Saturday, January 28, 2012

Avoid Sub Disaster by Planning Ahead

Guest Post by Rachel Friedrich

It’s inevitable. As much as you don’t want to, you will have to miss school occasionally. And I know many teachers stress and worry about what will happen in and to their classroom when they are not there. Teachers and subs alike have plenty of horror stories to share. However, you can plan ahead to avoid some of those horrors.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when preparing for a sub. Use my checklist to make sure nothing is forgotten. You can download this checklist for free from the Odds N Ends page on Laura Candler's Teaching Resources.

Here are eight tips to help you avoid sub disaster:
  1. Make sure all pertinent information is handy. That includes a class list (with pictures if possible), seating chart, class schedule (including anything out of the ordinary like library, guidance, or assemblies), a description of your classroom procedures, a description of your classroom management plan, and a list of helpful numbers around the school (helpful teachers, office, nurse, custodian, etc.).
  2. Make sure forms and office supplies are within sight. That includes nurse passes, attendance forms, lunch count materials, pen, and notepad.
  3. Write detailed lesson plans… the more the better. Probably the worst thing you could write in the lesson plans is: “The students know what to do.” As a teacher, I know you would much rather a sub not get to everything on your list rather than “wing it” with some possibly questionable activities. If you are in a bind, there are free emergency sub plans for grades K-5 available at Each grade level has a warm-up, a reading lesson, a language arts lesson, a math lesson, a science lesson, and a social studies lesson. Instructions along with reproducibles are included.
  4. Make sure all the materials and supplies for the lessons in your plans are available.
  5. Unless you know the sub, don’t plan lessons that heavily rely on cooperative learning or manipulatives. Yes, those are best practices, but when a sub is there, those things tend to get misused even with good classroom management.
  6. Don’t forget dismissal procedures. This is extremely vital in the elementary school setting. Many times little ones don’t know where to go, and the older ones try to fool a sub by convincing them they get to go home with a friend.
  7. If technology is to be used for morning announcements, videos, or other parts of the lesson plans, make sure instructions to use the technology are clear and straightforward.
  8. Leave a list of special students. That includes helpful ones, ones that need medication or have other health restrictions, ones on behavior plans, and others to keep an extra eye on.
Although it may take some work, it is much better to do the work on the preparation end, rather than try to fix what went wrong. And many of these items can be prepared ahead of time and will change infrequently. Take the time to give you some peace of mind and your students will be ensured a good day as well.

—Rachel Friedrich at Sub Hub,

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Valentine Hearts Math Investigation

Have you ever wondered whether all boxes of Valentine hearts candies are the same? Do they have the same colors? Do they weigh the same amount? Does each box contain the same number of candies? Inquiring minds want to know! Questions like these provide a perfect opportunity for a bit of data analysis fun!
Have you ever wondered whether all boxes of Valentine hearts candies are the same? Do they have the same colors? Do they weigh the same amount? Does each box contain the same number of candies? Inquiring minds want to know! Questions like these provide a perfect opportunity for a bit of data analysis fun!

A few years ago I posed these questions to my 4th graders and decided to investigate. With the class divided into cooperative learning teams, we examined 10 different boxes of candy. We weighed them and looked at the range, mode, median, and mean of the data. Then we counted the candies, graphed the colors, and crunched the numbers to look at the variations between the boxes. As you can see from the partially completed class data chart in this post, you'll end up with lots of data in a short time that's perfect for also sorts of mathematical analysis.

It was a terrific activity for the week of Valentine's Day because they were definitely stretching their brains, but they were having lots of fun, too! This activity would also work well AFTER Valentine's Day when you can snap up boxes of conversation hearts at cheap prices. Your students won't mind a bit if Valentine's Day has already passed!

Where to Download the Valentine Data Analysis Freebie
You can find this free Valentine Hearts Data Analysis packet on my Seasonal Page on Teaching Resources during the month of February. All of the files are stored in a large zip file, which you'll need to download and unzip to access the individual files. If the activity is not on the Seasonal page, you can find it on Laura's Best Freebies, a private page on my website with over 75 of my best free resources for teachers. Here's what you'll find inside the file:
  • Smartboard slides for recording and analyzing data (not required for the lesson)
  • Promethean board conversion from the Smartboard file above
  • Student samples of how our class results were recorded and analyzed
  • Teacher directions including student activity pages

Kids love to have candy on Valentine's Day, and this is a fun way to sneak in a little learning at the same time! If you don't want your students to eat the candies they've handled for the activity, be sure to purchase some extra boxes for snacking after the lesson is over. Yum!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Your Students Can Be Published Authors!

Did you know your students can create a book together that can be published for FREE? Take a look at this book that my 4th grade class created a few years ago. As a part of my life science unit, my students invented wacky animals with specific adaptations. Each student drew a picture of his or her animal in its habitat and wrote a one page description that included how the animal was adapted for that particular environment. Take a look at the Sniger example. Snake + Tiger = Sniger  You knew that, right?

So, how did we get the book published for free? As it turns out, there's a book publishing program called Studentreasures that's specifically designed for publishing student work. Studentreasures has several different programs available, but the one we signed up for was the Classbook project. I want to tell you about it because they still offer this free program, and I hope you'll consider signing up. My students were so excited to see their work published in an actual print book!

How the Classbook Program Works
Studentreasures sends the teacher a packet of numbered pages and a form letter to be sent home to all parents explaining the project and giving them the opportunity to order books. The teacher then selects a theme for the classbook and guides his or her students through the process of writing stories, poems, or essays and illustrating them. Everything is sent off to Studentreasures where the student pages are used to create hardcover, bound books. The actual pages are also bound into a classbook and sent back to the teacher as a free book to keep! There's no minimum number of books that the parents must purchase; the only requirement for the teacher is to send home the letters and collect the payments from those who do place orders.

How You Can Get Involved
I did this project two years in a row, and it was an amazing success both times! I've been sharing about it at teacher workshops and on my website for years, and now I'm excited to be able to spread the news about this publishing project in an even bigger way. I'm working with Studentreasures to develop a free webinar where you can learn exactly how to create your own class books! When I participated in the program, there were many times when I would have liked to ask someone a question or get some advice from a pro. So I was excited when Studentreasures approached me about presenting a webinar on their Classbook program. We've set the date for the event; the webinar will be held on March 6th at 8 p.m. EST. Sign up for my Candler's Classroom Connections newsletter to receive more information when registration opens.

But there's no reason to wait for the webinar if you're interested in signing up for the project; just go to the Studentreasure site now and order your free publishing kit. You can choose between portrait and landscape formats as well as lined or unlined pages. They'll even send a sample book to show your class!

Thousands of  teachers have had class books and student books printed with Studentreasures over the last 15 years, and if you're one of them, I invite you to leave a comment! Creating a class book does take time and commitment on the part of the teacher, but the end result is a book that your students will treasure forever!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Reading Graphic Organizers on the Way!

June 2012 Update: Graphic Organizers for Reading is now available in a professionally-produced version, in both print and digital formats. You can find more information about the book on Teaching Resources.

Some of you may have noticed that I seem to have disappeared off the face of the earth! I'm seldom on Facebook and I haven't written a single blog post this week. Where's Laura? Kicking back and relaxing? You know me better than that!

Actually, I've been spending just about every waking hour trying to finish my newest book, Graphic Organizers for Reading: Teaching Tools Aligned with the Common Core. It's not finished yet, but I'm getting really close. I expect to finish the draft version today, but I'll still need to allow time for proofing and minor edits. Anyway, as I near the end of this project, I feel like a racehorse on the home stretch! My goal is in sight, and all I want to do is finish this book! When hiking with my husband, he often mentions how I mysteriously pick up speed at the end of a long hike when I should actually be slowing down. He used to enjoy horse-backing riding so he teases me, "You're like a horse heading back to the barn!" That's right where I am with this book!

Some of you may remember that this book actually started out as a chapter in the first few drafts of  Empowering Readers, my ebook about reading workshop. (That book is now Laura Candler's Power Reading Workshop: A Step-by-Step Guide.) But I soon realized that graphic organizers can be used with any reading program and the topic deserved to stand on its own. I was envisioning a "mini pack" of 20 or 30 pages. Little did I know that it would grow into a full ebook of over 100 pages! Graphic Organizers for Reading includes information about how to use these tools to create reading lessons and mini-lessons for Common Core Standards, and the book also includes dozens of ready-made graphic organizer templates to use with Informational Text and Literature. But even if your state has not adopted the Common Core, you'll be able to use every one of the graphic organizers because they are not specific to certain standards.

If you purchased membership in the Empowering Readers Learning Community last year, be sure to log on to your Yahoo account and access the group if you have not done so in awhile. There will be a very short window of time in which you can download your copy which will probably be from January 23rd through the end of the month. Unfortunately, if you have problems with Yahoo, I will not be able to help because I no longer have an assistant working with me. However, I do have everyone's email from the group and I will be contacting you by email to let you know how to claim your copy. Just be patient with me please because there are over 500 people in the group! :-)

I expect Graphic Organizers for Reading to be available for purchase no later than Saturday, January 28th. Be sure to sign up for my Candler's Classroom Connections newsletter to find out how to get 20% off that book and all my ebooks. Graphic Organizers for Reading will also be for sale in my store, and if you click the  "Follow Me" link on that page you'll be one of the first to know when the book is ready.

Okay, now it's time for me to head back to the barn and finish this project! Don't look for me until feeding time! :-)

Teaching Resources

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

martin luther king, mlk, mlk lessons, martin luther king lessons
Free Short Video and Printable Resources!

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the greatest leaders of our time, and I believe it's important to honor him and recognize the impact that he had on America. However, as a classroom teacher I struggled to find appropriate teaching materials for elementary students on this topic. Most resources were either too vague to be effective or too detailed and overwhelming for 4th and 5th graders. My students were old enough to start learning about racial inequality and the civil rights movement, and they needed to have opportunities to explore and discuss these concepts.

So I was excited to discover that has a wonderful free video called Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that's perfect for upper elementary students! It's just 4 minutes long and features two lovable animated characters, Tim and Moby. Somehow Tim and Moby manage to explain the important events in Dr. King's life and his impact on the civil rights movement in a way that's very easy to understand. has a number of resources to go along with the video like an online quiz and several activity pages. But I wanted to create a few more items to include cooperative learning lessons, extended vocabulary practice, and discussion cards. I must admit that I got a bit carried away! I ended up creating a 13-page packet of supplementary materials! The packet is aligned with CCSS standards for informational text for grades 3 through 6, although the lessons might take a bit of adapting if used with 3rd graders. The discussion activities are also aligned with speaking and listening standards.

During the month of January, you can download this teaching packet for free by clicking on the image which will take you to my Seasonal Page on Teaching Resources. You can find loads of other seasonal activities there, too! If you don't find it there, sign up for my email newsletter, Candler's Classroom Connections, and look for the link to Laura's Best Freebies, a you'll find this on the private page of freebies for subscribers.

If you like this free lesson, you'll enjoy my January Activities Mini Pack which has a character map activity that involves listening to a story and recording details about Dr. King's life. I hope you enjoy these activities, and please follow me on TpT to be sure you receive notifications when I add new freebies!

By the way, this blog article was just featured on Denise Boehm's Sunny Days in Second Grade blog as a part of her Show N Tell Tuesday! She selected 5 freebies to feature and then opened the blog post up to other freebies through a link up. So far there are 16 more freebies for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Be sure to check it out!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fun with Facebook Weather Data

Last night I had one of those random ideas that seemed like it might be fun so I put it into action. I thought we could collaborate to collect weather data to use in our classrooms. It worked and resulted in a neat set of stats to poke through and organize. Thanks to everyone who participated!

Weather Data Collection
If you missed the survey, you can still use the results with your students. But you might want to know exactly what happened and where to find the data. So here's a quick run-down off how the impromptu survey took place:
  1. On January 4th I posted a message on Facebook asking fans to leave a comment that included their location, the current outside temperature, the weather conditions and the time including time zone.
  2. I followed that message with a request for ideas about what to do with all of the data. 
  3. At the end of one hour I compiled all the data for that time in a Word document. I removed everyone's names and profile picture to create a list of raw data you can use in the classroom.You can download that document from my Graphing and Statistics page on Teaching Resources. Or you can click to read see the actual discussion thread on Facebook from which the data was taken.
Organizing and Analyzing the Data
Now the fun begins! What can you do with all this weather data? First of all, if you give the raw data to your students, they are going to notice that - surprise! - not everyone followed the directions! Some people didn't give the current time or their time zone, or perhaps they didn't specify whether the temperature was in degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius. So the first thing they are going to have to do is cull out all the incomplete entries. But guess what? That's real-life data collection!

The next step is to organize the data in some way to make sense of it. Ask your students for ideas. For example, "How can we organize this data in a way that will make sense and help us discover patterns?" Here are some ideas to get you started:
  • Plot the locations and temperatures on a world map. Analyze the results and look for patterns in terms of temperature/location relationships.
  • Convert all temperatures to the same system of measurement.
  • Find the range, mode, median, and mean of all temperatures within a given time zone. 
  • Graph the average temperature for each time zone or country.
  • Compare the time of day to the temperature. Even though the temperatures were all reported within an hour of each other, the differing time zones mean some temperatures were collected at night and others during the daylight hours.
To see more great ideas for using this data, click to read the discussion thread on Facebook. Feel free to add your own ideas to this blog post or on Facebook.

If your class represents this data visually or draws some interesting conclusions from it, please report your results back here. To send a photograph that I can share here on the blog, on Facebook,  or on my website, email me at I would love to hear if anyone's class has fun with this Facebook weather data! I certainly had fun collecting it!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Power of Praise

Why We Shouldn't Praise Kids for Being Smart ... and How to Use Praise Effectively

Caring teachers are lavish in their praise; they know that praise has the power to motivate reluctant learners and to build self-esteem. So who would have thought that praise could actually be harmful? Believe it or not, research has shown that one type of praise in particular can have unintended but highly damaging consequences. Before you reject this conclusion, let me tell you about about the research and share my own personal experiences with praise.

A few years ago, Dr. Carol Dweck published an article in Educational Leadership called The Perils and Promises of Praise in which she described several studies she and a colleague conducted that had astounding results. This research was also referenced in a terrific article in the New York Magazine called How Not to Talk to Your Child: The Inverse Power of Praise. I urge you to read both articles; I guarantee that you'll be fascinated by this information.

Praising Intelligence Versus Effort
In a nutshell, Dr. Dweck and her colleague divided groups of students into two subgroups and gave them a task to complete. Then they pulled the students out one by one to give them their results and also offered a single specific line of praise to each student. Kids in the first group were praised for being smart. Students in the second group were praised for working hard and putting forth effort. Then they gave the students another task, but this time the students were allowed to choose between a challenging task and one that was obviously much easier. Guess what? A full 90% of the kids who were praised for effort chose the challenging task while most of the others chose the easy task! Then later when the students were retested on the original material, the ones who were praised for effort improved their scores and the "smart" kids did worse!

When I first read about this study several years ago, I immediately thought of my two daughters who are both extremely bright. Through the years they were praised repeatedly for being smart. What else is a teacher supposed to say when a kid easily masters every concept? Yet problems arise when children spend the first 10 years of their lives being told they are smart, and they hit middle school where things become a little more challenging. You can see how a child's self-esteem might take a hit when they've always been told they are smart - yet now they have to struggle to make good grades.

Interestingly, my older daughter Wendy discovered the New York Magazine article herself the other day and forwarded it to me. She could really relate to the study results and felt that repeated praise for being smart may have had a negative impact on her willingness to take risks and tackle new challenges. She understood on a personal level how when your identity is wrapped up in feeling "smart," the idea of struggling and perhaps failing is difficult to face. Wendy is now a successful engineering student at NCSU, but she's learned that being smart doesn't mean you are perfect. In fact, one sign of true intelligence might be the willingness to take risks, occasionally fail, and learn from your mistakes.

Classroom Implications
As teachers, how can we use this information? In my opinion, this study has tremendous implications for education. Remember that it's not praise itself that's the problem - it's praising intelligence alone that leads to negative consequences.

So what if instead of telling kids they are smart, we praise them for putting forth effort? What if we teach them that we aren't just born smart - we become smarter through hard work and persistence?

This might seem to be an effective solution, but it only addresses part of the problem. When gifted kids master every academic task with ease, praising for effort becomes meaningless. Perhaps when that happens, it's time to take a look at our own teaching practices and ask ourselves why everything is so easy for these students. What can we do to make sure every child faces new challenges every day?

Discovering the Power of Pride
Instead of offering a steady diet of whole-group instruction, it's up to us to offer other options like learning centers, small group instruction, and reading workshop - strategies that provide sufficient challenges for all students. Ironically, as students experience personal challenge, they will also experience the satisfaction of overcoming those challenges. As a result, their sense of pride will boost their self esteem more than external praise ever could - the power of pride will trump the power of praise!

Teaching Resources ~

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Letters to the Future

Just a quick update about the Dear Future Me project I shared last week. If you didn't read my original blog post, you may want to read it now. I used the strategies in that blog post to to create a free teaching packet with directions, a parent letter, and several graphic organizers that will help you implement the project. The entire packet can be found on in my TeachersPayTeachers store, and you can also find a customizable letter to parents on the Writing Page on Teaching Resources. Enjoy!