Sunday, November 25, 2012

Holiday Learning Link Up

Seasonal activities can add a bit of fun each month, especially during the weeks leading up to your winter holiday! To help teachers find great resources for this time of year, I've created a Holiday Learning Link Up of upper elementary resources. Each blog post below includes a teaching activity to use during the next few weeks. Whether they are products or freebies, all of them will save you time and will help make December an exciting, fun-filled month in your classroom. After you read about one of my favorite lessons, you can hop from blog to blog to find other terrific resources for this time of year!

Sugar Cone Christmas Trees 
One of my favorite holiday activities was to have my students follow a recipe to make Sugar Cone Christmas Trees.  Reading and following a recipe might be considered an appropriate learning activity in 2nd grade, but since I taught 5th grade I decided to kick it up a notch by creating a set of comprehension questions to go with the recipe. I formatted the questions to make them similar to the ones on state tests, so the activity serves as a test prep lesson as well. After my students created their sugar cone Christmas Trees, I allowed them to eat their treats while answering the questions. Of course, many students did not want to eat their creations right away so I always provided gallon zip top bags for them to take home their treats.

December Activity Mini Pack
You can find the Sugar Cone Christmas Tree recipe and comprehension questions in my December Activities Mini Pack along with a materials-request letter to send home to parents. This activity is available from my TpT store and on the Seasonal Page on Teaching Resources. As always, you can preview that packet online to see if it meets your needs. You'll find loads of activities to use this month along with directions and answer keys, including a Holidays Around the Word research activity, a Dreidel game, and holiday homework passes.

Christmas Math Puzzlers Freebie
I love to share freebies with my followers, so this blog post would not be complete without sharing a holiday freebie. The Christmas Math Puzzler pages shown here are actually a part of the December Activities Mini Pack, but you can download them for free from my TeachersPayTeachers store. These are two pages of math word problems on different levels, and they can be used for cooperative learning activities or independent assignments.

I hope these activities will help you enjoy those hectic days before your winter break. Happy holidays to you!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Literature Circles Made Easy - New Resources

New Book Recommendations and More!

The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas can be a challenge for you and your students. Everyone is excited about the upcoming winter holidays, and it’s hard to keep kids focused on their work. This is especially true in reading, because when students are reading or working quietly on assignments, their minds can easily wander. Literature Circles to the rescue! This instructional strategy is fun, engaging, and effective, and now is the perfect time to get started!

If you've never tried Literature Circles, you might be wondering what this strategy is all about. Literature Circles are often called Book Clubs, and they operate much like adult book clubs. In a nutshell, students form groups by selecting books that interest them. Then they meet regularly with other students who are reading the same book to discuss what they’re reading. If Literature Circles sound a bit overwhelming, don’t worry! I’ve compiled an entire collection of resources on my website, including some wonderful new book recommendations, to make them extremely easy to implement.

Literature Circles Freebies on Teaching Resources 
About 15 years ago when I first started my Teaching Resources website, I created a page to gather and share free Literature Circle resources. I eventually added so much content that I had to divide it into several different pages by category. You’ll find descriptions of different Literature Circle strategies, a free webinar recording in which I explain how to implement Literature Circles, and tips for managing Literature Circles in your classroom. Best of all, you'll find page after page of free printables including graphic organizers, organizational tools, and other resources to help you get started. After you finish reading this blog post to learn about my other resources on this topic, you’ll definitely want to visit the main Literature Circles page on Teaching Resources.

Classroom Book Clubs
Teachers used to assign roles in Literature Circles, but that’s no longer the norm. I experimented with Literature Circles for many years and eventually developed an effective and fun method that does not use roles. This method worked so well for me that I created a slidecast eLearning course to share my strategies with others. Classroom Book Clubs: Literature Circles Made Easy consists of a series of short videos in which I share a step-by-step method for getting started with Literature Circles. This teaching resource is available on CD or as a digital download, and it includes student printables and organizational forms. If you’d like to know more, you can watch a short video on my Literature Circles page on Teaching Resources. You can also preview the complete packet of printables online.

New! Literature Circles Book Recommendations
One of the most critical elements of developing a great Literature Circles program is locating terrific books for students to read and discuss. Unfortunately, this step can be difficult and time-consuming because after you locate the books, you need to find time to preview them before sharing them with your class. Fortunately, help is on the way!

A few months ago, I embarked on a major undertaking – to create a huge collection of Literature Circle books recommended by teachers for teachers. I’m excited to announce that Favorite Literature Circles Resources is now live on my website. Here you can find book recommendations for professional reading as well as four pages of book recommendations for students in one convenient location. The student books are categorized by genre, and you can click the book covers on those pages to read more recommendations on I’m working to add links to the audio CD versions of those books so you can differentiate instruction for your struggling readers. The audio versions will also save you time because you can listen to them to preview the books before using them with your class.

Collaborate and Share
What’s your favorite book for Literature Circles? If you would like to help add to the growing collection of teacher recommendations, click this Google Doc link to share your favorite title with us. From time to time, I’ll update the pages with new book titles, and I may use your suggestions to create a downloadable list of recommendations. Click here to sign up for my free Candler's Classroom Connections newsletter to be sure you're notified of new resources on this topic.

Good luck with Literature Circles! I hope these resources help you and your students enjoy the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, making this an enjoyable and stress-free time in the classroom!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Favorite Books for November

As it gets dark earlier and the temperature drops, Fall is a great time to cozy up with a good book and a cup of steaming hot chocolate.

To help you stock up outstanding books to share with your students this month, I’d like to mention a few of my own class favorites for Thanksgiving and Veterans day. I'll also tell you why I recommend them so highly. Then, if you’d like to read more reviews, detailed descriptions or purchase the book, you can click on the title or cover image, and you'll go right to it on Amazon where you can get more information! I also recommend that you locate your books several weeks in advance of the lesson so you can read them and make sure they are right for your class.

Thank You, Sarah: the Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving By Laurie Halse Anderson and Matt Faulkner

This is a wonderful book about the history of Thanksgiving in the United States and how Sarah Hale helped make it a national holiday. This book is great for teaching students about the "power of the pen" and how one person can make a difference.

If You Were At the First Thanksgiving By Anne Kamma

This is a great nonfiction book organized in a question and answer format. It provides information about the first Thanksgiving as well as information about how the Pilgrims lived when they first came to America.

Oh, What a Thanksgiving! By Steven Kroll and S. D. Schindler

This is an excellent book for comparing and contrasting Thanksgiving today with the traditions observed by the Pilgrims.

'Twas the Night before Thanksgiving By Dav Pilkey 

This hilarious book takes the form of a long, illustrated poem with a single stanza on each page. While the stanzas are similar to the traditional Christmas poem, the story is anything but traditional! Your students will love the surprise ending!

The Wall By Eve Bunting and Ronald Himler

This is an excellent book to read to students when discussing Veteran's Day. It's a touching story about a boy who travels to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with his father to seek out his grandfather's name.

I hope you enjoy sharing these with your students as much as I do. They are a great way to foster a warm holiday spirit in the classroom. You can also find activities for many of these books in my November Activities from Teaching Resources Mini Pack.

Don't forget to pick up a few marshmallows for the hot chocolate! Yum!

If you have a favorite book for November, I hope you will leave a comment with your book recommendation here, too.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thankful Writing Craftivity

Writing Project Makes Thanksgiving Extra Special!

November is finally here, and what better time to think of all of the things we are thankful for? "Things I'm Thankful For" may seem trite and overdone as a writing topic, but we can never overdo the message of learning to show appreciation for the people and things that make our lives rich and fulfilling.

Fortunately, this topic also makes a great first expository essay for upper elementary students because it's so easy to organize and write. Yes, it does involve "formula" writing, but I believe in starting out with one formulaic essay to teach students an easy way to organize their thoughts into a coherent paper. I loved having my students write about the people and things they were thankful for because it helped them focus on the positives in their lives, and their final essays made a nice gift to their families on Thanksgiving Day. After my students wrote the final drafts of their papers, they stapled them into a folder made from a large sheet of colored construction paper. Each student decorated a cover and glued it on to the front of his or her folder to create a special keepsake. If you really want to turn this activity into a full fledged "craftivity," provide plenty of time and lots of creative materials for students to use when decorating their Thanksgiving folders to take home.  Having students add a small photo and the date is a nice touch because many families will treasure this special gift and keep it for many years.

Thankful Writing Freebie
My "Thankful Writing" activity became a yearly tradition because it was such a terrific writing activity, and it was so appreciated by my students' families. Because it worked so well for me, I wrote up the complete directions to share with others as a freebie. It's my little gift and my way of showing my appreciation for the many educators who have shared so much with me through the years. The packet includes complete directions, a graphic organizer for brainstorming, and directions for introducing students to expository writing. You can download it from my Seasonal Page on Teaching Resources or from my TpT store.

Tips for Success
In addition to what I wrote in the Thankful Writing freebie, I would like to share a few additional tips:
  1. Revising - I believe that the first step in the revision process should be a self-check completed by students. You can download a free Thankful Writing Revision Checklist to have your students complete before they revise their papers and write a second draft.
  2. Timing - Start on this activity right away, especially if your students have not written an expository essay before. You'll be surprised at how much time it takes to brainstorm ideas, teach them the format, write the first draft, revise and edit it, and create the final draft. You'll also want to allow plenty of time for students to decorate their folders. 
  3. Grading - My other tip concerns grading the project. If you are going to spend several weeks on it, you'll probably need to grade it. To do this, I made a copy of the essay for myself so that I could make comments on it without marking up the one that went to parents. I felt that since this was their first expository essay, it was more of a learning activity than an assessment so I tended to grade it very leniently. Most of my comments and feedback took place during the writing conference so my final grade ended up being more of a participation grade than anything else.
If you haven't used this activity before, I hope you'll consider adding it to your repertoire of November lessons. The day before Thanksgiving, provide time for students to share their final writing projects with their classmates before they bring them home to present to their families. You'll find this to be a nice way to end the day before you send them off for the holidays!

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