December 30, 2011

Literature Circles Made Easy Webinar

Are you interested in using literature circles in your classroom? If so, I invite you to watch the recording of my free webinar, Literature Circles Made Easy. Just click the link or read on to learn more.

From the moment I saw my first literature circles in action over 15 years ago, the concept grabbed me. I was visiting another school and observed kids meeting together to discuss books they were reading. I remember thinking, "What a terrific idea! I've got to try that with my students!" Having kids form reading groups based on their own book selections seemed like the ideal way to teach reading. However, as soon as I began to try literature circles, I realized that implementing an effective program wasn't quite as easy as it appeared. I struggled with how to structure the program in a way that would hold kids accountable without dampening their enthusiasm for reading. I tinkered with various types of literature circles, from a highly-structured teacher-directed model similar to guided reading groups to a more loosely-structured, student-directed model. After several years of experimenting, I finally settled on a process I refer to as Classroom Book Clubs which seems to have the perfect combination of flexibility and accountability. Book Clubs are very easy to implement and they don't involve roles or excessive amounts of written preparation. The last few years that I was in the classroom, I used this model to supplement other methods of instruction such as the balanced literacy framework and reading workshop.

My students and I loved this method of using literature circles so much that I decided to create a slidecast program of instructional videos to share the strategies with other teachers. I also held a free webinar on this topic to provide more information and answer questions. During the webinar I explained how Literature Circles fit with the Common Core standards, how to create groups, how to encourage kids to participate actively in the discussions, and more. Participants shared their own strategies via the chat box which made it an interactive, exciting session. You can view the recording from the Literature Circles page on Teaching Resources. I hope you enjoy it!

Teaching Resources ~

December 26, 2011

Mitten Science

Mittens keep our hands warm, but are mittens themselves warm? That's the question Selina Smith of the Classroom Magic blog posed to students in her mitten investigation.

Using inquiry science, students discovered that  mittens keep our hands warm because they trap our body heat, but mittens alone are not warm at all. Selina pairs this investigation with the book, The Mitten, by Jan Brett. Visit her blog to download the complete directions and handouts for the activity.

More Mitten Investigations
Selina's blog post intrigued me right away. I like her original question because it's easy to understand and can be explored with a simple science experiment. This activity also started me thinking about other mitten experiments that would be very easy for students to explore. A great follow up to her activity would be to have students brainstorm a list of mitten questions to investigate. Here are a few mitten of MY questions:
  • Are thin cotton mittens as effect as thick thermal mittens for keeping hands warm?
  • Do gloves keep hands as warm as mittens?
  • Do hands get warmer the longer they are inside the mittens? 
  • How does the outside air temperature affect the temperature of hands inside mittens? (If you are wearing mittens indoors will your hands be the same temperature as they would be if you were wearing them outdoors in cold weather?)

Designing Reliable Experiments
If your students are new to science inquiry, I would suggest choosing one experiment to do as a class. Later your students can choose another question to explore with a partner or a team. Download the Science Experiment Lab Write up from Teaching Resources before you begin.

To get started, give each student a blank copy of the form. Work through the various parts of the write up together, starting with the question and hypothesis.

Discuss how to design an experiment that will be reliable because this may be a new concept for elementary students. They tend to think that if they do an experiment one time, the results are "proof" that their hypothesis is correct. Experiments can be made more reliable by changing only one part of the experiment at a time (the variable), repeating the experiment, and measuring carefully.

After you design the experiment, let each team carry it out and record their results. Walk them through the remaining steps to draw conclusions and complete the science lab write up.

Can you think of other mitten questions to investigate? How would you use this activity in your classroom? Visit the Science page on Teaching Resources for more investigation ideas!

Visit Teaching Resources at

December 22, 2011

Dear Future Me

Have you ever written a letter to yourself in the future? The website makes it easy to send yourself an email that will be delivered on a future date. What a great concept! I tried it out, and it actually worked as promised. One day I received a strange email addressed, "Dear Future Laura," and it was like being pulled into a time warp! Okay, that might be over-dramatizing things, but it was still pretty amazing to get an email from my past self. Sort of boggles the mind!

Before I tell you more, let me warn you that this website is not really appropriate for elementary students. There's a public part of the site that has uncensored "future me" letters for people to read, and you never know what you'll find there. There are sample letters on the right side of the letter-writing area that seem to be okay, but students should definitely be supervised while using the site. I probably wouldn't let elementary students use themselves, but they could possibly write their letters in Word and you could have an adult enter them into the system later.

That being said, even if you don't use the website itself, you can still make use of the concept of writing a letter to yourself in the future. If I were using this with students, I would create a parent letter that explains the project and outlines options for participation. One option would be to allow their child to use the website in a supervised setting and have the letter delivered to either the parent's email or to the student's email address if they have one. Another option would be to have the teacher send home a copy of the letter in a sealed envelope for them to hand to their child on a specific date.

So how might you use this "future me" letter idea in your classroom? How about having them write a letter the first week in January and schedule it to be delivered on the last day of school? Or they might write a letter to themselves and arrange for it to be delivered on January 1st of the following year.

What would you suggest that students write about in this letter? I created a graphic organizer and a packet of materials for you to use with your students, but I'm sure you can think of many other ideas, too.  Perhaps they could include a list of their goals for the coming months or year? How about a description of the student's life at the time the letter is written including current events, things that interest them, what's going on in their lives now, etc. Perhaps they could include a favorite motivational quote or some encouraging words. What else comes to mind? You can download the freebie shown here from my store. If you like it, please take a moment to follow me on TpT and to rate this item.

I'd love to hear your ideas for having your students write "future me" letters. Please share your ideas here as a comment on this blog so that others can read your suggestions. Sometimes an idea shared by one person will spark a new thought in someone else. I look forward to your suggestions!

December 20, 2011

Power Reading Workshop Autographed for You!

Have you ever had an idea you wish you had dreamed up a week ago? That's how I felt today! A fellow blogger wanted to order a copy of my Power Reading Workshop book as a gift for someone and have me autograph it before sending to them. The ordering process needed to be a little different because normally books are shipped directly from the publisher. However, we worked out an arrangement and the book is on its way.

Then I began wondering if anyone else might like to order a copy of Power Reading Workshop and have it personally autographed and sent as a gift. Or maybe someone would want their own autographed copy! So I decided to set up a special ordering page to handle those types of orders. All you do is order the book from this page and then send me an email with the information regarding who it should be autographed to and where the book should be sent. The whole process is described on the "autographed copy" book page.

I'm not sure if this will interest anyone, but I wish the inspiration had hit me last week! Since that didn't happen, the best I can offer that if you order a book today (Tuesday), I'll try to get it out in the mail tomorrow via Priority Mail and it might still arrive by Christmas! Even if the book doesn't get there by Christmas, I'm sure that this gift will be much appreciated when it does arrive! Happy holidays to you!

December 6, 2011

A Simple Solution for Fast Finishers

By Angela Watson, Guest Blogger

None of us will ever have a class in which all students work at the same pace. That's okay! The goal is to make sure everyone is engaged in meaningful learning activities. For some kids, that means providing extra projects and assignments while they wait for their peers; for other kids, it means teaching time management and how to get things done on schedule. This is not as difficult as it sounds! Predictable classroom routines, clearly defined procedures, and lots of positive reinforcement will make a huge difference in how smoothly your classroom runs.

An easy way to support kids who finish quickly is to teach your class to always look at a When Finished sign after they complete an assignment. The sign I use is posted on my board and lists several assignments I typically have students complete when they are done with their work early. I use a red magnetized arrow to point to the assignment kids are supposed to complete. If kids need to do more than one thing, I'll use two arrows, one which says "First" and one which says "Then" to specify the order things should be completed in. For example, sometimes I like to have students show me their work before they start their next project, so I'll move the arrow that says "First" so that it points to "Show your work to your teacher" and I'll move the arrow that says "Then" so it points to "Get your book box and read silently." The bottom portion of the sign allows me to write a customized assignment on the board underneath if needed.

The When Finished signs keeps me from having to write out the same tasks over and over, and keeps students from wondering what they should be doing. Students' time is never wasted...and I never have to hear, "I'm done! Now what?"

You can download the When Finished sign for free right here! Or, visit the Routines and Procedures page to learn how to teach other expectations, such as lining up, getting drinks, passing in papers, cooperative learning, and arrival/dismissal routines.

Angela Powell Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years, and currently works as an educational consultant and instructional coach in New York City. She is the author of two books, including The Cornerstone: Classroom Management That Makes Teaching More Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable. She provides free teacher resources--including photos, printables, and activities--on her website,

December 5, 2011

Christmas Paper Chain Connections Craftivity

I love dreaming up new seasonal activities, but I always try to make them educational. A few days ago I remembered how I used to love to make paper chains to decorate our Christmas tree, and I realized that this craftivity could easily be adapted to the classroom by having students write on the slips of paper first. In fact, this idea would fit perfectly into a lesson on making connections while reading!

Making connections helps the reader make sense of what he or she is reading, and we often teach our students about three different types of connections: text to text, text to self, and text to world. Children are often taught to recognize and distinguish between these three, so I created a printable to make it super easy for students to record and classify their connections. (For some great mini lessons on teaching connections, read Stephanie Harvey's book, Strategies That Work.)

You can use this activity just before the holidays and have students create paper chains to decorate their Christmas trees, or you can do the activity at another time during the year and make paper chains for fun. The Paper Chain Connections activity can also be used with a "reading marathon" right before the holidays. Everything is fully explained in my free holiday lesson packet called Christmas Decoration Connections. You can download it from my Seasonal page on Teaching Resources during December, or my TeachersPayTeachers store any time of the year. If you download it from TpT, please take a moment to rate it. I hope you and your students enjoy this activity!

Teaching Resources ~

December 2, 2011

Teaching Sight Words? Try Sight Phrases Instead!

by Jennifer Harness Ayers, Guest Blogger

For me, teaching is a mission.  It is my heart and soul.  Because of this, I am like the little girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead (when she was bad, she was really bad—but when she was good, she was wonderful!).  When I think I am doing a great job, life is great.  When I feel like I am struggling to reach my students, life is the pits.  

I hit a dry spell in my teaching a few years ago, as I was teaching my struggling readers in guided reading.  We were going over and over the main 200 sight words, but there was little progress being made.  I had flashcards, and worksheets (yes, I admit it), and cloze passages.  I drilled, flashed cards, referred to context clues, highlighted the sight words with tape, and sent lists home with students to practice.  But, yet, there was little progress made.  I decided then, that I needed to do some research.  What were the best practices for teaching sight words? As I researched, I of course read the information published by Dr. Frye (and yes, there is a real Dr. Frye—he is not an imaginary character that a publisher made up like I thought!), Fountas and Pinnell, and Dr. Timothy Rasinski.  All of them had excellent ideas for teaching sight words, but it was Dr. Rasinski and his book, The Fluent Reader, which helped me to understand that there was more to sight words than just teaching them in isolation.  He recommended teaching the sight words in phrases.  I was ecstatic. Of course, one of the first thoughts that went through my mind was, ‘Why didn’t I think of this?’
I went to school the next day, armed with a plan. By teaching sight word PHRASES instead of words in isolation, I could build vocabulary, fluency, and schema.  I began teaching phrasing in order to show that these words help build a vision that the author has already created….it is up to us as readers to break the code so that we can ‘see the video in our head’.  So, instead of teaching the word ‘please’, I might teach the phrase ‘please pass the’ and use the sight word phrase to create detailed sentences in order to link meaning.  Without the phrase, a reader may not have enough understanding to figure out the word.  ‘Please’ by itself may not be strong enough in its meaning while standing alone. Or, possibly, is too complex of a word for the student to be able to break its code. But, when adding the other two words in the phrase to build ‘please pass the’, a whole world opens up because we automatically start building schema to try to finish the phrase. I’m sure some of you have automatically thought of salt, peas, butter, or something of that nature. It is the same with readers. They will automatically try to finish the phrase. That is when we take them back to the book to find the word please and use the phrase that it ‘lives in’ to teach the word.  It is all about using the phrase to spark the need to read. 
Feel free to download my packet of free sight word phrases and games from Laura's website. I use these in my own classroom when I model how to use sight word phrases in guided reading and then I gradually move them into a center for independent practice before beginning a new set.  Enjoy!

Jennifer Harness Ayers is a 17 year veteran teacher of the Hamilton County Schools System in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she has fulfilled the roles of reading interventionist, lead teacher, presenter, and has taught grades 1-5. She currently teaches second grade.  She recently earned her Ed.S. from Tennessee Technological University in Administration and Supervision, but her most important accomplishments in life were becoming a wife and a mom to her two children.  Jennifer is the author of the blog Best Practices 4 Teaching. (

November 29, 2011

Child-Centered Reading Conferences

by Carolyn Wilhelm, Guest Blogger
Oh, the joy of a really great novel with just enough suspense that the reader can barely put it down.  Teachers work so hard at getting to know which books will really grab individual children. We learn about their lives, their interests, and their reading habits. We are so happy to match a reader with the just-right and just-perfect book, and observe the silent reading with a smile.  Job well done!

Screech, put on the brakes . . . as soon as our students are happily engaged in reading, we slide a teacher stool up next to the absorbed reader to begin a reading conference. Then we brightly ask, "What reading strategy are you using today? Will you explain how this strategy is helping you be a better reader?" Smiling and hoping to jot some notes on our charts or report card forms, we hope for an insightful and elaborate answer.

The student, wanting to please, stops the marvelous reading experience to try to answer. He pauses to think, "What can I say to get the teacher to leave so I can just get back to reading?  Let's see, she was happy when I said I was inferring the other day, so I can't use that again. What can I say today?"

When seen from a child’s point of view, reading conferences may sometimes appear to be an unwelcome interruption. However, we know that individual reading conferences are critical in order to determine if our students comprehend the text. So how can we confer with them in a child-centered manner that meets their needs rather than focusing on our objectives?

After giving this some thought, I created the Child-Centered Reading Conference chart shown above with some strategies and possible questions to ask without interrupting the reader and ruining the reading experience. Begin the session with a general question such as "What is something you have just been thinking about while reading?"  Then try to follow up that question with one that matches what the child just said with a similar reading strategy. We should not make children fit their thinking into the strategies we are teaching when they are delightfully engrossed in reading. Be as unobtrusive, quiet, and thoughtful as you can when conferring with an engrossed reader . . . and be quick!

Yes, teachers have to gather notes and information about readers, but we also have to be careful not to spoil the reading experiences of our students.  Happy reading!

Carolyn Wilhelm has a Masters in Gifted Education, another Masters in K-12 Curriculum and Instruction, and is a National Board Certified Teacher in the area of Middle Childhood Generalist. She has taught grades 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, gifted education K-6, and remedial math grades 1-6. Carolyn is the creator of The Wise Owl Factory website and Book-a-Day blog.

November 24, 2011

Sharing the Joy of Giving!

Holiday Giving Project

One of the things I miss most about not being in the classroom is the opportunity to teach my students about the joy of giving. I want to share with you a wonderful activity that I did each year with my class, and I hope you'll consider doing this with your class as well. It's one that takes a bit of coordination, but I've created a free packet of materials to help you with the process.

Every year in November I worked with a local agency or our guidance counselor to find  a needy family in the community (not at our school). I tried to find a family with several children who was having a difficult time and who could use our help during the holidays. My students did not know who the family was other than their first names.

I sent home a letter explaining the project, and any of my students who were able to do so would contribute cash and gifts based on that family's needs. I also asked for donations of wrapping paper, boxes, and bows. You can download the project description and a sample letter from TpT Store.

Our Holiday Giving Project was so exciting and such a special time! I asked my students to bring in their items a few days before we got out for the holidays so we would have time to wrap them. We started by creating dozens of small cards with the family members' names to attach to the gifts. My students folded rectangles of white construction paper in half, decorated them, and wrote holiday messages inside.  

Then had a gift wrapping party one afternoon during the week before the winter holidays, and I taught them all how to wrap a present with style! You would think that 5th graders would know how to wrap a gift, but I learned the first time I did this project that most had never been taught. Boy did we waste a LOT of wrapping paper that year! After I realized that they didn't know how to wrap a gift, I taught them what to do. First I showed them how to cut the wrapping paper so that it was just the right size, and then I demonstrated how to fold and tape the paper so it looked attractive. Yes, that's me in the picture below!

Next, I borrowed a box of crayons for each student from the supply room, and they had to practice wrapping that box until it was perfect! Then each student chose a partner and they teamed up to wrap gifts. They had so much fun!

At the end of the day, we took a class picture of everyone holding the gifts before I loaded them into my car. You can see the joy of giving all over their faces - what a wonderful lesson for students of any age! Everytime I look at these pictures my heart just melts because I miss these kids!

Mrs. Candler's Awesome Class of 2010!

November 18, 2011

Create Easy Online Classroom Magazines!

"What's the Scoop?" is a graphic organizer you can use for reading or writing. Students can read a selection and record the relevant information, or they can use it when planning their own story or article. You can download it from my Writing page on Teaching Resources.

As I was working on this graphic organizer, I thought of the free website I wrote about earlier this week. Scoop It  allows anyone to create an online "magazine" on a particular topic. You just add articles by linking to various online resources and write a short text explanation. Voila! Online magazine! Take a look at my Seasonal Freebies for Teachers topic to get a feel for how Scoop It works. Don't forget to follow it if you like it!

Wouldn't it be exciting to have your students create an online magazine with Scoop It? Each student could write an article or story and upload it to Google Docs. Or they could create a video or podcast and upload it to a host site. Next, you would create a Scoop It topic with your classroom magazine title - something voted on by your students of course! You would link to their document or video, upload a related image, and include a short "teaser" paragraph to interest the reader. Then email the link to the magazine to your parents or post it on Edmodo or another safe social networking site. An activity like this gives new meaning to the "publishing" stage of the writing process!

I can see this working as a collaborative class magazine on a content area theme, too. You could create Scoop It topics for science and social studies units where students all contribute one article, illustration, podcast, or video.

Just a few words of caution:
  • The free version of Scoop It does not appear to have a way to publish the content privately, so be sure to check with an administrator first and obtain permission forms from students involved in the project.
  • According to the "Use & Agreement" terms on Scoop It, children under age 13 may not use Scoop It themselves. Therefore you or another adult will have to actually create the Scoop It magazine page. 
  • Some Scoop It content may not be appropriate for children, so share a direct link to your class magazine rather than letting kids search for it.

If you do create a class online magazine with Scoop It, please come back to this article and share what you've done with us!

Teaching Resources ~

November 17, 2011

Drum Roll for the Winners Please!

Last week I announced a contest you could enter to win one of three autographed copies of Enemy Pie, one of my favorite kids' books. To enter the contest, folks had to answer one simple question: "What is the grossest thing you have ever eaten?"   

I have to give credit to the author, Derek Munson, for coming up with that one! He told me that he often asks this of the students when he does school visits but he's never asked teachers this question. 

I think we both expected folks to write a few words about their grossest foods, and I had no idea what those foods might be! But holy smokes! We never dreamed that over 150 people would respond with the most amazing tales ever! You guys have eaten some seriously gross stuff and you really know how to tell some great stories!

Congratulations to the three winners below! Two were selected from the messages on Facebook and one was selected from the entries here on this blog. I wanted to you read what they wrote in case you didn't catch their stories earlier. Here they are, in no particular order:
  • Melissa Monroe wrote, "Aspic anyone? On trip to Russia I was served a plate with this clear, gelatinous mound perched atop a piece of lettuce. It had an unappetizing brown hue, and floating inside were pieces of egg, fish, and some other unrecognizable things. Not wanting to offend the host I tasted it. To this day, just thinking about its cold, slimy texture and fishy flavor gives me the heebie-jeebies! I'm shuttering right now as I write this. Apologies to those aspic lovers out there."
  • Kim Wasson Compton wrote, "I accepted a dare while I was a teenage waitress at a summer camp. Trying to impress a table of cute boys, I ate their concoction of food they prepared from "all" the leftovers at their table (peanut butter, mashed potatoes, gravy, bread, coffee grounds, sugar, grape juice, veggies, get the idea!). Needless to say, I wasn't feeling well for the rest of that day!"
  • Mrs Hopper wrote, "I love this book. I work at a school that is in an impoverished area of California. Fighting is prevalent at our school and students at a very young age are accustomed to seeing fights in their daily life outside of school. I love the underlying message behind this book. We have a lot more in common than we realize. My students always enjoy this book and I always pray they take the lesson away and keep it for a lifetime. I would love to win a copy. The worst thing I ever ate was a fly. It flew into my open mouth during PE while I was doing jumping jacks. I swallowed it before I quite knew what was going on. Actually, in reality all I know for certain was that it was a flying bug. I always assumed it was a fly. I learned to exercise with my mouth closed and breathe through my nose."
Mrs. Hopper, Melissa, and Kim, please contact Derek to let him know where to send your copy of Enemy Pie. You can find his contact information here on his Enemy Pie website.  

Thanks to everyone who shared a story, and thanks to Derek for generously offering to give away three autographed books!

November 15, 2011

Get the Scoop on Multiplication!

I just discovered an awesome website called Scoop It that allows you to create an online "magazine" on any topic. You can write short articles, upload images, and link each article to its source on the internet.

Just for fun, I created a magazine called Multiplication Teaching Resources. I added several resources from my own site as well as a great article from Scholastic, a multiplication game called Gobble Bump from Denise Boehm, and some fun free websites for practicing math facts.Take a look!

I'm also working on several different topics like Reading Workshop Resources and Seasonal Freebies for Teachers. These topics aren't complete yet, but you can follow them as well to get updates as I add new articles.

What I love about Scoop It is that you can sign up to Follow a topic and you'll receive an email update when new resources are added. You can also follow by RSS feed via Google Reader if you click on the tiny green icon near the top. Scoop It has a free version (which I'm using) that has a limited number of topics you can create, and it also has a premium version for businesses.

Classroom Ideas for Scoop It?
The teacher in me is thinking about all the ways this could be used in the classroom. What would you do with Scoop It? What about creating an online classroom newspaper? First you would need to create a class blog where students could post stories and images. Then you would use Scoop It to visit each blog post and grab the story so that all stories could be displayed on one page with links to the full article or story later. Share the link to your class newspaper with your parents and ask them to follow it when your students add articles.

Are you already using Scoop It? If so, please post a link to one of your topics. How might you use Scoop It in your classroom?

Teaching Resources ~

November 11, 2011

Win an Autographed Copy of Enemy Pie!

I have a new favorite kids' book, and it's called Enemy Pie. It's not a new book, but somehow it didn't appear on my radar until recently. The story begins when the main character's worst nightmare comes true - a new kid moves onto the block and steals away his best friend. After declaring the new kid enemy #1, the boy learns that his father has a secret recipe for enemy pie that will take care of his problem. The catch is in order for the enemy pie to work, the boy must spend one whole day with the new kid! Need I say more? Adults can guess where this story is going, but kids learn a powerful lesson when the boys become friends after spending a day together.

Enemy Pie is also available on To hear it read aloud by Camryn Manheim, go to StorylineOnline, click the All Stories - Index link, and find Enemy Pie there. You are in for a treat!

I love Enemy Pie so much that I included it as a recommended read aloud in my book, Laura Candler's Power Reading Workshop: A Step-by-Step Guide. Last month I discovered the official Enemy Pie website and found it to be loaded with great teaching ideas for the book. I emailed the author, Derek Munson, and shared how much I enjoyed his book and the fact that I was planning to use it in an upcoming workshop. One email led to another, and soon we were discussing the idea of giving away a copy of his book on my Facebook page or blog. But Derek's such a generous soul that he offered to give away not one but three autographed copies of Enemy Pie!

Derek's also got a great sense of humor because he came up with a fun question for the giveaway. Enemy Pie sounds like it must taste horrible, right? So the question you'll have to answer is, "What is the grossest thing you have ever eaten?" Okay, you didn't have to eat the whole thing, you just have to have tasted it! The contest starts Saturday morning, November 12th and ends Monday evening, November 14th. I'll post the question on my Facebook Wall when the contest begins and you can respond there or as a comment on this blog. We'll choose 3 winners sometime Tuesday. I can't wait to read your responses!

P.S. If you have never eaten anything gross that you want to share with the world, you can just tell us why you love Enemy Pie or why you would love to win a copy. By the way, the book will be sent free of charge to any winner in the United States or Canada. If someone enters from another location, you can either pay for shipping if you win or choose a free digital item from Teaching Resources instead. I hope you understand!

November 10, 2011

No Names on Papers? Problem Solved!

Are you frustrated with students who forget to turn in papers or who forget to put their names on their work? I used to get so annoyed when I took a stack of papers home to grade, only to discover that three students had not turned in their work and three more turned in a paper with no name!

But then I got smart and got organized! I devised a system where students turned in their papers by placing them into "paper drops," laminated brown envelopes with student checklists attached. At the end of the class period, I quickly pulled out the papers and checked off who had turned theirs in so I could solve the mystery of the missing papers before they went home for the day. Then the papers went right back into the envelope so I could keep them together for grading later.

The entire Paper Drop System system is described in this packet and includes the printables you need to make it work for you. You can also download a customizable checklist from the Classroom Management page on Teaching Resources. Paper problem solved!

Visit Teaching Resources ~

November 9, 2011

Free Fall Math Word Problem Puzzlers

If you haven't implemented a math word problem solving program this year, I have just the thing for you!  Download these two Fall Math Puzzler printables to try out an easy and effective program that helped my students soar to success in math. With this method, your students solve just one problem a day, Monday through Thursday, with Friday being reserved for in-depth problem-solving lessons or additional practice with challenging puzzlers. It takes just 10 or 15 minutes a day, and you will be amazed at the results!

The Fall Math Puzzlers freebie includes two versions of the same activity page. To decide which version is right for your class, click here to download both pages and print them out. Then try solving the problems as if you were one of your students. Adults would solve these problems using equations or number sentences because we easily grasp what to do. But your students would be more likely to solve them by drawing pictures or illustrating them in some way.Thinking about how they might solve each problem will help you choose the right level for your class.

If you want to differentiate instruction, you can use both activity pages in your class, assigning the first page to some students and the second page to those who need a challenge. However, don't give both pages to the same student because they have similar wording with different numbers.

The Daily Math Puzzler Program
There are four levels in the complete Daily Math Puzzlers program, and each ebook includes enough printables and lessons for a year's worth of instruction. The easiest Level is A which is about right for 2nd or 3rd grade, depending on your students. The most challenging level is D which may be appropriate for 5th or 6th grade.

To see examples of all of the levels and test them with your class, check out my free Problem Solving Assessment pack. Sign up HERE and I'll send a copy to you. Administer the pretests to your class as described in the directions. Answer keys are included. If you decide to implement the full program, you can use the post tests to assess student progress at the end of the year.

For more problem-solving strategies and additional Daily Math Puzzler activity pages, visit my Math Problem Solving page on Teaching Resources. Problem solving can be fun when students solve just one problem a day!

November 7, 2011

8 Strategies to Motivate Kids to Love Problem Solving

Here are 8 strategies that helped my students feel more comfortable with problem solving. These techniques thawed their attitudes towards math and motivated them to actually enjoy problem solving!
Students often fear math, and are especially intimidated by problem solving. These feelings prevent them from being able to relax, think clearly, and apply what they've learned to problems they're trying to solve. The resulting brain freeze serves to reinforce the idea that mathematics is scary and difficult. Math standards keep getting tougher, and students are expected to be proficient at solving complex problems far beyond what we were expected to solve at their age. How are we to help our students become confident problem solvers when math continues to get more challenging?

Strategies to Thaw Math Brain Freeze
Fortunately, there are many tools and  strategies you can use to show your kids that math isn't all that scary after all. Here are 8 strategies that helped my students feel more comfortable with problem solving. These techniques thawed their attitudes towards math and motivated them to actually enjoy problem solving!
  1. Implement a problem-solving program in which students solve just one word problem a day, and start with easy problems they can ALL solve without difficulty 
  2. Mix up the types of problems and present challenges that require different problem solving skills and strategies. This will require your students to tap into different types of math content and skills to solve them. 
  3. Keep problem solving sessions short at first - no more than 10 to 15 minutes a day - but as students start to look forward to these sessions, you can include longer problems that require more persistence
  4. Refer to word problems as "puzzlers," "brain teasers," or "stumpers," and present them as fun challenges rather than dreaded math problems
  5. Alternate cooperative learning strategies with independent work to add an element of fun while ensuring individual accountability
  6. Allow students to use calculators during problem-solving sessions
  7. Require students to show their work with pictures, symbols, or words, but don't require them to write complete sentence explanations for every problem they solve.
  8. After giving students time to solve a problem, reveal the correct answer up front and then spend the remaining time asking students to share strategies. Ask, "How many different ways can we discover to solve this problem?" Call on several student volunteers to come to the front of the class, one at a time, to demonstrate how they solved the problem. This will highlight the variety of different ways a problem can be solved. 
Daily Math Problem Solving and Growth Mindset
I've had great success with these strategies, and when I've shared them with teachers, they have experienced similar results. They've told me that their students now look forward to their daily problem solving sessions! In the same way that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, it seems that a problem a day keeps the brain freeze away!

March 2017 Update - I'm in the process of updating the Daily Math Puzzler program to align it with best practices for fostering a growth mindset. I just presented a webinar called Math Problem Solving: Mindsets Matter in which I dove into recent research on this topic and busted some math myths about problem solving. If you missed it, sign up to watch a replay of this webinar.

Problem Solving Assessment Freebie
One of the free files I share during the webinar is my Problem Solving Assessment pack which can help you evaluate your students' problem-solving abilities. It includes both a pretest and a posttest on 4 different levels. Believe me, you'll learn a lot about how your students solve problems when you score their tests! If you don't have time to watch the webinar now, sign up HERE if you'd like a copy of this freebie sent to you by email.

What are some of your favorite strategies and tips for helping kids to thaw out math brain freeze and enjoy solving problems?

October 29, 2011

Hands-on Water Cycle Fun!

Hands-on Water Cycle Fun! Create a mini water cycle using a rotisserie chicken container and demonstrate cloud formation in a jar.
Now that I'm retired, I often miss working with children; children are my inspiration and the classroom is my laboratory! Recently I accepted a position at a local school to work with kids during their year round intersession program, and I had the pleasure of teaching science to 5th graders for 3 days. I had a wonderful time teaching them about the water cycle and weather, especially since I was able to incorporate a hands-on activity and an exciting demonstration into our lessons.

One activity was adapted from a terrific idea shared with me by Pat Calfee, a former elementary teacher who is now an educational consultant. When Pat was teaching 2nd grade, she used plastic rotisserie chicken containers to have her students create mini water cycles.

Because 5th graders need to know the full water cycle including transpiration and run-off,  we modified our mini water cycles slightly. Each team set up their own mini water cycle by adding a rock to represent a mountain, grass for the vegetation, and a small pond made from aluminum foil and filled with water.

On a sunny day, the best way to power up the mini water cycle is to close the container and put it in the sun for several hours. As the water warms up, it evaporates and then condenses on the inside of the plastic lid. The water then "rains" on the environment inside the container and runs off to form little ponds. Unfortunately, the weather called for rain on the day we were doing this (Murphy's law!). So I brought a large lamp from home that gave off a lot of heat, and we put the containers under the lamp. Soon we were observing evaporation, transpiration, condensation, precipitation, and run-off!
Hands-on Water Cycle Fun! Create a mini water cycle using a rotisserie chicken container and demonstrate cloud formation in a jar.

Hands-on Water Cycle Fun! Create a mini water cycle using a rotisserie chicken container and demonstrate cloud formation in a jar.
Those containers were a super way to give students hands-on experience creating a water cycle. It was wonderful to be able to have something concrete to observe when discussing these concepts.

Another way to observe a water cycle in action is to create a Cloud in a Jar. This is a teacher demo since it involves boiling water and a lit match, but it's a fun way for students to observe how clouds form. You can find the directions for this activity in my Science File Cabinet on Teaching Resources. The directions include a set of follow-up questions to help students grasp the essential concepts.

A great way to help kids identify examples of condensation, evaporation, and precipitation in everyday life is with my Parts of the Water Cycle Task Cards shown below. I've even added images of all 32 task cards that you can upload to Plickers and use for assessment questions!

What are your favorite activities to teach the water cycle? Please share!