Monday, July 28, 2014

Classroom Reading Groups - A Fun Activity to Set them up in your Classroom, and a Freebie!

In one of my last posts, I talked a bit about the reading groups I set up in my classes at the start of the school year.  As the new school year is approaching (yikes!), I thought I would go into a little more depth about the Reading Groups I use, how I set them up, and some of the ways we use them facilitate learning. In this post, I will talk about a fun activity I do to get my students divided into Reading Groups,while making sure all students are reading an at-level book that interests them.

In my room, I have several small class sets of novels (4-5 books each), at a range of reading levels.  I was able to pick all of these titles myself (hooray!), so I made sure to choose ones that I knew the kids would really love.  I also tried to choose some titles from different genres, and some that were a bit obscure (but still great!), so my super keen readers would not have already read all of them.  The images below and at the top of this post show some of our favorites.

If you are in the process of setting up a class set of novels for Reading Groups, I strongly suggest these titles. Some are certainly more difficult than others, but having a wide range makes it excellent for differentiation.

At the start of the year, and every time I introduce new novels, I have the kids do a round of "Reading Group Musical Chairs".  I choose 7 sets of books, and place a set at each table.  I then put a timer up on the screen, and give the kids 5 minutes to read the book in front of them.  They then fill out their "Reading Group Musical Chairs" sheet, and make note of how challenging the book was for them to read, and their interest level.  I then have the kids stand up and move to a different group.  They can go to any table in the classroom, as long as they have not already read that book.  We then repeat the activity for another 5 minutes.  We usually do this 2-3 times a class, until all of the books have been read and recorded.  If I have them read for much longer than that they tend to get a little antsy.

At the end of the activity, I collect all of the "Reading Group Musical Chairs" sheets, and read them over.  I try to put the kids into groups with a book that has a high interest level for them, and is at their proper reading level.  I love that this activity prevents kids from choosing a book simply because their friend wants to read it.  The kids really like this activity, as they feel they have an actual say in what book they are going to read, and are therefore more engaged in the activities we do with them throughout the year.

If you would like to try this activity with your class, you can download the recording sheet (with instructions) for free by clicking on the image below.  I will take you directly to my Teachers Pay Teachers store, where you can download it for free :)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Interactive Notebooks: Resources for your Classroom (and a freebie!)

One of the big struggles I had when first setting up Interactive Notebooks in my classroom was finding appropriate resources.  When I first started a few years ago, there were very few resources available, and gathering them was a constant struggle.  I felt like I was constantly having to hunt out and prep different resources, and desperately needed some sort of system for organizing everything.

Since then, with teachers discovering how effective Interactive Notebooks can be, the market for resources has exploded.  I have had mixed success with the resources I have purchased... some have been incredible, and some not so good.  Because of this, I decided to put my knowledge and experience with using Interactive Notebooks to good use, and create my own resources.

Next year I will be teaching a Reading Intervention class for the first time, so I have been really working hard on creating resources to use with my students.  I plan to focus a good chunk of my instruction on targeting specific reading comprehension strategies - I want to get the kids summarizing, asking questions, visualizing, inferring, determining importance, and making connections.

A few years ago, our administrator purchased each Humanities teacher a variety of novel sets.  Each set has 5 books, and I have about 10 different sets.  The best part was that I got to choose the novels for each set; I am a big fan of young adult lit, so picking out the books was super fun for me.  Yes, I am a huge nerd.  Anyways, next year I plan on dividing the kids into groups based on reading level, giving each group a novel, and then having the kids work on different Interactive Notebook activities revolving around the targeted reading comprehension strategies.  Because of this, I created this resource:

The package of resources is common core aligned for grades 1-4, but I am actually planning on using it with a group of grade 7 struggling readers. The great thing about the resources is that they can be used with ANY text - this makes it super easy to differentiate instruction with your students.   You can see some of the resources included in the package in the picture.  For more detailed information about what exactly is included, you can click on the picture and it will take you directly to my Teachers Pay Teachers store :)

If you are interested in checking the package out a bit further, I have created a free sample package.  It includes a few resources to go along with each of the different reading comprehension strategies, and is a great starting point :)  If you click on the image, it will take you directly to my Teachers Pay Teachers store, where you can download it for free :)  Don't you just love free stuff?!

If you like these resources, you may want to check these out as well :).  All of the units are specifically designed for use in Interactive Notebooks, and include foldables, detailed instructions, handouts, and worksheets.  As before, clicking on the image will take you directly to the product in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store :)

Are you planning on using Interactive Notebooks in your classroom next year?  I would love to hear about how you plan on getting started!  Leave me a comment in the space below :)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Teaching About Text Features!

When you take a close look at the Common Core Standards, or the Prescribed Learning Outcomes that we have here in BC, you will notice that a great many refer to Text Features.  Because of this, I dedicated a large portion of time to specifically teaching about Text Features with my grade 7's and 8's last year.  In the past, we have done some quick  mini lessons on them, but this time I spent a good couple of days focusing on specific Text Feature based lessons.  When they wrote their R.A.D. (a reading test that we have in BC) at the end of the school year, I was pleasantly surprised with how much better they did with the sections relating to Text Features, simply because we had focused some strategic time on learning about them.

The lessons went so well that I am actually planning on starting the school year with some of the activities this year.  This time, however, I am going to team up with the science teacher, and use their science textbook for a lot of the activities.  It will be a great introduction to the text features we will refer back to throughout the year, as well as a great introduction to their science textbook and curriculum.  I love, love, love finding opportunities to integrate different subject areas.

One of my favorite activities that we did involves the large chart paper posters that you can see in the above pictures.  After taking some notes on different text features, I divided the class up into groups.  Each group was given a sheet of chart paper, a marker, and a stack of magazines and newspapers.  Their job was to create an informational poster that displayed and explained a variety of text features.  As you can see from the above pictures, the end results were awesome!  I left them up on my classroom walls for the entire school  year, and we referred back to them often.

Another item that I refer back to throughout the year are my Text Feature classroom posters.  I hang these on my walls at the start of the year, and have found them to be really helpful.  I like that when a student comes to me and tells me that they can't find something in their textbook, I can refer them to the class posters and have them figure out where they should be looking to find the information.

This year, I plan to have my classes do a whole section in their Interactive Reading Notebooks about Text Features.  We will take some class notes, create a foldable or two, and finally create a mini book where they have to explain and illustrate the different text features.  Like the classroom signs, the kids will be able to refer back to the information throughout the year, which is fantastic.

All of the activities I mentioned above and plan to use next year, including my classroom signs, are available here:

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Back to School Freebies and Mini Books!

Yes, I admit it, it is not even July yet and I am already thinking about Back to School...

Part of the fun of the summer for me is having the time to sit back and actually do some planning for September.  Once school hits, I feel like I am going a mile a minute, and I tend to fall back on lessons that have worked well in the past instead of creating new stuff.  Summer, however, allows me the time to reflect back on the school year, think about what did and did not go well, and think about new ideas I want to try out...

To get things started, I created a few back to school mini books to help you get to know your students when they first come in in September.  If you have the opportunity, you could even pop these packages in the mail in August, and have the kids complete them beforehand.  Either way, they are a fun way to get to know your kids at the start of the year.

I have also created a matching class sign to go along with the package.  To celebrate the start of my new blog, these signs are currently available for free from my Teachers Pay Teachers store!  If you have not had a chance yet, pop by and check it out - I frequently post free stuff!  Click on the sign you are interested in below, and it will take you directly to my TPT store, where you can download it for free :)

What Does Peace Feel Like - Sticky Note Mosaic and Poetry Writing Squares

Have you had the opportunity to read this book?  It is one of my favorites!  I knew after reading it that I would have to find a way to incorporate it into my classroom teaching.  I love, love, love using picture books with Middle School students - they may be bigger kids, but they still love being read to, and the shorter, more visual books quickly engage them.

After reading this book, students brainstormed their own ideas about peace using their 5 senses. 

What Does Peace Taste Like?

What Does Peace Sound Like?

We had so many creative ideas! (A personal favorite involved Peace smelling like Justin Bieber's hair - you have to love grade seven girls!). When they were done coming up with ideas, we had them write their ideas down on individual Post It Notes using black sharpies. We then assembled the Post Its together into a mosaic, which we displayed in the hallway. Everyone loved coming by and reading their ideas!

One of the huge bonuses of this activity was the huge visual impact it created on the wall outside our classroom, using very inexpensive and limited supplies.  All it took was sticky notes and sharpies!  I love covering the bulletin boards outside my room with new things the kids are working on, and this really looked amazing when it was complete.

I can think of so many ways this kind of activity could be done in the classroom - I am actually really excited to use it as some kind of goal setting or get-to-know-you activity in September.  If you like this idea and plan to use it in your classroom, leave me a comment below this post - I would love to hear how you used it!
When we were done brainstorming ideas by creating our mosaic, we had the kids complete a poetry collage activity.  Each student was given a square of tag board and a stack of magazines.  Students used the ideas they had previously brainstormed to write their own poems about peace onto the tag board squares, and then decorated them with a magazine collage relating to their poems.  To help stick the images to the tag board, and to give the completed squares a bit of shine, we coated the completed squares with a think layer of Modge Podge (love that stuff!)

When the squares were dry, we collected the squares (all 120!!!) and mounted them on a large school bulletin board.  When we hung them, we left the word "Peace" uncovered.  I think the end result was amazing!  I really wish I had taken a better picture!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Summer of the Kiddos - Part Two: Healthy Snack Bracelets

Getting our little monsters to eat healthy snacks is a big priority for us.  We have been really trying to limit the amount of sugar they have been consuming.  This is a big deal for our youngest in particular, who really seems to react to it.  There have been times when I have wondered if my sweet little boy has been possessed, and then realized that someone had given him chocolate.  It is almost like he loses control of himself... and it is not the most fun to try and reel him back in. I don't mind giving them having the odd treat, but we try to limit it whenever possible.

When I saw these snack bracelets pop up on pinterest, I knew they would be a perfect activity for our little ones.  They are both always asking me to "sew something", and this looked like a great opportunity to let them use a needle and thread.  Because the pieces are so small, and the task itself can be quite finicky, these bracelets took them about a half hour to complete - this was a huge bonus, as I was actually able to get a few things done around the house while they were quietly entertained.  The majority of the snack mix went into their mouths, and not onto the bracelets, but as the ingredients were all healthy, I didn't mind at all.

To make our bracelets, we used dried blueberries, cut up dried mangoes and apricots, cheerios, and popcorn.  Basically, I used whatever I could find in the cupboard that was healthy and small.  If you wanted to switch things up a bit, and didn't care so much about the healthy part, you could always throw some mini marshmallows or gummies into the mix :)

Summer of the Kiddos - Part One: Foamy Bath Paints

Well, as we are currently on Teacher Strike in B.C. until further notice, my summer with my own kiddos has officially begun.  My plan this summer is to spend a lot more time at home.  Last summer was a whirlwind of activities and playdates, and it really felt like we missed out on some much needed downtime.  Once September hits, between work and the kids dance and hockey practices, it feels like we are living life on a treadmill.  

In order to facilitate some time at home, I scoured pinterest for some kid friendly summertime crafts and activities.  My little darlings tend to tear the heads off each other if I don't keep them busy.  After pinning a few ideas, I made a quick trip to the dollar store, and picked up enough stuff to get us through a few afternoons.

Unfortunately, the majority of activities I planned actually involve the unheard of idea of sunshine in June.  Sadly, our weather here has been horrid.  The kids really wanted to swim in the backyard, but the rain and overall yuckiness outside had me move them inside to the tub instead.  Luckily, I had picked up supplies to make these foamy bath paints, which kept the kids busy long enough for me to clean up the messes they had previously made.  Such is the life of a mom ;)

These tub paints were made using simply shaving cream and a few drops of food coloring.  They enjoyed squirting the shaving cream into the bowls and mixing the colors, and were excited to take them upstairs and test them out.  They started off using a paint brush to paint the inside of the tub and shower, but ended up using them as finger paints to paint each other.  I was a bit worried that the food coloring would stain the inside of the tub, or their skin, but it didn't seem to be a problem.  I gave them, and the tub, a quick rinse when they were done, and all were squeaky clean :)  All in all, a pretty great way to spend a rainy day :)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ancient Egypt: Time Travel Scrapbook

At the end of each unit I teach, I really like to have some sort of project where students can demonstrate what they have learned.  As I have my students complete Interactive Notebooks for each unit I teach, I encourage them to look back through what they have learned to help them complete the project.

Our culminating project for our Ancient Egypt unit this year was a Time Travel Scrapbook.  I had the kids imagine they were returning back from a time machine trip to Ancient Egypt, and had to create a scrapbook of their adventures.  I loved this project because it was so open ended - as long as they completed the list of requirements, they were allowed to present their projects in any creative way they wanted.  

I never cease to be amazed by the wide variety of things the kids come up with; the projects end up way more amazing and creative than if I were to give them specific guidelines.  This year, I had one student glue the pieces of his scrapbook on a 3D tabletop pyramid he had built.  Another student made a "scrapbook in a bag", where each individual part of the project could be pulled out and examined.  A student skilled at computers managed to photoshop himself into several Egyptian images.  Some kids made their own scrapbooks out of construction paper, and others decorated ones they had purchased.  Below are some of my favorites.

This assignment fully integrates Social Studies, Language Arts, and Art; students are required to show their knowledge of Ancient Egyptian history, write first person journal entries, and illustrate their adventures.  All of the resources needed to complete this final project, including detailed instructions, student examples, word bank, and rubric, can be found in my Ancient Egypt Interactive Notebook Package.

Ancient Egypt: The Nile River

When learning about Ancient Egypt, we spend a significant amount of time learning about the Nile River.  We talk a lot about the key features of a civilization, and the ways the Nile helped the people of Egypt to thrive.  To start, we do some read alouds about the Nile River.  (Can you tell I love children's books?)

Later, we take some notes in our Interactive Notebook about the Nile River.  I really like doing foldables for this - I am a big fan of the interactive nature of foldables, and find they make note taking much more tolerable (by both me and them!). We talk a lot about the gifts of the Nile here, and discuss the ways these things helped Egypt become such a great civilization.

  We also talk a lot about the annual cycle of the river, and end our Nile River study with 3D Nile River Cubes.  These cubes summarize all of the information we have learned about the Nile River, in both written and visual form.  I love tying strings to the completed cubes and hanging them from the classroom ceiling, or stacking them to make a class pyramid.  So fun!  Sadly, I forgot to take a picture of the completed cubes this year - I will have to make sure to do it next time!

All of the resources I used for these activities are available in my TPT store.  Links to the different Egypt themed lessons I have available can be found under the Social Studies Tab at the top of this page :)

Ancient Egypt: The Mummification Process

The Mummification Process is always fun to teach, as the kids get really excited about it.  While I find the whole thing rather creepy, they particularly love the part about the brain being pulled out the nose with a hook. In order to capitalize on their enthusiasm, I once took a class to a nearby museum to see a real mummy... which was fun until one of the kids promptly passed out, bashing his head on the glass mummy case on the way down.  Needless to say, I never took a class back to that museum...

Mummies Unwrapped Infographic

Aside from the one pass out incident, I have found that the kids really enjoy learning about mummification.  Because they enjoy the mummy topic so much, I tend to spend quite a bit of time on it.  This year I taught the steps of the process, and had the kids make illustrated mummification wheels to show their learning.  

I really like seeing the visual version of the process.  When we were done, I mounted them on black construction paper and hung them on the bulletin board in our hallway.  After I took them down, I had the kids glue them into their Interactive Notebooks.  All of the resources needed to complete this assignment, including class notes, templates, examples, and instructions, can be found in my Ancient Egypt Interactive Notebook Package.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Ancient Egypt: Introducing the Unit

Ancient Egypt is one of my very favorite Social Studies units to teach.  Engagement is always really high, as the kids love hearing about the pyramids, gods and goddesses, and of course, mummies!  I am not sure why, but there is something about the gross and gooey steps of the mummification process that really appeals to my students.

We usually start the unit with some read alouds, to help development core background information.  Below are some of my favorites.

I usually get the librarian to bring a big stack of the Egypt books to my room before the unit begins, so I can have them available for the kids during silent reading.

Later, we spend time talking about Egyptian Geography.  It always amazes me how few kids can actually find Egypt on a map.  This is a great opportunity to talk about the concept of civilization, and how the Nile River helped Egypt to thrive.  I usually have the kids do a mapping activity at this time, to practice key geography skills.

This map is part of my Ancient Egypt Interactive Notebook Package.  It comes with a full page map as well.  In the past, I have struggled with doing a map of Egypt with my class, as the only maps I could find were either too simple or too detailed.  This map, however, has worked very well for me.  I usually blow the maps up, and have the kids make big ones.  They look awesome hanging on the big bulletin board outside my room, and I like to refer back to them throughout the unit.

As part of our introduction, we also spend some time on unit specific vocabulary.  Nothing is worse than starting a class discussion about something to do with the unit, and having the kids have no idea what you are talking about.  Going over key vocabulary at the start of the unit really helps prevent this.  The package I mentioned above comes with several pages of key vocabulary words, as well as a variety of activities to help reinforce them.  I have found in the past that vocabulary doesn't seem to really sink in with the kids unless they have a lot of opportunities to work with the words.  My favorite activity in the package is the cut and past word matching worksheets - I like seeing the kids snipping away with their scissors, and matching the words on their desks.  The engagement is high, and they seem to forget that they are actually practicing their vocabulary words!