April 30, 2012

Fun Twist on Book Reports!


Five Looks on a Book is a simple and fun activity that offers a nice twist on the traditional book report. Students name five adjectives that describe their book and then write one supporting detail for each adjective. You can download this freebie from my Reading Workshop page on Teaching Resources.


The original idea for the activity came from 3rd grader Adrienne Duarte, and I created the graphic organizer to go with her idea. When I first shared this activity online, Facebook fans helped me brainstorm adjectives to describe books. We came up with 99 different adjectives, and Stephanie Schifini compiled and alphabetized the list. Thanks, Adrienne and Stephanie!

If you use this activity with students, I would recommend having students brainstorm adjectives for books before showing them your list of 99 adjectives. In fact, why not make it a challenge? Tell them that you have a list of 99 adjectives and you want to see if they can come up with a list of 99 adjectives without looking at your list!  

Post a large sheet of paper on a bulletin board and allow students to add adjectives throughout the week. When they have found as many as possible, reveal your words and compare the two lists. After students complete their worksheets, arrange them on the bulletin board around the poster. Title the board, "Take A Look!" and you've just created an instant bulletin board display!

Five Looks on a Book is such a quick and easy activity that you could easily repeat it several times throughout the year, or even once a month. You can download this 3-page freebie from my Reading Workshop page on Teaching Resources. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

April 29, 2012

Move to Learn in Science!

Brain research supports the need for students to get plenty of movement throughout the day - but that's something every teacher knows! In Teaching with the Brain in Mind, Eric Jensen states, "Brain-compatible learning means that educators should weave math, movement, geography, social skills, role play, science, and physical education together."

I completely agree, and that's why I enjoyed using simulations and role-playing games in my classroom. One day my students were stuck inside due to the winter weather, and I made up a game where the kids pretended to be molecules and they moved according to the changes in states of matter. We reviewed the three states of matter, and I used water in my examples:
  • Solids - Molecules are tightly packed and move slowly, staying in a rigid formation. (Ice would be an example of matter in a solid state.)
  • Liquids - As solid matter is heated, the addition of energy causes molecules to move more quickly and spread apart. (Water is a liquid.)
  • Gases - With the addition of more heat, the molecules move even faster and pread even farther apart. (Steam is the gaseous form of water.)
Here's a simple visual I found online:

States of Matter Game
To start the game, I asked everyone to stand up, find a spot on the floor, and then move as I guided them through the states of matter. One of the rules was that they couldn't touch anyone or anything as they moved, so I had them cross their arms across their chests to keep their bodies in a compact form.
  1. Solids - They started out bunched together in one part of the room, barely moving as they role-played molecules in the solid state. 
  2. Liquids - Then I told them they were getting warmer and they needed to increase their speed and spread out accordingly. 
  3. Gases -Finally, they became gas molecules and moved quickly but carefully all over the room. 
Anyone who touched something or someone had to sit out for a minute (mostly to calm down!). Click the image to download the directions.

Water Cycle Adaptation
The States of Matter game is easily adapted to have students role-play the water cycle. Tell them they are now molecules inside a water droplet.Then guide them through the processes of evaporation, condensation, and freezing. When they start evaporating, they become a gas so they need to spread out. As they cool down and condense to form clouds, they become liquid and move closer together. At that point you can have them become a liquid again as rain or tell them they are freezing to form snowflakes or solid particles of ice. Relate their movements to water's different states of matter during the water cycle.

More Water Cycle Resources

If  your students need extra practice with identifying examples of condensation, evaporation, and precipitation, check out my Water Cycle Combo on TpT. This product includes includes 32 task cards, a sorting activity, and a quiz.  Your kids will master these concepts in no time!


Move to Learn Link Up
Because I think movement is so important in learning, I was excited when Rachel Lynette posted her Move to Learn link up. I decided to write this blog post to share one of my favorite ways to get kids moving. Even if you aren't studying states of matter, the game works great as a 5-minute energizer. With younger kids, you can leave out the science terminology and just tell them to speed up and slow down according to your directions. My students always loved this one! Please visit Rachel's original blog post on this topic for more ideas about how to get kids up and moving to learn!






Mother's Day Coupons Freebie

As a 5th grade teacher, I often struggled with what to do for Mother's Day. I began my teaching career in middle school, and I never considered having my students do something for Mother's Day. When I moved to elementary school, I admired the cute arts and crafts projects that were on display in the primary grades, but I didn't feel I could devote hours of class time to this.

Later, I realized the importance of showing appreciation for others, and I began providing time for Mother's Day activities. Usually we tied this activity to a poetry lesson and the kids created poems for their moms. Then they wrote their poems inside of cards they designed themselves. At first they decorated their cards with crayons, but eventually I became more adventurous and brought out the water colors, scissors, glue, and sponge paints and gave them free reign to create a masterpiece! Even though it did take a bit of class time, the joy on their faces was well-worth the sacrifice in teaching time. This was a different type of lesson, but one that was just as important as math, science, and reading.

My students were so proud to be able to present a special gift to their mom, even if it was just a homemade card. As an extra touch, I encouraged them to create personalized coupons to slip inside their cards. Each coupon listed a special favor or something that the student was willing to do to show appreciation. Whether it be to wash her car, cook breakfast, or just give her a hug, they coupons were a nice touch, especially if the child did not have another gift to present. I've created a free set of coupons that you can print for your students, or you can display the coupons as examples for them to use when creating their own. The first set of coupons is in color, and the second set is in black and white. You could print the black and white ones and have students color the designs around the edges. You'll also find some blank templates in both black and white and color.

You can download this freebie from my TeachersPayTeachers store. If you like this item, please take a moment to rate it and leave a comment for me. Thanks!



April 25, 2012

Super Math Centers Link Up

Do you use math centers in your classroom? If not, maybe you have some of the concerns I felt before I tried them. Frankly, I was intimidated at the thought of having to create center games and materials. I also envisioned a level of chaos I knew I couldn't tolerate in my classroom. Finally, I was so busy planning for my whole group and cooperative learning math lessons that I couldn't figure out how to add math centers to the mix.

Then one day I attended a workshop on implementing math centers, and within an hour I was hooked! I had several big "ah-ha" moments at that workshop:

  • Without using centers, I wasn't truly differentiating math instruction. Yes, I was actively engaging my students with hands-on activities and cooperative learning lessons. However, my struggling students weren't getting extra help and my gifted students weren't really being challenged. 
  • Math center activities don't have to be elaborate, expensive, or time-consuming. Math A math center can be as simple as a packet of directions and materials. Students take the packet to their desks or to a spot on a rug and work alone or with a partner. That's it!  
  • The secret to super math centers is organization! I also learned the importance of establishing procedures and making sure students knew what was expected of them. I realized that I needed to learn how to create math center activities, how to store materials, how to have students record their work, what assignments to grade, and so on.  

Baby Steps with Math Centers
So in typical fashion, I did a little planning and then jumped right in! Because I was teaching upper elementary students, I chose to use the term "math stations," but I now use the terms "stations" and "centers" interchangeably. Taking baby steps with the concept, I created some simple math games and developed the storage system you see on the right. It's nothing more than a sweater organizer with center materials on each shelf. I divided my math class in half - 30 minutes for whole group instruction (using cooperative learning) and 30 minutes of math centers. In general, students worked on the activities in pairs which left me free to teach a small group or work one-on-one with students who needed extra help. 

What happened next amazed me! Instead of creating chaos in the classroom as I had imagined. I discovered that centers helped my students become even more focused on math instruction! They enjoyed the social aspects of working together and helping each other, and it was obvious that they were very much on task and learning. Students who had been frustrated and discouraged in math suddenly became relaxed and confident. 

It took some time for me to figure out the best way to organize and manage math centers, so I created a page called Math Centers and Stations on Teaching Resources to share these ideas.You can also find free math center games on that page as well as on this blog. Lately I've discovered that many other teachers have great resources for math centers, so I created the Link Up below as a place where others can share ideas. I hope you enjoy these resources!



April 7, 2012

Try This When Kids Are Absent!

Doesn't it drive you crazy when kids are absent for several days and you have to gather up a list of assignments they need to complete? Even though I know it's usually not their fault for being absent, it's one more management task to add to my already full load. Let's not even mention the times I've had to do this for students whose families take trips to Disney World in the middle of the school year!

I developed this assignment make up form to make my job a little easier when kids are absent. You can download it from the
Classroom Management page on Teaching Resources. Here's how I used it:


  1. Each day that a student was absent, I placed this form on his or her desk. 
  2. I assigned a student in the same team to write down any classwork or homework assignments on the chart at the bottom. 
  3. If I handed out a graphic organizer or worksheet to complete, I asked the student helper to paperclip it to the back of this form and write the title of the assignment on the front. 
  4. When the absent student returned, he or she was given the packet of make-up work which included due dates. 
  5. As each assignment was turned in, I checked it off and initialed that it was completed. I kept the final form for my own records.
  6. If a student was particularly forgetful or irresponsible, I made a copy of this form before giving it to the child. In the event that the make-up work was not turned in on time, this form was my proof to the parent that I did provide the child with a list of assignments to complete.
  7. If students were absent more than one day, I completed prepared a separate form for each day. In fact, I just kept a stack of these forms in my paper organizer because someone was absent almost every day. 
This system worked great for me because it was an easy way to make sure that I didn't accidentally overlook an assignment. It also helps to keep the student organized and parents love it. If a student does not complete the make-up work, they can't claim that I never told them about it because the proof is right on the form! 

What is your favorite system for making sure students complete work after they are absent?


April 5, 2012

Bye Bye AR Freebies!

Does your school use the Accelerated Reader program? I used it for almost 2 decades and was a fan of the program for many years. Back when AR was introduced, it was not available online so each school had to purchase tests and upload them to their school servers. It seemed that we never had enough tests, so I was always writing new ones. Over the years, I created a huge bank of teacher-made tests and other printables to go with the program, and I created an AR page on Teaching Resources where I could share these resources. One example is the AR Point Record form show here that my students used when working to earn 100 AR points.

Unfortunately, after many years of using the program, I realized that a steady diet of AR might have some unintended side effects. It became clear that kids were reading to earn points and prizes, and it wasn't motivating most of them to enjoy reading for the sake of reading. I saw it happening to my students, and I finally faced the truth when I talked to my own daughters about why they didn't enjoy reading. Both of them were completely turned off by the pressure to read AR books, rack up points, and earn high scores on tests.

During my last year of teaching, I completely abandoned the AR program in favor of the Reading Workshop approach, and I saw a dramatic difference in my students' feelings about reading. They began to love reading and they made excellent progress on their state exams, even without AR. I loved Reading Workshop so much that I eventually wrote a book about it - Power Reading Workshop: A Step-by-Step Guide.

Because of my change of heart regarding AR, I've struggled with whether or not to remove those teacher-made tests and other materials from my website. Although I no longer wanted to promote AR, I knew that many people still liked the program or were required to use it, and they enjoyed my free resources. So I left that page online .... until now.

A few days ago I received an email from an intellectual property rights lawyer stating that I was not properly crediting Renaissance Learning with owning the trademarks for AR and Accelerated Reader. The lawyer wrote that I must include a statement on my home page and on every page where I reference AR with a statement saying that AR and Accelerated Reader are registered trademarks of Renaissance Learning, Inc. On my home page? I think not! For now, I have added the proper credits to the Accelerated Reading page and I'm leaving it in place for a few more days so that anyone who needs those materials can download them. Better download those freebie now if you want them!


However, at the end of the day on April 10th I will remove all Accelerated Reader content from my website. It was a step that I probably needed to take because one of the top Google search terms for my site has been "AR test answers." Hmm.... I'm quite sure that those searches are not by educators! So I'm actually glad for receiving the nudge I needed to remove those resources from my site. By the way, did I remember to properly credit Renaissance Learning in this blog post? In case I didn't make it crystal clear, AR and Accelerated Reader are registered trademarks of Renaissance Learning, Inc. I wouldn't want anyone to think that I was profiting from the company's trademarked resources - especially since all my AR resources were free.

Do you use AR in your classroom? What are your thoughts about the program? Have you seen it used effectively? If so, what made the program effective? If you don't think it's effective, what caused you to feel this way? Let's all be respectful in voicing our opinions. I know this can be a hot topic!