Hot Topics (In MY Classroom!)

Saturday, February 28, 2015
I thought I would write about 3 HOT TOPICS right now that are making me feel tremendously PANICKED!!! (HOWEVER, I promise to share some solutions with you that I have come up with for easing the pain!!)

So, I am starting to feel a bit (no, VERY) panicked with all of the mid year craziness.  As I feel myself treading water this week, I thought I would share with you some things I MADE this week to make me feel a little more relaxed and on top of things!

I LOVE using Close Reading strategies with my students....but I realized I needed a tool to keep track of what the heck we are doing!!! I made the wheel below to track which read we were the students would be reading the text....and WHAT the students would be doing while interacting with the text! This little gem keeps me a bit less PANICKED!!!! Click on the link below to pick this up and make it for your own classroom!
Fractions seems to be every teacher's worst nightmare, right? Well, 5th grade fractions are INSANE!!  We started our fractions unit with a more conceptual angle (JUST a warm up for their brains!) where the students could design any fraction greater than OR less than 1/2.  Take a look!
Once we got into our Fractions unit, in 5th grade, there are SO many sub-concepts within each skill!  I needed to form some type of assessment to figure out what students KNOW and what they still needed to work on.  If you are a 5th grade Math teacher, you are in luck! You can click on the link below to download this fractions assessment...
With conferences on the horizon, why not get the students in on this hot topic! I thought about making the following sheet for the students to put in their data folders so that they could get an idea of how they were doing AND also something that I could pull out at parent conferences.  I made the following sheet below.  This week, I am going to have the students sort papers from their portfolios by subject and record their scores in each section.  
I will let you know how it goes, but my goal will be for the students to reflect on how they are doing before their parents come to their parent-teacher conference.  

What HOT TOPICS are stressing you out in your classroom right now? 
How are you simplifying your stress? 

Teachers ARE Super Heroes!!!

Monday, February 23, 2015
Teachers are SUPER HEROS!  We do it ALL! Right??? I am so excited to be linking up with some of my blogging friends to celebrate just that! Do you have a certain resource that has SAVED your life in the classroom?  I have a few that I I would love to share with you!  First, is my new Science BUNDLE with all of my latest products! I LOVE teaching math and language arts, but teaching science is something that I have actually GROWN to love!! (Let's just say it wasn't love at first sight!!!)  My science bundle includes close reading passages AND follow up activities (Mixtures/Solutions, Plants and Photosynthesis, Body Systems, and the Water Cycle) so that you can (just like the name says) GET IT DONE! Check it out by clicking on the link below!
I also want to share with you my most recent additions! My newest product will really help your students write about text evidence (such a challenge in Common Core Standards!)  The following product can be "paired" with any fiction OR non-fiction close reading passage OR book so that students can:
#1.) Answer a Question
#2.) Find a Quote to Support Their Thinking
#3.) Connect Their Thinking to the Text
Take a look!!!
To celebrate ALL of you, I am having a sale on these items (AND everything else!)  So, take this opportunity to fill up your carts!  (Mine is overflowing right now!!!)  Don't forget to enter the PROMO code HEROES to get an additional 10% off while you are there.  (Trust me, I have forgotten to do this PLENTY of times!!)

Holding Students Accountable!

As the middle of the year approaches, I like to reflect on how I am holding students accountable.  Here are my TOP 3 ways for holding students accountable for their learning (especially when it gets tough mid-year with all the craziness happening!)
#1.) 100% Participation with White Boards
I love that every student in my class has a white board that they use to show their work, etc... and I have found that this works so well to measure student understanding.  I always have the students get these out after teaching a concept so that I can pose a question, have the students work it out on their white board, and finally hold their boards up (OR compare with a neighbor.)  I have added a NEW element that I am REALLY excited about because it gives me more insight into my student's learning.  I have the students write a number in the upper right corner of their board so they can express their level of understanding.  This really notifies me of how the students are feeling about a topic and who needs help!

Understanding Analysis Scale
4-Strong Feeling of Understanding
3-Somewhat Understand
2-Slightly Confused
1-No Level of Understanding

 #2.) REDO Slips
I hate handing back quizzes/work with things marked wrong and then often students just forget about it and stuff it in a folder.  I made these redo slips so I can attach them to work that I want the students to RETHINK, fix and return.  This also sends a message to the students and their parents that this is an EXTREMELY important topic that they need to focus on.
These can be found in my Upper Grade Teacher MUST HAVES File Cabinet!
Click HERE to be taken to this product.

#3.) Agree/Disagree Signs
Finally, I always have the students use hand signals when someone answers a question!  This way, students can agree/disagree and the discussion is promoted and extended.  However, instead of the students using the thumbs down signal, I have them make a horizontal slicing motion with their hands.  It is more distinguishable than the thumbs down signal!  If you would like a copy of the reminder posters, click on the link below!

Do you have any additional tips for keeping your students accountable?
I would LOVE to hear them!

Read Across America in the Upper Grades!

Saturday, February 21, 2015
READ Across America is coming soon!  I love to start the week out by giving the student's a reader's oath.  They love designing the bookmarks below by identifying their FAVORITE book!
Next, we delve into a close reading passage to learn about 
the life of the creator himself, Theodor Geisel! 
Read Across America, Theodor Geisel, Close Reading, Theodor Geisel Informational Passage, Dr. Seuss Activities
 The kids learn so many new tidbits of information (seen in the passage above) like "Dr. Seuss was just his PEN NAME!"  They are intrigued by many of the different aspects of his life and they are able to express this in the following writing assignment.  

Now, my students have made plenty of Cat in the Hats throughout their elementary school career, but have they designed and written their own?  Recently, I had the students draw their own cat in the hat sketch (NO template) and within the white sections, they wrote about:
#1.) Geisel's Accomplishments
#2.) An Inference About Theodor Geisel
#3.)Other Important Facts

Now, to help the students along regarding the #2 section, making inferences, I had them use the template below that we have been using (from my new TEXT EVIDENCE unit!)
Here is an example below of a student that is working on Making Inferences. The tricky part with students using text evidence (I have found) is the students making the connection between their thinking and the text...This is something we are working on!! That is almost an inference in itself!!!
Here are some more examples of how the hats turned out.  I love their unique styles!

I also tied some art into our READ ACROSS AMERICA activities by taking a photo of Geisel and cutting it into sections.  On the back of each section, I wrote a number and passed them out to the students.  They were to recreate the square EXACTLY (size, width, and design) so that when we brought it back together a work of art was born!  See how some of them turned out below!

This is all a work in progress, and I can not wait to see how all of these components will look on our door for READ Across America!  (Of course, I will post an updated photo when it is all said and done.)  Also, feel free to download the Theodor Geisel Close 
Reading Article by clicking on the pic below! 
Do you have any unique or special projects for the big kids concerning Dr. Seuss? 
What do you do for "READ Across America" in the upper grades?

Water Cycle!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015
We have been busy learning about the water cycle!  Our first few FOSS investigations took us through different stages of the water cycle starting with condensation.  We built condensation chambers with cups and lids.  The kids simply put lids on the cup and placed into direct sunlight so that they could observe condensation forming on the lid.  Next, we used rock salt and ice mixed together to see how condensation forms on the outside of the cup.  This actually produced ice particles on the outside of the cup so it was a great way for the students to see how frost is formed on windshields, etc... This worked out really well and was a great visual.  Here is a picture of the template that I made that we used along with the investigation.
Just to reinforce the stages of the water cycle, we completed this close read of the water cycle.
Next, we made the model below of the water cycle.  In the past, I just had the students draw it, but this year I decided to get all fancy and made the template below.  The students completed close sentences for water cycle concepts and then used those to write under the flaps.  This was a great assessment tool!
The close reading article above with the model of the water cycle is available for purchase in my TPT store.  Click on the pic above to be taken there.

Convection Currents
Next, we learned about convection currents since we are leading up to learning about weather and changes in the atmosphere!  The students put ice cold water (that had been died with blue food coloring) using droppers into the bottom of a vial already filled with room temperature water.  One important thing the students needed to remember was to have a steady hand!! If they shook their hand or stirred up the mixture in any way, the food coloring would pretty much mix into the room temperature water (and the investigation's results would be a WASH!)  This was a great investigation because the cold, more DENSE water sinks to the bottom.  The kids actually see the convection current in action since the blue water is much MORE dense and sinks. Once we put a baggie of hot water next to the vial, the colder, more dense water at the bottom of the vial starts to heat up.  Once it rises to the top, the air in the room (cooler than the water) cools the water down once again and the blue water starts traveling down the other side.  The kids LOVED seeing this!! They completely could visualize the convection current that was taking place.  If I COMPLETELY confused you, take a look at the visual below, which gives a visual record of a convection current taking place!!! TRICKY concept to teach, but I think I finally understand it...(after teaching it a few years, HA!)

Click on the pic below to be taken to this FREE template where the students can draw and record a convection current!
How do you teach the water cycle and concepts leading up to weather?

Reminder Posters

Monday, February 16, 2015
Do you ever feel like your stock of school supplies is needing to be replenished far toooo often?  I definitely have the students use their classroom dollars for buying and replenishing their supplies, but I still feel like putting up the following posters sometimes as reminders! Click on any of the pictures below to download a copy for yourself to hang in your room as a friendly reminder!! :)
School Supplies Do NOT Grow On Trees!
Tissues Do NOT Grow On Trees!
Pencils Do NOT Grow On Trees! 
Glue Sticks Do NOT Grow On Trees! 
How do you handle handing out school supplies to your students?

Novel Study: The Westing Game!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015
We are currently reading, "The Westing Game" for our 5th grade Novel Study.  The kids are LOVING it.  BUT, it is NOT in any sense an easy read, so I really need to pull out ALL the comprehension tricks that I can think of out of my sleeve!!! The first thing we are doing to get to know the story are "Chapter Doodles" Basically, the kids take out their Reading Response Notebooks and write notes as we chorally read.  In the picture seen below, we read chorally together and I stopped to model when new or important information happened.  
The next thing we did to really bring this story to life was actually construct the setting! 
(Which we are in the process of doing, but are NOT quite finished yet!)
Keep reading for more details...
This story had SO many characters that it was confusing to the kids at first.  One way to help the students keep the characters straight was to "BUILD" the setting so that they could think about and visualize who lived where. Thankfully, this story lends itself to this strategy since MOST of the characters are living in the same place, The Westing Towers.  What the students did was illustrate the characters on the outside of each window flap, and then on the inside, they are currently writing character descriptions for each!
Monitoring Comprehension
This book seems like it has a million chapters! We are discussing each chapter in depth to keep everyone understanding and on the same page.  One strategy that has worked VERY well during this story to monitor comprehension and keep everyone accountable, is for small groups to write chapter summaries together as a team.  I organized students in groups of 3-5 and they have worked together to write important events on a small poster board.  Listening to each group read their summary to the class was another way for everyone to hear what was happening in the story and the different details that different groups picked up. I LOVED this strategy since the KIDS keep each other accountable and really don't allow each other to slack off.  GREAT!
You can find the task square seen in the upper left corner of the picture in my Reading Response Notebook pack. (Click on the pic to be taken there!)
We are still jumping into the book, so stay tuned for more as we get further along in the story! 
What strategies do you use for novel studies?

Pumping Up Our Informational Writing!

Sunday, February 8, 2015
We have been busy digging into informational writing in my classroom! The first thing I focused on was strong sentence building.  We had just finished up learning how to write simple, compound, and complex sentences.  The students did great with that lesson, however I decided to do a FEW more things to help them along.
Mini-Lesson #1: Strong Sentences
First, since the students had previously written about photosynthesis, I decided to do a little mini-lesson on strong sentences.  We actually discussed what a 4, 3, 2,  and 1 sentence looked like. We decided on the following sentence rubric.
Sentence Rubric: 
4=Above and Beyond
3=Proficient/Grade Level
2=Needs to Improve
1=Below Grade Level
I felt like this was a GREAT visual example for the students to be able to 
refer to for their next writing task!

Mini-Lesson #2: Avoiding Writer's Block!
Do your students ever tell you that they don't know what to write about or that they are done??? WRITER'S BLOCK! I explain to my students that we ALL get writer's block at some time or another, even teachers and adults.  SO, the students and I thought of different types of writer's block (getting distracted was a biggie that a lot of students could relate too!) and possible problem solving tactics for when they are feeling stuck.  We made the chart below...

Mini-Lesson #3: Writing Strong Beginnings
When I work on writing with my students, I always base my mini-lessons on the criteria that they will be graded on.  Where do I find the criteria? The standards!  For the past two years, we have been focusing on the Common Core State Standards, so I developed the following rubric based on those standards for Informational Writing.  The standards can be found here. You can also find the grade level rubrics in my Informational Writing Unit. (I just recently gave it a total and complete makeover!)
 So, the first standard states that the students need to introduce a topic clearly and provide general focus to group related information logically to aide comprehension.  To me, this means to introduce a topic clearly, but ALSO in an interesting way.  I always tell my students that you really should captivate the reader's attention in the first couple sentences so that the reader WANTS to read your paper!  

The first thing I do is group the students into groups of 4 and give a DIFFERENT informational texts to each group.  Each group needs to look at the first page or pages of their book and give a few ratings.  The students get SOOOO excited that they are critiquing PUBLISHED big time authors!!

Rating PUBLISHED Authors 
#1: Did the reader capture your attention? 
4  3  2  1
#2: Did you want to continue reading after the first few sentences? 
4  3  2  1
#3: How would you change the beginning to make it more interesting?
(Open Ended Question)

Next, we share our responses and I record the different types of beginnings that the students find.  I also like to refer to these pre-made Engaging Beginning Posters (from my Informational Writing Unit) as the students discover them! (Poster/Hand Out Pic Below)
Next, I have the students PRACTICE writing engaging beginnings.  I give them the following worksheet (which is part of my Informational Writing Unit, but I made it free for you all today!)  The students choose 3 engaging beginnings that they would like to practice.  When they have completed writing them, they choose 3 friends to VOTE on the beginning that they felt captured their interest the MOST! Click on the link below to get this sample from my unit to use with your students!
Next, I need to make sure that my students have enough background information and resources to use for their first drafts.  We are currently writing about the 13 colonies, so I actually incorporated CLOSE READING into the students research.  We read the passage below on the New England Colonies.  They also needed to get 2 other resources.  
After the students gather the research that they need, they start their PRE-WRITES!  I use the 4 SQUARE graphic organizer that you see below.  
When the students finish this outline see above, they are off to start their first drafts (which I will be writing about in my next post! How do you start informational writing in your classroom?

Favorite (FREE) Student Reward Incentives!

Monday, February 2, 2015
My class LOVES buying positive rewards with their classroom dollars.  In the beginning of the school year, I set up my classroom economy based on Stephanie's (my amazing co-worker) series of posts for doing just that.  See how to do it here:  Teaching in Room 6.  

After the students start earning money in their banking accounts, they are ready to buy, buy, buy!  Today, I am going to share with you 6 rewards that I have found are the MOST popular with my students and that work best for me as a teacher.   And the 6 different types of passes are...
1. Sound of Music Pass
This award allows the student to bring their IPod from home OR I let them use my laptop to listen to Pandora while they are doing their independent work.  This one is a HIT! 

2. Board Games Pass
This award allows the students to involve 3 other class members.  They can bring a board game from home, and I let them play for about 45 minutes on the picnic table right outside my classroom. This award is popular because they can bring 3 of their friends and who doesn't love board games?  

3. Show "N" Tell Pass
5th Graders STILL love Show "N" TEll.  Certain kids are dying to bring something from home to share.  The most recent "sharer" brought in pictures of their latest trip to Costa Rica.  The other kids LOVED seeing the pictures (and I did too!)

4. Free Assignment Pass
Students buy this to get out of doing one in-class assignment (NOT a no homework pass.)  Students really want these because they can choose the assignment to not do. (And they can sit back and relax for  a few minutes!)

5. Computer Pass/Drawing Pass
Students can play educational games OR draw for the amount of minutes I am auctioning off (usually 30.)  The artists and techy students usually compete for this one!  

I LOVE these because the students are motivated to work for them and they do not cost me anything out of my own pocket.  I mean, how many $ have I spent at the Dollar store buying rewards for my treasure basket?  Hundreds!!! Never again though. :)
Download the passes by clicking on the pic below!

Buying Procedures
A few years ago, my friend and coworker Debbie shared with me an amazing idea~a Friday auction!  I love and have been using this auction idea on Fridays because it is much easier than having every student come to the classroom store to buy something AND it takes much less time.  Plus, I only auction 1 of the passes (of each type) a week. This way, the students REALLY have to work at saving their money in order to "buy" them!

Friday Procedure
1. After students calculate how much money they have earned, I tell the students, "We are auctioning off the _____ pass. If 
you are interested in buying this pass stand up."
2.  I start saying dollar amounts, 25$-50$ Etc...
3. Students sit down if they can not afford the pass OR if they do not want to spend that much.
4. The highest bidder gets the pass and subtracts the amount from their checking account.

Do you have ideas about FREE rewards for your students?
Best Wishes and Happy Teaching!
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