Information - (5 wks) - This is a combined reading and writing unit. In this unit, we teach kids how to use research skills to choose and narrow a topic, generate questions to research, choose resources, take notes and generate a product to demonstrate new learning. (Can you tell this is the unit we're right in the middle of??)
  • Readers Make a Plan for Summer Reading (last week) - In this short burst we want to help the kids make a plan to keep growing as readers over the summer by doing things such as setting reading goals or generating a list of books they want to read.

Friday, May 3, 2013

We Have a Winner!

I am so excited! Our awesome librarian hosted a poetry contest during the month of April in honor of National Poetry Month. Students from all grade levels were encouraged to write their own original poetry to turn in. The winner would receive a gift card to our upcoming book fair in the library. I was so, make that thrilled!...when one of MY STUDENTS was chosen as the winner!

Here is her poem. It is beautiful. I could not be prouder of her.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Confession...

I have to be honest...nothing gets me more excited when I get home than to see a box waiting on my porch! Especially when I open up the box and inside I see this:

three books for me and a pile of picture books for read aloud. I love books. I still have my entire first grade read aloud and classroom library intact up in my extra bedroom. Thank goodness my husband doesn't mind! My books are like my friends and I can't bear to lose them. I love adding new books to my collection.

I feel like lately my read alouds are losing steam, so I am trying to hunt for some new titles. Here's what I'll be reading to the kids in the next week or so.
Extra Yarn
The Curious Garden
The Fabulous Bouncing Chowder (an oldie but we LOVE the character Chowder!)
Creepy Carrots
Each Kindness (So good! Plan to do a random act of kindness project based off this one.) 

Here's what I'll be reading personally in the next few weeks. I am on a cold streak as far as picking books to read myself, so hopefully these three will get me back on track.
May B.
Robot Dreams
The Bronte Sisters

Friday, April 26, 2013

Me As A Reader

Our school is hosting an open house next week for parents to come and see some of the work their child has done throughout this year. We've made a couple of projects to get ready that I want to share.

Me As A Reader Step Book
This is a simple step book made from two sheets of paper that are folded and stapled. We did the top cover together. On the other pages of the book, the kids wrote about their favorite character we've met this year, their favorite book this year, and their favorite genre. It was a good activity to review many of the things we've learned about this year. You could really see their brains stretching to think about themselves as readers! That's hard work for some of our kids.

Reader's Self Portrait
Once we talked about favorite books that we've read this year, I had the kids draw a self portrait of them reading their favorite book. In the step book described above, I had the kids choose a favorite book that I'd read aloud and we shared together. For this activity the kids could choose any book, whether it was one I'd read aloud or one they've read during independent reading. We took the drawing slow and steady. I knew things were going to be good when it got real quiet in the room while they were working! Here's a few of the finished products. They turned out great!!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Writing About Reading

 We have just finished our first week in our new writing unit - writing about books. The goal of this unit is to inform the reader about a book and share your opinions. At the end of this unit the kids will write a book review and then publish it by pasting their review into the book they've read or by reading their review in front of a video camera and then the reviews will be broadcast on a television screen in our school lobby. I haven't yet decided which of the publishing options we will do - it might be best to keep it simple and just glue the review into the book - we'll just have to wait and see.

Success in this unit is built on lots of prior talk, talk, talk about books. I model book talks all the time during the day. I tell the kids about what books I am reading (I read mostly young adult lit and picture books. I try to read what my students read so I have a bank of books to draw from when they ask for book recommendations.), I tell the kids what books I want to read, and I share my opinions on what we've read. Our "Battle of the Books" challenge was a great way to lay the foundation for talk about books because the kids are trying to persuade classmates to vote for a certain book by talking about the characters or the plot. You have to model this and engage the kids in oral talk about books before you expect them to write - a lot of times talk is our "oral rehearsal" for drafting.

I started out the unit by thinking about all the books I've read recently that stuck in my mind. My original goal was to just come up with 4 or 5 titles to focus on in my entries in my notebook. However, narrowing down my list to 4 or 5 was hard! I struggled to include a range of books - picture books, chapter books, graphic novels, random reading - in just 4 or 5 titles. So instead I made a page to list every book that I read and liked during the last school year. After the kids made their own personal list, we took time to "just write" about a book they included on their list. You know it's going good when the kids complain because "there's not enough room on the page to include everything!" or "We've read too many good books this year! It's too hard to choose!"

Close up of the "Books I've Read" page. I let the kids include any book on here - class read alouds, home reading, independent reading - any title is OK. However, I do have a couple of rules. The book needs to be one you know in your heart - you could stop right now and talk about it. Also, no book that has been or will be made into a movie can be included. I want to know your interpretation of the book, not a movie director's! :)

 Books I've Read page followed by entry about a book - not a structured entry, just write about a book as if you were having a conversation with the page.

The next few days in the unit are about things that a writer may choose to include in their book review. Here's a few snapshots from my notebook.

We just finished a unit on theme in reading so we didn't spend long on this. Students brainstormed read aloud titles that could fit with each theme and then added a few examples from their own reading. Afterwards they chose a title and wrote an entry discussing the theme from that book.

Author's Craft is such a hard topic for third graders. This requires them to read and comment critically on the decisions an author has made. It's not easy. With this I had the kids glue the chart in their notebook and then choose to comment on the language/wording, plot, or characters in the story using the prompts in the box.

 Book reviews don't all have to be the same. For this lesson, the kids looked at several sample book reviews I printed out from Spaghetti Book Club and identified the types of information in each one. They found that most all the reviews included a short summary, but after that the kinds of information varied widely! I had the kids choose three types of information they might want to include and then try it out on the next page.

The best part of writing my own entries in my notebook for this unit is that I know the kids are going to run to read any book I write about. So I have tried to write about books that we haven't read aloud. I am  going to do my final book review that I publish on Bill Peet's wonderful (yet old!) book The Wump World. Here's a few other books I'll be writing about in the next few days.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

March Book Madness

I love to come up with new ways to encourage kids to read. Some of the kids at this age get caught up in chapter books and don't stop to read some of the more terrific picture books out there simply because they aren't chapter books. In an effort to guide the kids back to picture books, we're celebrating March  Madness in our classroom, reading style!

Okay, so my display isn't the greatest right now, but it's a work in progress. I wanted to get it up before I left school this afternoon. I'll add some things to it as we move along. 

I worked with our wonderful librarian to find picture books that we had multiple copies of and checked them out. Fortunately, she had several sets of picture books from previous years' Bluebonnet Books list, so I was able to find about ten titles with three to four books each. I'm starting small and used four titles this time. (Maybe we'll celebrate April and May Reading Madness with the remaining titles if this goes well!) I paired each one of those books up with a book that we had already read aloud. I made the pairings based on theme or genre. The pairings are in the pictures below with the book we've already read aloud listed first.

Minty: The Story of a Young Harriet Tubman vs. The Extraordinary Mark Twain
White Water vs. Ruth and the Green Book

The Memory Coat vs. Sparrow Girl
The Lotus Seed vs. The Luck of the Loch Ness Monster

Throughout the next three weeks we will read and discuss the two books and then the kids will vote on their favorite of the two. Only one of the titles from each pair will make it through to the next round. After we determine the winner of each pair, I'll ask a student to write down a quick note (no larger than a 3x5 index card) explaining why that particular book won and staple it up. Comparing and voting will continue until we determine a winner of Mossman Book Madness! I think this will be a great way to develop talk about books and will be a great way to lay the foundation for our upcoming book review unit in writing. After all, you have to talk about something often first as a rehearsal for writing about it.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Subway Summaries

One of the reading skills that third graders must learn is the art of the summary. Students have to read a passage, identify the important information, and then turn around and use that important information to construct a coherent summary of what they have read. It's a challenging skill for the kids to master and one that typically takes time and exposure for the kids to be successful with.

This year we've already taught summary in the fall semester, but we're revisiting summary as we wrap up our unit on theme and genre. Today I did a lesson to review what should be included in a summary. I had a little fun with this lesson just to make sure I had the kids' attention.

Before the lesson began I put on my apron and hat. I made signs that said "Subway Summary Artist." Years ago the Subway sandwich shops had their employees wear shirts that said Subway Sandwich Artist. So today I was a Subway Summary Artist. I put the apron and hat on and while I talked about what to include in the summary I put up pictures of a bun, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and meat. We had fun with it today and the kids really did pay attention! At the end of the lesson today they really were able to tell me what information should be included in a summary.

Monday, March 11, 2013

You've Got Mail!

As a child I loved getting things in the mail. I dutifully checked the mailbox every day, hoping to find something for me waiting inside. On the rare occasions that I actually did get something, I was thrilled! Getting real mail made me feel special. I still have a card that my first grade teacher sent me for my birthday.

I try to communicate with my kids in various ways, whether it's a pat on the back or a comment left on a post-it in their notebooks. Another way I like to communicate with my kids is by sending postcards. Our society is increasingly text and email oriented, and I want the kids to experience that same thrill I did as a kid when I actually got real mail. I don't tell the kids I am sending the postcards, I simply put the cards in our outgoing mail basket in the office and wait for them to arrive. The kids get a kick out of them! I always know the cards have been received because the kids will ask "Did you send me mail?" or a few will bring the card in to show me for proof.

I send cards for various reasons. I typically will send one at the end of each writing unit. One year I sent each child a card praising their effort on our state tests. I've also sent cards to welcome new students to our class or to praise a specific child for something I've seen them do in the classroom.

It can be hard for me to remember who I've mailed cards to and who I haven't. I try to keep it fair and mail one to each student before mailing a second one out. To help me keep track I address an entire class set. That way after I mail one or two out, I still know who I have left to mail cards to because their card is still in my stack. When I run out of addressed cards then I can start again.

Here is one type of cards that I send out. These are provided by our school. Usually we are required to complete one of these as exit slips at faculty meetings or other events. The front of the card says "I Noticed..." and the back has room for a message. I'll use these kinds of cards for messages like "I noticed you working hard today during writing time" or "I noticed you making good choices during independent reading today." The kids love these.

I also send out these cards. I had these made at They say "Good News" on the front and "Mrs. Hamilton is proud of me!" on the back. I used the card style on the right at the beginning of the year. The style on the left is what I am using now. I found these templates at Vistaprint by searching "kids" for the right style and "dots" for the left style. I changed the font faces and the text boxes to make the cards say what I wanted. I use these cards for positive feedback ("I loved reading your poetry anthology!") or other comments for the kids.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Scholastic Book Orders

Parents, you are welcome to place an order with Scholastic Book Clubs online. Click the banner below to visit the Book Club website. You can shop from a variety of book catalogs that feature titles for all ages, interests, and abilities. Add the books to your online shopping cart, pay, and then the books will be delivered to my classroom shortly. I will then deliver the books to your child so they can begin reading. 

Have fun shopping!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

News Websites for Kids

We've been learning about theme in our reading lessons during this unit, and this week we've been focusing on finding themes in nonfiction. Here are two great websites with nonfiction resources that I've used.

  • Dogo News - - This is a fun, kid-friendly website that includes news, movie information, and book reviews that are safe for kids.

  • The Mini Page - - This is a newspaper for children that was formerly printed in the newspaper but is now published online. Check out the fun articles and games available for kids!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The One and Only Ivan

In class right now we are reading aloud this year's Newbery Award winning book The One and Only Ivan. We're hooked! Here's a wall for you to post your thoughts about the book as we read along.

The book trailer for The One and Only Ivan:

Here's author Katherine Applegate answering questions about her book:

Monday, February 18, 2013

John Henry - Steel Driving Man Homework

This week's homework was about the story of John Henry. Read the passage and choose one of the questions below to answer. Post your answer by clicking on the comment button below.

  • If you were the author, how would you have ended this story?
  • What other character or person does John Henry remind you of and how are they similar?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Weekend Plans

Looks like I'll be busy this weekend! Along with grading student poetry anthologies, I've got these books waiting patiently for me. What books are waiting on your "to read" list?

Biography Project

We just finished a unit on nonfiction. In the past the kids enjoy nonfiction and do particularly well with expository nonfiction. Our goal this year was to become more familiar with narrative nonfiction because it is a genre they are less familiar with and one they will begin to see more often.

This year we decided to expose kids to more narrative nonfiction by reading biographies. Together we read stories such as Henry's Freedom Box, Marvelous Mattie, Minty, Wilma Unlimited, Sky Pioneer and Rosa.  (By the way, this is also a terrific unit for exposing the kids to famous African American and Women Heros!! The kids were amazed to hear about Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and other heroes from the past.) We focused the kids thinking by asking them questions:

  • Why do you think this person is important? 
  • What questions do you still have about this person? What would you ask them if you were able to talk to them in real life?
The kids chose a biography from our school or classroom library and began reading. After they finished reading, we had them complete a little project. We printed out the head of the person they chose. The student then drew the rest of the person and wrote what they learned. Here's a few examples of the finished product. They had fun.

Louis Armstrong - We printed out the person's head. Some of the pictures we used were colors, others black and white. The kids had a blast!

The students had to make a timeline of important events in that person's life. We asked them to include at least three big events other than the person's birth or death.

The kids also had to tell why the person they chose was important. What was their big contribution? The bottom text box was for the kids to write their questions for that person if they were able to talk to them. 

Another example - Walt Disney

Another example - Jane Goodall (post-it at top covering student's name)

After the projects were completed we put them on display in the classroom. The kids have enjoyed looking at them.

Anchor Charts

When I first began my teaching career it wasn't unusual to cover the walls of the room with many commercially made materials like posters or bulletin board sets. Times have changed! I make a lot of the posters that go up on the walls with the kids so that they are relevant to the the kids. Our principal says it leaves "tracks of our teaching." 

Here's two posters that I made during our last unit. One is for main idea and the other for cause and effect. Bear in mind that I'm no artist. I try to keep the illustrations simple and focus on the content that I want the kids to pay attention to. :)

One of my students pointed out that the Titanic was actually the RMS Titanic, not the SS Titanic like I drew! How's that for detail oriented thinking!

Sorry for the glare, but I do get them laminated because I move the posters around the room quite a bit. If they aren't laminated, they don't last as long!

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Puzzle of the Green Bear - Homework for week Feb 11

For homework this week we are reading an article about a polar bear with green fur. Think about what you read in the article. Add a comment to respond to this question:

  • What did you find interesting in the text?

You can also post a comment to respond to another reader's thinking. Your comment might sound like this:

  • "I agree with (student's name) because ... "
  • "I disagree with (student's name) because ... "
Here's a video to give you an idea of what the green polar bears look like in real life.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Kidblogs....Mossman Readers Rock!

Next week we will take some time in the computer lab to explore our own individual blogs that I've set up on We will use our blogs to share what we are reading, writing, and thinking about. I've made a few posts to get us started.

Go to and click on the title of a post you would like to read. You have to log in to see the post. To log in, type Hamilton and then your class number if you are in my class (Hamilton7, for example) or Tomci and then your number if you are in Mr. Tomci's class (Tomci2, for example). Enter the password we shared in class and then you are on your way!

Mossman Readers Rock!

Post a comment to let me know what you think!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Writing Unit 5 - Writing Poetry

We just finished up a quick unit on poetry in Writer's Workshop. To be honest, I am not the best at writing poetry. I totally understand how some kids who struggle with writing or confidence issues feel because I feel that way when asked to write poetry. My kids are used to workshop and have been exposed to poetry every year so it is not a big deal to them. But to me, poetry is the most challenging...probably because I wasn't exposed to it as a young writer (or reader for that matter!) and my brain gets stuck on the notion that poetry is somehow just so different from prose. So as a teacher this is the unit that I dread the most!

However, while my writing was not so great, the kids' writing during this unit turned out fantastic. Some of them are just natural born poets. Those who struggle with the rules and conventions of fiction or nonfiction find their voice as poets because we teach them that poetry doesn't always follow the rules. It's fun to see the child who usually struggles suddenly come alive as a writer when they understand that poetry truly is about the heart of the message and not so much about periods and commas or capital letters.

Our district bases the writing units off Georgia Heard's marvelous book Awakening the Heart. There are five "doors" that poets look through. I want the kids to see that these doors are remarkably similar to the places that writers look for inspiration when writing fiction or nonfiction also. Here's pictures of the "doors" in the writers' notebooks. We folded a page back to make a door. On the inside of the door kids brainstormed possible topics for poems. Then on the following blank pages they drafted poetry relating to that door. The icon on the front of the door matches very basic construction paper doors with pictures on them to remind the kids what each door represents.

The heart door - what is special or important to you? If you've done a heart map in your notebook before this is a great link. Many of the topics on the heart map will appear on this list also.

The observation door. Look close - but then look CLOSER. What do you see, hear, or notice? What can you notice about the classroom, or a pencil sharpener, or the backpack closet? You can observe anything. This is a good opportunity to include simile and metaphor as you really observe...or as I say...look close, but then look CLOSER.

The concerns about the world door. Don't you love my Earth drawing? Ha ha. This is the place where we think about the things that make you worry or that you feel are a problem in the world - pollution, saving animals, etc. - it all belongs behind this door. Some of these topics can be fairly serious. A lot of the kids included onomatopoeia in these poems, whether it was the sounds of machines chopping down trees in the rainforest or an angry person pounding their fist.
The wonder door. What questions do you have? What do you really wonder about? These can be serious topics - why don't I have a brother or sister - or not so serious topics - why can't we have pizza for dinner?
The memory door. Think back to a special moment. What sensory details do you remember about it? Why is it so special to you? This is a good door to also touch on imagery and sensory language since the kids will need to include those kinds of details when recalling a specific memory.

I'll see about posting student samples shortly. We have our writer's celebration for this unit on Thursday and the majority of the kids are pumped to share.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Get Ready for Robots! Homework for week February 4

For homework this week we are reading an article about the NAO robot. Think about what you read in the article. Add a comment to respond to this question:

  • What did you find interesting in the text?

You can also post a comment to respond to another reader's thinking. Your comment might sound like this:

  • "I agree with (student's name) because ... "
  • "I disagree with (student's name) because ... "

Edit: Here's a video showing the robot in action. After watching it do you still agree that the robot would be a good thing to have?

Sunday, January 6, 2013


One of the things that turns kids off to grammar is that it can be boring and dry if presented that way. The key is to make it active, engaging, and relevant to our kids. Here's a super video about contractions that uses the lyrics to Carly Rae Jepsen's song "Call Me Maybe" to teach contractions. I'll be the kids will tune in for sure on this one!


You know, I just don't think anything beats Schoolhouse Rock videos to reinforce grammar. The songs are catchy and fun. The kids ask to watch the videos over and over again! Here's one for pronouns.

Unpack Your Adjectives

Here's an old school video about adjectives. Enjoy!