February 25, 2012

Studying with a Buddy Makes Test Prep Fun!

I've never been one to spend months teaching test prep strategies, but I also feel we're doing kids a disservice if we don't prepare them in some way for state testing. A teacher once told me that she considers testing to be a genre, just like fables, science fiction, or poetry. That's just how she presented it to her students, too. She shares strategies to put her students at ease so they feel confident and competent about being able to "show what they know."

When I was teaching, I felt the same way. I wanted to be sure that my students were ready to tackle any test and give it their best. So I came up with a strategy that I call Buddy Test Prep that's both fun for students as well as highly effective. I only used it for a week or two before our state tests, but it definitely produced results!

For the Buddy Test Prep activity, students follow a specific set of steps, first working alone, then with a partner, and finally with the class. They use a special color-coding system to show whether each answer is their own work or was arrived at with the help of a partner. To make the 3 steps easy to follow, I created a set of student directions (below) that you can display with a computer and a projector. I also included a half-sheet recording form for your convenience.

Download this free Buddy Test Prep activity packet from my Teaching Resources store on TeachersPayTeachers.com or by clicking one of the links in this blog post. If you are going to spend a week or more practicing test prep strategies, why not make it fun for you and your students?

February 24, 2012

Win with Spelling City!

If you love SpellingCity.com, you'll want to read this blog post to learn about a fun cooperative learning freebie and a chance to win a premium membership there! If you don't know about Spelling City, prepare to be amazed!

Spelling City has tons of terrific free resources, but I'll bet you don't know about all they have to offer! Yes, the program is set up to allow you to enter your own words for students to practice and use in games, but there's so much more available on the site as well! In fact, this year the site was officially renamed VocabularySpellingCity.com to show the full range of their features and services.

Cooperative Learning Meets Technology! (Freebie)
Many teachers are already aware of the free spelling activities, but did you know that they have a sentence-writing activity, too? This feature allows your students to use your own spelling words to create  sentences and paragraphs online. I thought this activity was such a nice feature that I created a cooperative learning lesson to use as a prewriting activity before your students get on the computer. We've all experienced temporary brain freeze when sitting in front of a blank computer screen. The Spell & Write Sentences activity combats this problem by having them create sentences orally with a cooperative learning team before they ever sit down to type. The packet includes step-by-step directions for the computer part of the activity, too, so you can use it in a literacy center. The directions are different depending on whether or not you have a free account or a premium account, so I created two different sets of directions accordingly. Download this activity packet from my Spelling and Vocabulary page on Teaching Resources.

Premium Accounts on Spelling City
Speaking of their premium account, you might want to check out all the features they have to offer. Teachers can set up passwords so that students log in under their own names and the system tracks their data for you to access later. You can see who is practicing at home and how they are scoring on tests. Spelling City has graciously allowed me to give away one of their premium memberships here on Corkboard Connections, and the directions for entering are below.

Premium Membership Contest ($49.99 Value)
Are you ready to enter the Spelling City Premium Membership contest? Here's all you need to do:
  1. Follow the Corkboard Connections blog by RSS feed or by email. I'll announce the winner here, so you'll need to follow this blog to know if you win!
  2. Leave a comment below in which you share the word or words that are most frequently misspelled or misused in writing by your students.
Easy, right?  The contest will end on Leap Day, February 29th, at 8 p.m. EST. Don't miss out on your chance to win! If you don't win, you can take a look at a list of options for funding sources on the Spelling City site. Also, if you sign up for a premium account now and use code LCCC, you'll have your subscription extended through June 30, 2013. That's 4 extra months free! You can't beat that!

February 20, 2012

Create Easy Reading Mini Lessons

Did you know that you can create a mini lesson for just about any reading skill by using a simple 3-step process? All you need is a short read aloud text and a graphic organizer. On Sunday evening, I was interviewed by Charity Preston on Blog Talk Radio about my new Graphic Organizers for Reading book, and I shared how easy it is to create reading mini lessons with this method. In my example, I used the children's book Teacher from the Black Lagoon and the Cause & Effect Rockets graphic organizer my daughter Wendy helped me create. (She's the artistic one!) This is one of the graphic organizers in the book, but since I described it in the sample lesson, I wanted to be sure you could download your own copy. I also embedded the 15-minute recording of the Blog Talk Radio show below in case you'd like to listen to it.

You can find more information about Graphic Organizers for Reading on my Teaching Resources website. Enjoy the show!

Picture Perfect Teaching with Children's Books

By Debbie Clement, Guest Blogger

What a joy to share with you today from my perspective as a previous Elementary School Art teacher evolved now into an author/illustrator of picture books. My most successful author visits to schools unfold when teachers have directed their students to respond to my work prior to my arrival. It is a thrill to see the excitement of students who have ‘studied’ my style and are eager to share their efforts.

I believe that the correct picture book can address and illuminate all manner of educational learning standards and goals. The language arts may be the most obvious connection for the study of picture books by mature readers, yet the appropriate picture book may also easily direct studies of math, science, history, social studies and geography as well.

How can you find the right picture book? Here are some suggestions:
  • Select books based on the strength of their artistic style. In my art-room era, I selected picture books with strong graphics and design as well as those with vivid color, all of which lent themselves to study and interpretation by my students. The dramatic simplicity of Gerald McDermott’s art was always a hit with my upper elementary students. 
  • Search for picture books with a possibility of launching student discussion and creating writing exercises. 
  • Select picture books with an eye toward suitability/universality of subject matter comparing good vs. evil, right vs. wrong. These would make excellent source material to consider issues of bullying and diversity.
Take a look at this work created by third graders for my recent visit to their building in response to my INDIE Award of Excellence picture book winner, Red, White and Blue. Since all of my books' texts are based on original songs I’ve written and recorded, their guitars echoing notes on the staff were especially ingenious.

I’ll never forget the teacher who purchased my picture book, You’re Wonderful, for her eighth grade class. When I raised my eyebrow at the suitability of a picture book for mature junior high students, she quickly responded, “There is no shelf-life for issues of self-esteem. If ever there was a message I want my tween-agers to hear it is the text of your book.”

She went on to explain to me how in her role as math teacher she would have her students examine the geometry in my quilted illustrations. She shared scads of exciting projects that were unfurling in her mind as we shared possibilities. That’s when I realized the power of an enthusiastic teacher. There is potential everywhere.

Whether you infuse your week with the work of household names such as Patricia Polacco and Jane Yolen or reach for the work of Lynn Cherry, Paul Goble, Margaret Hodges, Jerdine Nolen, Joyce Carol Thomas or the lesser known Debbie Clement, you have the opportunity to infuse your ‘academic’ subjects with the Arts. Weaving together lessons to engage all learning styles and intelligence strengths will be certain to fortify the fabric of your classroom.

Debbie Clement is a former elementary school art teacher who now writes books and tours the country for speaking engagements, conferences, and author visits to schools. You can learn more about her books and materials on her Rainbows Within Reach blog. Debbie is an avid Pinterest fan with over 3,000 followers.

February 14, 2012

Fraction Spinners Freebie

I recently asked a question on my Teaching Resources Facebook about what teachers need right now, and several of you responded by asking for fraction activities. Fortunately, I have a whole page on my website devoted to fractions, and most items are free!

This Fraction Spinner set is one freebie you'll find there. It doesn't come with directions, so I decided to post a few ideas here and ask others to share their suggestions. There are actually 2 variations of the spinner; one has different denominators and the  other spinner has twelfths as the denominator for all fractions. I changed the image and heading on each spinner slightly so that if you use both of them, your students won't get mixed up.

Click to download these two spinners or go directly to the Fraction File Cabinet page to find them and other fraction freebies. Just print the spinner that's right for your class and use a paper clip and a pencil as shown on the directions.

Fraction Spinner Game Suggestions
What would you do with one of these fraction spinners? They're perfect for creating fraction center games or cooperative learning activities. I suggest having students play with a partner rather than in teams so they'll be more actively involved. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
  • Simplifying Fractions Game (Same Denominator Spinner) - Have students take turns spinning the spinner and recording the fraction. If it's already in lowest term, they score one point. If it needs to be simplified and they do it correctly, they score two points. If they think it's in lowest terms but it's not, they lose a point.
  • Adding or Subtracting Fractions Game - Students spin twice and record each fraction. They also flip a coin. If the coin lands on heads, they add the fractions and simplify. If the coin lands on tails, they subtract the smaller one from the larger one. Students score a point for each correct answer. Because there's no answer key, both players will have to work the problem or one can check with a calculator that handles fractions.
  • Comparing Fractions Game - Each student spins the spinner once and records his or her fraction. Players compare fractions and decide who has the larger fraction. The person with the larger fraction for that round wins a point. They continue playing until one person scores 10 points.
  • Ordering Fractions Game - Students spin the spinner 3 times and record all 3 fractions. They rearrange the fractions so that they are in order from least to greatest. If the other player agrees on the arrangement, the player scores a point. Continue playing until one person scores 10 points.
I love how easy it is to take a simple item like a fraction spinner and create lots of different math games. How would you use these spinners in your math class?

Teaching Resources 

February 13, 2012

Simple Steps to Classroom Book Publishing

Note: The free webinar referred to in this blog post has already taken place. You can view the recording on the Studentreasures page.

Did you know that you can have your class publish a book for free? Here's one that my class did a few years ago, and it's something that I will always treasure. So it's only fitting that the company that published our book is called Studentreasures! Each student created a page for the book and we mailed it off to be bound as a book. Parents have the option of ordering a copy, and those sales keep the project free for teachers. You can get more information and sign up to participate by visiting the Studentreasures website.

I love this project so much that I've offered to do a free webinar next month to share this information and take the mystery out of book publishing. I'll walk you through the entire process and show you just how easy it is to get involved. I'll also be joined by several other teachers who will be sharing their own tips. At the end of webinar we'll do a drawing for three $50 gift cards to Scholastic!

Simple Steps to Classroom Book Publishing will be held March 6th at 8 p.m. EST. Visit the registration page to sign up, even if you aren't sure you can attend the live session. We'll send you the recording if you miss it. However, you must be present if you hope to win one of the $50 gift cards! Registering for the webinar will also sign you up for my Candler's Classroom Connections newsletter, so you'll get an extra bonus if you aren't already receiving it! If you are interested in the class book publishing project, there's no need to wait for the webinar to get started. You can go straight to their website and sign up right now!

Laura Candler
Teaching Resources