Tuesday, July 8, 2014

New Unit in the Works!

For the first time all summer, I've actually had a few days in a row at home!  Since June 4th, I've been to my Grandma's in rural Missouri, a road trip to Orlando for 10 days, Wichita to see my nieces play softball and t-ball (which was canceled because of rain), brought my nieces home for 4 days, went to a zoo, and went back to Grandma's farm for 4 days over the 4th of July. I've been busy, but I love it.  It's why I will never teach summer school!  And it's really not slowing down between now and August 11th (my first back-to-school meeting).  I still have another trip to Wichita to watch a softball game and the Lion King play (leaving today!), a long weekend with my cousins and aunt on my dad's side, and an annual camping trip with friends for 5-6 days. Throw in my birthday trip to the state fair (first time ever going because we're starting school later this year!), and summer will be gone. :-(

I have managed to work in a little time to begin a new Social Studies notebooking unit covering Geography.  I'm really excited about this unit!  I always start Social Studies out with a study of geography, but I had no materials for it.  I made a few small items for their notebooks, and that was it.  I've worked really hard on building this unit, and even though it's been the toughest one for me so far, I've enjoyed it and learned a lot myself!

I think this unit is going to be massive.  It's already 55 pages long, and I still have one more theme of geography to complete, as well as the end of unit activities!

Here's a sneak peek at the unit so far:

Now, if I can keep myself from becoming distracted (Again! Although, the turtle coconut cookies I made this morning are awesome!), I can probably have this unit finished by the weekend!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Classroom Library Under Construction!

Before school was out, I had this fantastic idea to bring all of my classroom library books home over the summer so I could sort them out and get them all organized.  After loading up several tubs and boxes with books, making many, many trips with the school's shopping cart to my car and back, and telling coworkers that no, I am not moving classrooms or schools over the summer, I finally got every book out of my classroom. Then, I had the joy of unloading all of these books from my car to my sewing room...no shopping cart around this time.  

I wish I had taken a picture before I started working on this project.  There were stacks of books EVERYWHERE.  It was chaotic.  It was a mess.  It was a challenge!

Yes, this looks better than when I originally started sorting all these books!
I've worked a little bit each day, and it's starting to look pretty good.  First I sorted all of my chapter books into genres: Realistic Fiction, Mystery, Science Fiction, Informational, Biography/Autobiography, Fantasy, Mythology, Historical Fiction, Graphic Novels, Poetry, Historical Diaries, and Choose Your Own Adventure.  I'm planning on initiating the 40 Book Challenge next year, so I wanted the challenge genres to be easily identified, so I put a little sticker with the genre code on the upper-right corner of each book.  

After sorting genres, I started to break down the books by theme/topic/author.  I put another little sticker with the theme/topic/author written on it in the bottom-left corner of the cover.  This way, my trained classroom librarians can easily return books. 

Some of the theme/topic/author tubs: Ghosts, Pirates, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Civil War, Gary Paulsen, and Dear America.
These little stickers are great!  I put them on some of my books three years ago, and they're still on there, but easy to remove.  So, they hold up, but don't leave a sticky residue!
I still haven't tackled any of my picture books, but once I get the chapter books done, hopefully these will go pretty quickly.  

I'm excited to have a nicely organized library for once, and hopefully, with these detailed stickers, the students I train to be librarians can put them away correctly!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Social Studies Notebooking Units

I love using notebooking in my classroom, and my students love it, too!  It's amazing to see their learning progress through the year by looking through their notebooks. I've created some complete social studies notebooking units and posted them on TPT.  These units have everything you need to teach that part of American history.  Mini-books, vocabulary, and foldables are all included!  These are the most complete, and useful, notebooking sets I've found, which is why I created them! 

I'm constantly working on more units, so if there's a topic you're dying to use, let me know, and I'll see what I can do to create it! 

My complete units available right now are: 

I've currently got a United States Government notebooking unit in the works, but I can't seem to find much time to work on it!  I'm also planning Westward Expansion and Civil War units! Hopefully I can find some time to work on these during the (much needed) summer vacation!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Jelly Bean Dichotomous Key

I loved teaching science last year, and I have REALLLLLLY missed it this year, but I have found ways to work it in!  I have been creating my own close reading articles and pulling out science ideas that I know students need to know.  These articles have really been pretty easy to put together-- just search "articles for kids about ____" and you'll usually get a wide spread of articles.  You can also use Google to search by readability level, but I haven't had as much luck with that. 

Today's activity centered on Jelly Belly jelly beans and dichotomous keys.  Since Monday, my students have been reading a pretty tough article I wove together about how dichotomous keys work.  The final paragraph introduces them to the activity of naming jelly beans using a dichotomous key.  After going through all the steps of close reading, and having a day-long field trip to the University of Arkansas on Wednesday, my students finally got to work with the jelly beans today.  They were so incredibly excited to do this, and the engagement factor was probably 110%.  This was NOT a quiet activity whatsoever.  And I was completely okay with that!
I borrowed a posted jelly bean dichotomous from here, and edited it to fit on just a front and back paper.  Then, I explained directions to small groups at a time before turning them loose with a bowl of 10 different beans.  They basically had to describe the bean, write down all of the numbers they went through on the key, find the name of the bean, then break it in half and let each partner taste it.  Then they had to decide if they had followed the correct steps and found the right name for the flavor.
I had students finish identifying their 10 jelly beans and ask for more!  Some students worked through 20 jelly beans!  They definitely know how to use a dichotomous key now!  And trying to hold back my laughter as students tried Sizzling Cinnamon, Black Licorice, and Buttered Popcorn added to my enjoyment of the lesson!

I am not posting the materials I used on TPT, since I didn't really make them, but I will post them on my Google Drive.  Here is the link if you want to access these pages for free!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Schedule and Reading Stations

When reading blogs, one thing I really look for is how the reading block is broken up.  There's no perfect solution, in my opinion, and I've worked REALLLLLLY hard to figure out the best plan for this year's reading block.  In my school, we have 2 5th grade classes.  I teach all of 5th grade reading and writing, while my co-teacher teaches all math and science.  We also mix up our students so that all Read 180 kids are together, all special ed kids are together (with a push-in teacher), and all System 44 kids are together.  This makes scheduling a billion times easier, and we're thankful that our principal allows us to do this!

Here's a look at our day:

7:35-7:50      Morning routine (planners, lunch cards, attendance, etc)
7:50-8:40      Specials (Art, PE, Music, and Library/Computers)
8:40-10:00    Reading 1/Math 1 (all Read 180 kids are in Reading 1, and leave for Read 180 at 9:30, when we start stations)
10:00-10:50  Writing 1/Science 1
10:50-11:40  Writing 2 (all Read 180 kids)/Science 2
11:40-12:00  Lunch
12:00-12:20  Recess
12:20-1:45    Reading 2/Math 2 (all Read 180 kids are in Math 2)
1:45-2:00      Recess
2:00-2:30      RtI
2:30               ESL bus packs up
2:40               Bus riders pack up
2:45               Walkers/Car Riders pack up

Now, breaking down that 85-90 minute reading block even further:

40 minutes- Instruction and work time
30 minutes- Stations (2 stations at 15 minute each)
15-20 minutes- Read Aloud

Now, I wish that we stuck to this schedule every day, but sadly, my favorite part of the day, Read Aloud, gets bumped 90% of the time.  This is something that I have always LOVED, and the last two years, we've gotten through 5-8 novels during the year.  I hate gypping this year's group of kids, and I feel like their reading skills are lagging because they haven't been encouraged to read by the read aloud.  That's what happens when you're too focused on "raising test scores," and not on actually educating children...ouch...that's a sore subject...(on a side note, my previous students have scored very well on their tests, and were not exceptional readers...I honestly think it's because they were exposed to tough literature for NINE WHOLE MONTHS, and were able to decipher the meaning of it. But, being the obedient person I am, I have ***reluctantly*** agreed to the whole "stations is best" mindset that my building has adopted...)

Reading stations is something that I've always dreaded.  I hated doing them in school, in college, and in my classroom.  I've always seen it as busy work and play time.  I still don't really care for them, but after a year of HAVING to do them, I've tweaked mine to be a bit more bearable.

Most of the year, I have 5 stations that pretty much stay the same.  They are Word Work, Fluency, Teacher, Writing, and Library.  I worked all year long to find things that would work in these stations.  I'm still not completely happy with them, but the kids enjoy them, and they're making progress.

 Word Work:
This is when my students work on their Words Their Way activities.  My students complained about the sorts being boring, so I took those out.  I can't say that I disagree with them about that...Most of my 5th grade students tested at the Within Word level, and a pretty big group tested at the Derivational level.  There wasn't too much in between.  I guess this happens when your school district removes spelling instruction for two years and then brings in WTW! I found some great "homework" packets for Words Their Way on TPT, and I've been using these for Word Work station.  Students basically sort the words by writing them, then put them in alphabetical order, or unscramble them.  I also have a packet of fun spelling activities also from TPT, that includes things like writing the words in Morse Code (a favorite!), using Scrabble tiles and finding the point value, making crosswords, building word pyramids, etc.  Students do the sorting page first, then the fun page.  I've seen huge improvement in their spelling this year!

We have to do a bi-weekly running record on students, so I use Fluency station for them to practice reading passages out loud.  Students work with a partner and take turns timing each other for 1 minute.  They time each other 5 times total, marking each ending word with a different color (red for the 1st read, orange for the 2nd read, yellow for the third read, green for the 4th read, and blue for the 5th read).  They then count up the total number of words and record it.
I started the year with using fluency activities from

This is a station I dread...I hate doing structured guided reading.  We were supposed to use the "trade books" that came with our new reading program, but these were DULL.  I hate having predetermined conversations, questions, and vocabulary.  I hate having to follow along with a card that tells me what to do and when.  Reading instruction/discussions should happen naturally, and should be about interesting topics/books.

I finally ditched the reading series on this, and brought in some of my favorite novels.  Right now, we are reading Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix.  This is one of my absolute favorite books to read with students!   It's full of places to make inferences and discuss this skill, make predictions, history lessons, lots of vocabulary, and it's just a wonderful story.  It's about a girl named Jessie who lives in Clifton, Indiana, who is selected to leave the town to retrieve medical help for the diphtheria epidemic.  I can barely hold in my excitement when my students are about to learn the "secret" of Clifton!  I LOVE THIS BOOK!

During "teacher station," my students and I take turns reading aloud, paragraph by paragraph.  We discuss how the paragraphs are set up, the difference between dialogue and regular paragraphs, reading with expression, etc.  We have these conversations regularly, and as problems arise. 

I also pause to quickly explain a difficult concept or word, or to have students recap what has happened, make predictions, make inferences, describe a character, or ask questions.  I also mention things that happened earlier in the book and talk about if they were clues or not to what would happen later.  I don't have students record anything on paper, as that takes away from the enjoyment of reading, plus we get through a lot more of the story in 15 minutes than if they had to write, too.  My students don't need to write everything down, because we review people and ideas frequently with our mini-discussions. Ask any one of them, and they'll be able to rattle off the entire plot of the story with plenty of details.

As we finish books in "teacher station," I have students complete a reading response activity.  With Running Out of Time, I have them make postcards about the book.  They choose 3 of the following: a character, problem/solution, setting, theme, important event, compare/contrast. I give them many more details with this, but I don't want to give any of the story away! (I will probably post their postcards in a later blog post!)

In writing station, I post a prompt of Edmodo, which the students then transfer to paper and respond to.  These prompts vary from things like answering questions about themselves, finishing a fictional story, researching a topic, writing a poem, etc.  On the back of their paper, there is an activity for fast finishers. Some of their favorite fast finisher activities have been making a list of as many "M" words as they could without using a dictionary, finding rhyming words, writing concrete poems, and writing letters.

I would like to say that I am organized enough to collect all of their writing station papers and keep them together in a journal of sorts, but I am not.  It's something I'd like to do next year, though!  I tried having students write in a notebook, but I found that students wouldn't do the work unless the pages were turned in and graded, so loose papers is the best solution I've found.

Students read a book of their choice during this station.  This group has been really great about actually reading during this time!  Again, I require no paperwork from students here, because it takes away from the enjoyment of reading.  I do conference with my students as time allows (sadly, not scheduled conference times...), which keeps them honest and on track with their reading.

Now, as test-taking time nears, I've changed my stations up a bit.  Instead of Word Work, they're working on skill based task cards, instead of Library, they're working on MobyMax, and instead of Writing they're working on a Jeopardy review game. 

So there you have it (I'll try to post pictures of stations soon)...my schedule and reading stations. I may not be in love with stations, but I've nearly completed a whole year with them in my classroom.  Does that mean I'm going to use them again next year??? I guess I'll just wait and see.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Drop a Pebble in the Water

We tried out a poem during close reading late last week.  I found the poem, "Drop a Pebble in the Water" by James W. Foley, that I thought was perfect for 5th graders. 


We've had quite a bit of "girl drama" this year, and rumor spreading was at the center of it.  This poem fit in perfectly with that problem, and encouraged students to spread kind words instead of unkind words. 

My students are starting to get the hang of annotating text, and they're doing a pretty good job, if I do say so myself.  Like I've said before, close reading allows my struggling readers time to dig into the text and figure out what it is talking about, and it makes my advanced readers slow down and really think about what they read.  I've seen every student's written responses and comprehension improve in just the few weeks we've been doing close reading. 

"One thing the author compared dropping a pebble in the water to was unkind words.  The author ment that when you say unkind words you have made waves of tears.  Another thing was cheer and kindness.  The author ment their is sweet music going miles and miles over the water when you drop a kind word.  That is how he compared dropping pebble in the water to the poem." -Rachel
"First the author said was drop a pebble...But there's half a hundred ripples...you've disturbed a mighty river just by dropping a tiny stone.  The author restates this point using kindness and unkindness.  This means 1 rumor could keep spreading, there isn't a way to stop it.  1 word could make the best day, or the worst." -Kadin

This note made ME happy!

 I love reading poems with my students, and they typically enjoy the challenge of figuring out what they mean, but I have trouble finding poems that are age appropriate.  If you have a good resource for poems, please share! 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

First Attempt at Close Reading

I've fallen into the trap of the newest "buzzword," and I actually really like it.  I've read about Close Reading on many blogs this year, and I've seen many items for sale on TPT, but I hadn't really investigated it until Spring Break.  Our end of the year state testing is at the end of April, and normally after Spring Break, we start preparing for it.  I've never really liked this, as I think we should be preparing students all year long.  Yes, we need to review some things, but I don't like spending all of reading time on prepping for the test.  So, to do this a little differently, I introduced Close Reading.

The first day back from break, I basically told my kids that 5th grade would normally start prepping for the test now, but I didn't want to do that.  I told them that they've spent the whole school year prepping, and that they should do well on the test if they use all the tools they have.  To review/introduce these tools, we're doing close reads with various science/social studies articles that I found online and put into a word document.  It's super easy to find articles by searching things like, "articles for kids about _______".  You can find a multitude of articles from various sources and at various readabilities.

I introduced close reads slowly over three days.  On the first day, I passed out the Susan B. Anthony article (from Scholastic's $1 eBook sale- these also have comprehension crosswords, which are really good!).

I also had a Close Reading Guide that I made for students to organize their processes and ideas.  This chart includes a spot for the topic, guiding question, 3 vocab words,  annotating symbols, and a paragraph response to the guiding question.

I had made the anchor chart shown below, and we went over the steps verbally, then I modeled with the article on the SmartBoard, then students completed the steps on their own.  Here are my steps for a first read (I think everyone does this differently and modifies it to meet their own preferences and needs):
First Read
  • Vocab. Check- I introduce one or two words that students will need to know 
  • Number the paragraphs
  • Chunk the paragraphs (I was amazed at how well my students did this, they tended to chunk things naturally, based on the flow of the article, but I also gave them some guidelines: if it's less than 5 paragraphs, chunk each paragraph. Otherwise, chunk every 2-4 paragraphs.  Chunking basically means drawing a line to separate the article into smaller pieces.  Every time they get to the line, they stop and think about what they just read.  This has helped TREMENDOUSLY with my lower readers, who can easily become overwhelmed by a full page of text. 
  • Read the article/story/poem on your own
  • Find the gist of each chunk- this is just a short summary of what that chunk was about.  Students write the gist near the chunk.  I tell them it's clues to what that part was about.  They fill this out when they reach each line they drew to chunk the text.

The next day, I introduced the steps of the second read.  I had my first reading class decide (with just a tad bit of guiding suggestions from me) on what symbols they would use when annotating the text.  We needed symbols for: unknown words, key words, important details, parts they don't understand, parts they do understand Here's my steps:

Second Read
  • Annotate the text
  • Discuss the text with a partner or whole class
My students did pretty well with annotating.  They marked up their text quite a bit, but it all had a purpose.  As they came to unknown words, we'd have spontaneous conversations about prefixes, root words, context clues, etc.  If they absolutely could not figure out the word, they could look it up or ask a neighbor.  One word they got stuck on was inequality, but after asking them if they saw any smaller words inside it, they pulled out equal, and knew what that meant.  Then I asked if they remembered what the prefix -in meant, and by knowing both of those, they came to the definition of "not the same."  Not bad, with just a few prompts.  Hopefully, they'll start prompting themselves as they read.

One part I liked was having students underline key words.  We talked about key words being words that are repeated over and over and over and over, words that are defined for you in the reading, and clues to the main idea.  Students underlined these words, and decided, on their own, that the key words for the Susan B. Anthony article were suffrage, vote/voting, and women.   We decided that these words would make a pretty good summary of the entire passage.

We also had a whole class discussion with this first article.  I created a list of discussion starters/frames to use during the discussion, and this was really helpful.  The quality of responses was great.  We also worked through the toughest part of the text, and they were able to get a better grasp of it.  I'll vary our discussions by switching between whole group, small group, and partner talks.

For the third read, students searched for answers to the guiding question.  They said this was so easy, because they already knew what the story was talking about.  Bingo.  Our question was something along the lines of telling what Susan B. Anthony did to change history, and how she did this.  I didn't want to give away any details in the question, as I wanted students to really read the text to figure out what it was talking about.  Students put a star next to anything that could be part of their written answer.  This was then put together into their written response on their Close Reading Guide.

All in all, I think our first attempt went pretty well.  I was impressed with how my lowest students were able to tackle a tough piece of text, and how it made my speedy readers stop and slow down.  I think Close Reading will be here to stay for awhile, and I kind of like that.  I did a lot of research, watched a lot of videos, and even purchased some items from TPT, but I had to tweak it all.  I had to make it work for me.  I had to create a document for my students to keep them accountable (at least for now), while they're reading.  I had to find articles that I was interested in and that I knew my students would be interested in.  Their responses aren't all super fantastic yet, but I think all the practice and work will

be for good.  And, I hope it will be something they can really use on their end of year test!