February 29, 2012

Are You as Lucky as a Leprechaun?

Did you ever stop to think how lucky you are? You might, but your students may not. Here's a fun freebie for St. Patrick's Day or Dr. Seuss's birthday, March 2nd.

Ask your students if they think they are lucky, and allow time for sharing. If anyone says that they are NOT lucky, it's time to read aloud one of Dr. Seuss's classics, Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? By the end of the book, everyone will be giggling, and it will be easy for them to discuss just how lucky we really are!

Next, give students the Lucky as a Leprechaun activity page and ask them to fill up the pot of gold by writing things that make them feel lucky. How about caring friends, a warm place to sleep at night, and the skills they’ve learned? Be sure to provide time for students to share what they wrote with team members or with classmates.

Check out the March Activities Pack for Upper Elementary!
This Lucky as a Leprechaun freebie is a sample from my March Activities Pack for upper elementary students. This resource includes over two dozen pages of lessons, activities and ready-to-use printables for special days in March, including Read Across America Day, St. Patrick's Day, Pi Day, and Spring! You can preview the packet from the March Activities product page on TpT.

I hope you and your students enjoy these resources for March. Never forget how lucky you are!

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 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 11, 2012

Bio Poems for President's Day

Integrating Social Studies and Literacy  

Presidents Day is celebrated in February, so it's the perfect time to have your students write President Bio Poems! This lesson is also a great way to sneak a little research and creative writing into your social studies curriculum!

Bio Poems Made Easy is a free teaching resource that I created several years ago to teach students how to write bio poems about themselves, and it can easily be adapted and used in many different content areas. This freebie includes complete directions for the basic poetry writing assignment, as well as two graphic organizers for brainstorming and planning. For this activity, I created a special President Bio Poem graphic organizer with the specific categories needed for this assignment.

Tip: It's best to have your students write bio poems about themselves prior to the President Bio Poems lesson so they will be familiar with the bio poem format.

President Bio Poems
Before this lesson, download and print one copy of the free President Bio Poem graphic organizer for each student, and write the names of well-known presidents on slips of paper.

To start the lesson, ask each student to draw out the name of a president and write that name on the line at the top of the graphic organizer. Follow the suggested lesson plan described in Bio Poems Made Easy, but tell your students they will be writing bio poems about their presidents instead of about themselves. They will start by filling out the boxes on the graphic organizer using information they learn through research. This task involves quite a bit of higher level thinking, because students not only have to gather information, they have to analyze what they've learned to decide where to write their facts. Specifically, they will be searching for information in these categories:
  • Adjectives that Describe the President
  • Who lived... (where? when? details about childhood)
  • Who said.... (famous quote)
  • Who cared about....
  • Who was determined to....
  • Who refused to....
  • Who made a difference by . . . 
  • Who is remembered for....

President Bio Poems - Lesson Variations
Completing the graphic organizer might be a bit of a challenge for some kids, so you may want to let your students work in partners. They can each conduct their own research and then collaborate to complete the form and write the poem. After students complete their poems, they can also create "word clouds" to display with their poetry. Be sure to allow time for students to share with the class!

Presidents Day Spelling Trivia
By the way, did you know that Presidents Day is not the official name of the holiday? It's actually George Washington's Birthday! Over time, the public began to refer to the holiday as one that honored all the presidents which has caused confusion about its correct spelling. Many refer to it as Presidents Day (without an apostrophe), but others insist that the plural possessive form, Presidents' Day, is the correct way to spell it because it refers to more than one president. But does it? If the holiday officially honors George Washington, maybe it should be the singular possessive form, President's Day! How do YOU spell this holiday? The good news is that whatever spelling you use, no one can say that you're wrong!

February 3, 2012

Heartfelt Causes & Effects

Heartfelt Causes and Effects is a literacy lesson with free printables to use when reading one of my favorite books, Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch. Having kids fill out the rocket-themed Cause and Effect graphic organizer is a great way to teach them how their words and actions affect others. Perfect Valentine's Day activity!
Last week I read an adorable book called Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch. I couldn't believe that it was published over 20 years ago! It's about a lonely man who receives a Valentine candy heart with a card that says, "Somebody loves you." His whole demeanor changes and, as a result, he develops many friendships. But then he finds out that the candy heart was a mistake, and he reverts to his former quiet self. Of course the story has a happy ending, but you'll have to read the book to find out what happens!

Anyway, as I was reading the book, I thought about how our words and actions can impact others in both positive and negative ways. A smile or a kind word can go a long way to brighten someone's day. I wanted to create a reading lesson to go along with the story, and I thought it would be the perfect text for exploring cause and effect - both in the book and in our own lives.

Heartfelt Causes and Effects is a literacy lesson with free printables to use when reading one of my favorite books, Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch. Having kids fill out the rocket-themed Cause and Effect graphic organizer is a great way to teach them how their words and actions affect others. Perfect Valentine's Day activity!So I created the Heartfelt Causes & Effects graphic organizer from the Cause and Effects Rocket graphic organizer in my newest ebook, Graphic Organizers for Reading: Teaching Tools Aligned with the Common Core. First, students find three different cause and effect situations in the story. Then they write each cause on one rocket's flame and its effect on the body of the rocket. The rocket theme helps them understand cause and effect relationships because the exhaust (or flame) released from the end of the rocket makes the rocket move forward.

In addition to creating the graphic organizer, I wrote a complete lesson for using Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch with your students. Click the title of the book to find it on Amazon where you can review the reviews and learn more about it. Download the entire lesson with printables from the Seasonal page on Teaching Resources during February or any time of the year from Laura's Best Freebies, a page with over 75 freebies of my very best free resources for teachers. I hope you enjoy the lesson!

Disclaimer: This post includes an Amazon affiliate links at no cost to you.