May 24, 2012

School Sticks for Summer Fun!

Guest blog post by Adrianne Meldrum of The Tutor House

The end of the school year is fast approaching.  You and your students are plain worn out on school.  Even though this may be the case, it's still important for your students to keep studying over the summer.  We don't want them to forget that valuable information you worked so hard to get in their brains!

Sometimes parents ask suggestions from you about what they can do over the summer. I am sure many of you have a list of things you tell parents. Maybe you just tell them to get a summer work book, get some flash cards, etc.

As a parent, I've looked at those options for keeping their skills sharp over the summmer.  Honestly though, they are just plain boring and unrewarding to work on during the summer. I've spent some time pondering on what I am going to do this summer to help my children retain their skills.

Chore Sticks
Recently, we added a new item to our house called Chore Sticks. They have saved the day around here!  My kids have taken more responsibility and our house is much calmer. How can I make Chore Sticks work in a similar way for my children to get school like work done as well?

I visited Whatever DeeDee Wants to remind myself how her version of Chore Sticks works. After a little thought and planning, I jumped into making two weeks worth of School Sticks. The results are so fun and easy to implement. Parents can get involved, or if they are working, most tasks can be completed by the child at home.

School Sticks
I came up with three areas for these School Sticks:  Reading, Writing, and Math. The math I made sure to align with the Common Core Standards. For this first set of School Sticks, I geared them towards grades 3-6. There is a bit of assembly involved. You'll need jumbo craft sticks, Mod Podge, scissors, a paper cutter, and a color printer. Basically, you print out the School Sticks, cut out, and Mod Podge them onto the sticks. Click this link to download the free School Sticks shown on the right.

Implementing School Sticks
A general rule for using School Sticks is to assign the child to read 30 minutes a day and do 2-3 sticks a day for 5 days a week. By using these sticks, children will have an opportunity to work on their math using items around the house like playing cards. When they draw a writing stick, they may get to write a list, directions, or make a cover for a book (just to name a few). The reading sticks are just as helpful! They'll practice a little bit of phonics, silly read aloud prompts, and grammar.

Where to Get These Materials
You can download two weeks of School Sticks for free right now!  Also, I've put together an entire page on my blog just about Summer Helps. This page has videos and links to other great resources. I made a flyer that you can attach to an email and send out to parents and or that you can just print and hand out on the last day.

Keeping a child's skills sharp will be fun and easy with these School Sticks. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Adrianne Meldrum currently tutors struggling readers and middle school math students.  She is the author of, a blog about tips and mini-lessons for tutors.  She is the the mother of three handsome boys and the wife of a civil engineer.

May 22, 2012

On to the Next Project: Mastering Math Facts!

photo of Mastering Math Facts
Now that Graphic Organizers for Reading is finished, I'm ready to move on to my next project! Today I'm excited to begin the process of revising and editing Mastering Math Facts: Multiplication and Division. I wrote this book three years ago, and it's an excellent program for ensuring times table mastery. This isn't the time or place for me to get on my multiplication mastery soapbox, but research backs the view that math fact mastery is critical for future math success. If students don't learn their times tables fluently, they will begin falling behind in 5th grade and will struggle to catch up to their peers. Enough said for now!

Anyway, I know that  Mastering Math Facts is an excellent program, but I also know that the book could use the magic touch of a professional editor! The publishing team at Brigantine Media did an outstanding job with Power Reading Workshop and Graphic Organizers for Reading, so I'm excited to be working with them on this project. We plan to have Mastering Math Facts available in print form by October at the latest. As a side note, the book is still available in digital form for a discounted price, and anyone who purchases the current version will get a free upgrade to the professionally-edited one in the fall. Visit Teaching Resources to download a preview and learn more.

Feedback Requested!
All of my print books from Brigantine Media are stamped with the words, "Field Tested ~ Teacher Approved," and I don't take those words lightly! Thousands of teachers have been using Mastering Math Facts over the last three years, and I would love their feedback as I begin the revision process. If you have been using this program with your students, I invite you to fill out the Mastering Math Facts Feedback Google Doc form I created to compile feedback. Also, I'm seeking a few volunteers who would be willing to give me ongoing feedback through the revision process. The last question on the form asks if you are interested in participating in a discussion group for that purpose. Please answer "Yes" if interested, and within the next few days I'll review the results of the feedback form and select individuals who seem to be a good fit for this project. I will be limiting participation in the group to those who have been using the materials with their students because they are the ones most likely to know what needs to be revised, added, or eliminated.

Do you have a system for ensuring that your students learn their times tables? What strategies have worked for you? What websites and other resources have you found to be helpful?

May 20, 2012

Graphic Organizers Book Finally in Print!

photo of Graphic Organizers for Reading
Yesterday morning I was working on my back deck and I heard the doorbell ring. It was 8:30 a.m. and I was expecting a very special package, so I jumped up and ran to the door. Sure enough, there was a sizable box from Brigantine Media on my doorstep, and I knew it was a case of books. Yeah! I quickly cut through the tape and pulled out the top copy of Graphic Organizers for Reading: Teaching Tools Aligned with the Common Core. Wow! What is it about holding a print copy that makes a book seem so much more real than a digital copy? All those weeks and months of hard work had finally paid off! My self-published book was good, but this one was so much better!

One reason I wanted to share this news is that many of you have already ordered Graphic Organizers for Reading and you'll be excited to know that your print copy should be on its way to you now. The books are being shipped Media Mail so you should have your copy by the end of the week. All print books are sold with a free digital copy, so hopefully you received that version when you made your purchase.

If you are interested in learning more, please visit my Teaching Resources website where you can download a free sample of the book and watch a video walk through in which I explain some very unique features. Don't forget that if you are newsletter subscriber, you can get 20% off any of my ebooks using a special discount code. You can sign up at and follow the links in the welcome message to find that code.

Finally, I want to thank Neil Raphel and  Janis Raye, the publishers, as well as Jacob Grant, the artist and book designer, for their hard work and patience with me. After all the hours of working on this book together, it was so gratifying for me to finally hold the finished product. I know that this professionally-edited and designed version of Graphic Organizers for Reading was definitely the result of a team effort, and I'm grateful to them for transforming my words into something really special.

May 16, 2012

Classroom Awards Make Kids Feel Special!

Classroom Awards Tips and Freebies!

Most schools have some sort of award program at the end of the year to recognize students for achieving the Honor Roll, having perfect attendance, or excelling in other areas. Most of my students received an award, but there were always some who didn't receive anything at all. Typically these children were the very ones who had struggled all year and who were facing difficulties and a lack of parent support. I couldn't help but feel sorry for them.

So I decided that our classroom would have its own awards program and that every student would get some type of award. I was not trying to diminish the importance of the schoolwide awards, but simply to acknowledge that all of my students were special in some way and deserving of some type of award.

A Unique Award for Each Student
I worked with the class to brainstorm a list of unique awards such as, "Super Reader Award," "Sharing & Caring Award," and "Animal Care Expert." We chose not to include silly things like "Class Clown" because we wanted everyone to feel valued and appreciated. The students nominated their classmates for these awards, but I always made the final decision for each award and kept it a secret until the last day of school. Here's a list of some of the awards we came up with.

I invited the parents to come to my classroom immediately following the school award program for a special celebration. I showed them a short video of pictures I had taken throughout the year and then I announced each award and presented it to the deserving student. I loved seeing them beam with pride when they came up to receive their certificates!

I hope you'll consider having a Class Award Program for your students. I've written out exactly how I set up my program, but feel free to modify it for your own needs. You can find all the materials described below on my Seasonal Page on Teaching Resources

Classroom Award Program Suggestions
    photo of Classroom Award Nomination Form
  1. Display the list of Classroom Awards shown above and brainstorm additional ideas that are specific to your classroom. Add your classroom ideas to the bottom of the list.
  2. Give each student a Classroom Award Nomination Form which is nothing more than a class roster with room to write in the award nominations. It saves time if you write in your students' names before you duplicate the copies for your students.
  3. Keep the list of Classroom Awards posted while students write in at least one award nomination for each student. I required them to write something for every single student, even themselves, and I asked them to circle their own name on the form. If they insisted that they couldn't think of something for a certain classmate, I told them they could make up an award. You may have to provide a few minutes of time for this each day over several days because this step does take time.
  4. Collect the completed Classroom Award Nomination Forms and look through them to see if anyone was nominated over and over for the same award. Print a blank copy of the Nomination Form for yourself and begin writing in the award that you feel is most appropriate for each student. 
  5. After you have filled out the Nomination Form with your award choices, print one Classroom Award Certificate for each student and fill them out with the necessary information. I've created two variations of this form and they are both in black and white and color. You can download all four forms from Teaching Resources. Before you duplicate them for the class, you may want to write in the date of the awards program and sign the master certificate. Print an extra form or two in case you accidentally leave out a student or make an error on one of the forms.
  6. Invite parents to your classroom immediately before or after your school awards program. Present each award individually with great fanfare and let your students know just how special you think they are!

By the way, thanks to Michelle Walker of the Creative Classroom blog for the cute yellow border I used on the awards certificate and to Artifex Clipart for the adorable characters on the award list!

Do you present special awards to your students at the end of the year? If so, what are some of the Classroom Awards that you present? Please leave a comment to let us know!

May 9, 2012

Green Court Claims Freebie

Common Core Aligned for Reading Informational Text and all Speaking & Listening Standards

About a month ago, I shared a special activity I developed for Earth Day called Green Court Claims. You can read my blog post, "Green Companies? Let the Jury Decide!" for a full explanation of the activity. For now, I'll just share that students investigate companies' claims that their products are "green" or earth-friendly. Students research the facts behind the claim, discuss the arguments on both sides, and present those claims to their classmates. Their classmates become the jury and decide whether those claims are valid in order to reach a verdict. You'll find everything you need in this free lesson packet on my Science page on Teaching Resources. You'll find the Common Core Alignment details at the back of the packet.

The first time I shared Green Court Claims, it was completely untested in the classroom. The only reason I shared it without testing it was because Earth Day was fast approaching and I felt it would be a perfect activity for that special day. So I asked a few bloggers to test out the lesson with their students, and Mandy Neal of Teaching with Simplicity immediately offered to try it with her 4th grade class. I was excited to learn that her class loved it, and that she felt it was a really worthwhile experience for them. You can read about their green claim investigations in her blog post, "You Be the Judge."  After I was assured that everything worked out as planned, I compiled all the directions and student printables in one packet to share with you.

You'll find this activity along with loads of other free materials on my Teaching Resources Science page. Even if you don't teach science, I think this lesson would make a terrific class activity for a study of propaganda, or an excellent jumping-off point for a lesson on writing persuasive essays. If you use the lesson, I'd love for you to return and leave a comment to share how it worked for you. What "green" claims have you read or seen recently that you suspect are not particularly friendly to the environment? When you start looking for them, they are easy to find!

Laura Candler
Teaching Resources

May 7, 2012

Create Mother's Day Word Clouds

Why not have your students create Wordles, or Word Clouds, for their moms for Mother's Day? You can use the directions in this Character Word Cloud freebie but instead of having your students create them for a book character, they can use words that describe moms.

Make sure they understand that the more times they write a word, the larger it appears in the word cloud. So if they want to have the word "Mom" or "Mother" as the largest word, they should type it many more times than the other words. Use the directions in this freebie to have them create a Word Cloud, but instead of the usual character trait words, have them think of words to describe mothers, such as loving, thoughtful, resourceful, and so on. You might even want to begin the lesson with a short brainstorming session to generate a list of words and have students choose no more than 8 to 10 for their final product.

The end result might look like the Wordle on the right. Your students could print it and include in a card or use it to create a laminated placemat or other project. Be sure to check their work for spelling errors before you allow them to print it!

You can download the Character Word Cloud freebie from my TeachersPayTeachers store. You can also find my free Mother's Day Coupons there. I hope you enjoy both of these resources!

Laura Candler
Teaching Resources

May 4, 2012

Task Cards 101

Today I'm trading blogs with Rachel Lynette of Minds in Bloom. I wrote a blog post for her on Cooperative Math Problem Solving, and she wrote this one for me! She's the task card queen, so I asked her to share some tips for using task cards effectively. You'll love these strategies! 

Have you been  hearing a lot about task cards lately, but are unsure about how to utilize them  in your classroom? Well, then I have some good news for you! First, it is easier than you might think, and second, once you start using them, you and your students will be hooked!

A task card is exactly what it sounds like: a card with a task on it. Task cards come in sets so that you can target a specific skill, standard, or subject area. One way to think of task cards is as an alternative to worksheets. Student rarely get excited about worksheets, but they love task cards! The one-task-per-card format keeps students from being overwhelmed and allows them to feel a small sense of accomplishment as they complete each card.

Bright, colorful, and laminated, they are appealing both visually and tactilely. Further, they save paper, big time! Copy and laminate once, use for years. Students answer on a single answer sheet, notebook paper, or even individual white boards.

Here is a free set of Antonym Task Cards so you can see for yourself. This is a set for Grades 4 -6, and if you need something easier, you can download the free set for Grades 2 and 3.

How to Use Task Cards
So, now that you know how awesome task cards can be, how can you use them with your students? That is where the fun begins. Task cards are much more versatile than worksheets and can be used in a variety of ways. Here are three options:
  1. Learning Centers - One of the most popular ways to use task cards is at centers. Students can use sets individually or in groups by passing the cards around. You may also want to have students work in partners with one partner checking the other partner's answer. If you provide an answer key, students can self-check their work. Another option is to write the answer directly on the back of each card.
  2. Independent Work - Students could also work individually by taking a set of card to their desks, or even home as homework. This can be an ideal option for your high-end students who might need a little extra challenge as well as for your struggling students who need more practice with a given skill. Task cards make differentiation easy because you can decide which set is appropriate for each of your students.
  3. Whole Class - Another way to use task cards is with your entire class. You could display cards one at a time on the document camera and have students answer on white boards. Have students hold up their boards so that you can scan the room to be sure everyone is answering correctly. You could also put one card on each student's desk and have students rotate with clipboards, completing each task as they move around the room (one version of this is the game Scoot). Allowing students to randomly select a card to complete is a great way to use cards that have longer tasks - such as writing prompts.

Want to learn more about using task cards? Please download my free Task Card Handbook. It has everything you need to know in one handy resource!

Ready to try using them in your classroom? You can download a variety of free task cards sets from my Totally Task Cards blog free resources page.

What is your favorite way to use task cards? Please share with a comment.

Rachel Lynette is the author of the Minds in Bloom blog as well as over 100 nonfiction books for children of all ages. You can find more task cards as well as many other highly rated teaching materials on her blog.