January 24, 2013

February Freebies Galore!

Check out the February Freebies link up for free seasonal teaching resources!
February is such a fun month in elementary school, even in the upper elementary grades. You can do all sorts of activities with the holidays in February as well as create fun winter lessons. Learning doesn't have to be sacrificed in the name of fun, either, as you'll soon discover! Over the last few years, I've created loads of free resources for February that I'd like to share with you now.

You can find all of these freebies and more on my Seasonal Activities page during the month of February or my Laura's Best Freebies page all year round.

February Activities Mini Pack
This 25-page packet offers ready-to-use lessons and activities for February that foster higher level thinking while motivating students. Activities include math word problems, a candy heart fraction lesson, a friendship poetry activity, a word challenge, and directions for writing a President or Black History biography. The February Activities Mini Pack is offered for free as a sample of my Seasonal Activities Bundle. It's free for subscribers of Candler's Classroom Connections; click here to sign up for your free copy.

Chinese New Year Literacy Activities freebie - includes sorting activity and discussion cards.
Chinese New Year Activities
The Chinese New Year takes place in January during some years and in February during others. No matter when it occurs, you'll love these two literacy activities to use during this special event. Both were designed to be completed by kids working in cooperative learning teams, but they would work equally well with partners. The first lesson is a sorting activity in which cards with facts about the Chinese and American New Years are placed on a Venn diagram. The second involves discussion cards to use with Sam and the Lucky Money. Download this freebie from my Seasonal Activities page on Teaching Resources during January and February, or from my Laura's Best Freebies page any time of the year.

Black History Character Bios
During February, many classrooms celebrate Black History month. Students often research famous African Americans and write a report or share the information in some way. Unfortunately, many students don't know how to research, organize, and write a report and do far too much copying and pasting. The Character Trait Bio activity is a little different from the normal writing assignment because students are asked to organize their essays around character traits which makes plagiarism almost impossible. This is activity is a sample from my Character Bio Reports Mini Pack.

You can download any of these freebies from my from my Seasonal Activities page on Teaching Resources during February, or from my Laura's Best Freebies page any time of the year. I hope your students enjoy these engaging activities and learn a little something along the way!

January 17, 2013

Literary Lunch Bunches Foster Love of Reading

Common Core Aligned and Fun!

Most teachers have heard of Literature Circles, or Classroom Book Clubs, but many find it difficult to add them to an already packed schedule. However, it's worth finding time to implement Classroom Book Clubs because this program is actually aligned with the first Common Core Speaking and Listening Standard for your grade level. In the elementary grades, the first CCSS Speaking & Listening standard reads like this,
"Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade x topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly."
One way you can give Book Clubs a try is by starting a Literary Lunch Bunch program. Literary Lunch Bunches are fun, informal Literature Circles that kids attend on a voluntary basis. You hold the meetings during lunch, in your classroom or another quiet area (such as outside at a picnic table). They don't meet every day, and it's almost like a reading club. This program is similar to  Classroom Book Clubs except that students meet during lunch rather than during the reading block or at some other time during the school day. Click to learn more about Classroom Book Clubs.

How to Start a Lunch Bunch Group
To get started with a Lunch Bunch program, select a book that you like, or you can ask the kids what they would like to read. Let the interest level and the abilities of your students determine the reading pace. I generally divide a novel into 4 parts, and we take 2 weeks to read the book. We have 2 meetings a week, for example on Tuesday and Friday. I have learned that if you take any longer to read the book, kids lose interest and drop out. If you don't want to structure it quite that tightly, you can let your students choose the pace that they prefer to read the book and they will set reading goals at the end of each meeting for the next meeting. If you use the Reading workshop approach or have independent reading time at school, students can do the reading during class. If not, they may need to complete their reading at home.

Lunch Bunch Preparation Bookmarks
The only requirement for attending the Lunch Bunch meetings is to read the assigned section and complete the Lunch Bunch Bookmark. Students use one of these bookmarks to jot down things they want to discuss in the meeting. You don't have to require any type of assignment, but the meetings are more exciting when kids have taken time to think about what they want to discuss.

You can download this set of bookmarks for free from my TeachersPayTeachers store. I created two variations, one with cute monster clipart and one with clipart more appropriate for older students.

I never assign a grade for participation in a Literary Lunch Bunch because the purpose is to foster a love of of reading. If my students haven't done the reading or filled out the slip, they can't attend that day's meeting. If they are prepared for the next meeting, they may join in again. Most kids come prepared because the love the special privilege of meeting with their friends in the classroom instead of having to eat in the cafeteria.

Your Role in Literary Lunch Bunch Meetings
You might be wondering if this means you have to give up your lunch break to meet with your students. I used to join in with the kids and eat my lunch along with them, but one day I had some things to do and I told them to meet without me. Of course I stayed in the room with them, but I was eating my own lunch and working on something else. These were 5th graders so they were very independent, and I figured they would be okay since they had their Lunch Bunch Bookmarks. Oh my! They had so much fun on their own! They were much more open with each other and were engaged in terrific discussions about the book. They stayed on topic and really enjoyed themselves. From that day on, I never met with another Literary Lunch Bunch group!

Teaching Discussion Strategies
If you have younger students and don't feel they will be able to function on their own, feel free to change the model so you are meeting with them, at least at first. You can teach them strategies like using Talking Sticks to equalize participation, and eventually they will be able to meet without you at the table. In the Talking Sticks strategy, each student receives three craft sticks and each time they want to speak, they hold up a stick and the teacher or leader chooses someone to speak. The student who is selected places a stick in the team cup. When students run out of sticks, they can't participate until everyone else has used all of his or her sticks. Kids love this activity because it ensures that everyone gets an equal chance to participate. To learn more, visit my TpT store where you'll find Talking Sticks packets for grades 1 through 5.

If you haven't figured out how to fit Literature Circles into your schedule, why not try Literary Lunch Bunches? You could adapt this program in many ways to make it work for your schedule. How about coordinating with others on your grade level to offer different books for different reading levels? Students could sign up for the book of their choice. How else could you adapt Literary Lunches Bunches? No matter how you implement them, they are sure to be a hit in your classroom!

January 15, 2013

Powerful Little Books - Perfect for Little Hands

A few days ago I received a special package in the mail, one that I had been eagerly anticipating. It was a collection of 11 adorable little books written by my friend and colleague Pat Calfee and illustrated by her 5-year old granddaughter Issy Gee. As I pulled those precious books out of their zippered pouch and held them in my hands, I decided that I had to share the story of the “Issy Books” with you. But instead of telling you myself, I asked Pat to share her story in her own words. I know you’ll be inspired by it! ~ Laura

The Creation of The Issy Books 
Guest blog post by Pat Calfee

As a lifelong educator, becoming a grandmother was one of the most exciting events in my entire life.  I could not wait to do all of the fun things to “stimulate” their little minds. The fun times just kept getting better and better. We spent our time together reading books, playing with play dough, singing songs, dancing, coloring and painting.   Becoming a “Gigi” was the best thing ever!

One of my granddaughters, Isybilla, displayed a unique gift for drawing from a very early age. She loved drawing and painting and would create drawings way beyond her years. Everyone was always amazed at the paintings that Issy would create with very little effort. Issy wanted to draw all the time and would always proudly present members of the family with her treasures as personal gifts. She was a born artist and we all knew it!

My daughter suggested that I use my background as a primary teacher and reading specialist to write books for Issy to illustrate. This sounded like a great idea….and this is where the adventure began!

First, Issy made a list of animal characters that she wanted to draw and even included their sassy names.  She named Flossie the Flamingo, Webster the Spider, Snappy the Crab and her own Boston Terrier, Bam Bam, plus many more! In all, I wrote and she illustrated ten stories about characters straight from her imagination!

Powerful Motivators for Reading 
As we started putting the stories and the illustrations together, we saw that we really had created something very powerful. The stories were perfect for beginning readers with controlled vocabulary and the use of sight words. The illustrations were perfect to lead young readers as they used “picture clues.” And we knew that beginning readers would love the colorful illustrations that were obviously created by someone their own age. What better way to get beginning readers motivated to practice reading!

Of course we loved the books ourselves, but it was only when others began sharing their stories with us that we realized how amazing they really are. Just a few days ago I was contacted by one of my friends, a retired elementary educator, after she received a full set of The Issy Books and shared them with her two grandchildren.  She told us how excited her kindergarten grandson was to have “just right” books to read.  He reads the books to his little sister and is so proud. My friend told me how both children loved the stories, the animal characters and most of all… the pictures!  He is so amazed that someone his age drew the illustrations. Her grandson wants to read the books over and over, and his little sister wants to hear the books read over and over! I then realized just how powerful these little books are in the small hands of beginning readers.

Where to Find the Issy Books
After Issy and I created our first book together, her mother and I began looking for a publisher for the series. We were excited when Brigantine Media agreed to publish them, and the finished books have delighted us all. They even created a website for the Issy Books (www.issybooks.com), where you can see all 11 books and download a complete copy of Snappy the Crab. Because the books are emergent readers, you’ll also find suggestions on the website for how to use them to help children learn to read. Issy also has a Facebook page that you can like to see pictures of her and where you can follow her adventures as a young illustrator.

We still can’t believe that a granddaughter and a grandmother could join forces to become an illustrator and an author.  But that’s exactly what Issy and Gigi did!  Stay tuned…there are more Issy Books being planned.

Pat Calfee is an educational consultant with 29 years experience as a teacher, curriculum coordinator, and staff developer.  Pat has a reading certification and has trained many teachers in the use of effective reading strategies.  She has a passion for helping teachers at all levels discover new and innovative ways to deliver instruction and instill a love for reading in young hearts and minds. 

January 3, 2013

Cooperative Learning - More Than Group Work

Did you know that there's a difference between cooperative learning and group work? I'll bet you thought those two terms were synonymous, but they're not. Let me show you how they are worlds apart.

Does this scenario sound familiar? The teacher assigns a group project, outlines the task, and gives a deadline for completion. Students are expected to work together and participate equally, but we all know what happens. The self-appointed leader takes over, makes all the decisions, and does most of the work. Other team members may contribute, but some do nothing or even become a distraction to the real work. When the final project is turned in, everyone gets the same grade no matter what they contributed to the project.

But what I just described is NOT cooperative learning. The scenario I described above is nothing more than unstructured group work, and there’s nothing research-based about it. No wonder it still gets a bad rap in some educational circles!

But if that's not cooperative learning, what does cooperative learning look like? I discovered the answer to this almost 20 years ago when I was first trained in the "structural" approach to cooperative learning developed by Dr. Spencer Kagan. In this model, academic tasks are structured or divided so that everyone participates equally and all students are held accountable. Dr. Kagan developed a wide variety of structures that have since been adopted by teachers all over the world, strategies that take the "group work" out of cooperative learning. I began implementing these strategies in my own classroom and found them to be extremely effective.

Easy Team Discussion Strategies

Introducing accountability and rules of equal participation can be as easy as changing to a new team discussion format. Remember the scenario I mentioned above in which one person on the team does all the work? The same thing often happens in a team discussion when a teacher asks students to “talk it over with your team.” The assertive students dominate the discussion and the shy ones never have an opportunity to talk.

To equalize participation in team discussions, try one of these strategies:
  • Around the Team - Place students in teams of 4 or 5 and have them number off in order around the team. After you pose a question, students take turns responding in numerical order. To provide even more structure, give each team member a certain amount of time to respond such as 30 seconds or a minute.
  • Pairs Discuss & Teams Share - Pair students with one discussion partner and have them first discuss a topic together, and then share their ideas with the whole team. When two students talk to each other, it's more likely that they will both have a chance to express their ideas. Then when they talk with the team, all four ideas can be presented. 
  • Talking Sticks - Use objects such as plastic chips or craft sticks to equalize participation. Dr. Kagan suggests chips, but I use craft sticks because those chips roll everywhere! I assign a discussion leader, and that role changes for each new discussion question. The leader gives each student 3 sticks to hold during the discussion. When a question is presented, students who want to respond place a craft stick into a plastic cup. When students run out of sticks, they have to be quiet and listen to the rest of their teammates until all sticks are in the cup. When all of the sticks have been used, the leader passes them out again and the discussion continues where it left off. 
From Structured Discussions to "Real" Discussions
The structural approach to cooperative learning encourages a high level of structure at first, with a gradual transition to less structure as students learn to work effectively in teams. As a case in point, the three methods described above are great ways to begin teaching your kids how to participate in a team discussion. However, because they are so structured, they are really just the first steps. The Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards require students to connect their ideas to others and to build upon other's ideas in a discussion, which is a skill that must be taught explicitly. To read strategies that address more advanced discussion skills, read my post Teaching Kids How to Have REAL Discussions.  

Keep Discussions Focused with Question Cards
Another tip for effective discussions is to create question task cards to keep the discussion focused and moving along. Stack the cards face down in the middle of the team. The discussion leader flips over the top card, reads the question, and opens the topic for discussion.

You can use question cards in almost any subject area. to see examples of the types of questions that work well, take a look at my Talking Sticks Discussion cards shown here.

I have also created sets of Talking Sticks question cards based on Common Core Informational Text and Literature Standards for each grade level, Kindergarten through 5th grade. You can find all of my Common Core Talking Sticks packs in my TpT store.

Where to Learn More about Structured CL
Do you see how easy it is to make a few simple changes that will drastically increase accountability and participation? When you learn a few of the basics, you’ll be amazed at how simple it is to change group work into cooperative learning. If you are not familiar with Dr. Kagan's structural approach to cooperative learning, I highly recommend his book, Kagan Cooperative Learning, as the definitive resource on this topic. In addition to learning more about effective team discussions, you’ll discover a wealth of cooperative learning structures to bring order to what might otherwise turn into chaos in the classroom.

I also recommend receiving several days of training from Kagan Professional Development to help you learn how to implement these strategies. One thing I loved about the training was the opportunity to experience the strategies and practice them during the workshop. The time just flew by and the whole experience was nothing short of transformative. I went from being burned out on teaching to fired up in the classroom! In fact, I embraced these strategies so fully that I ended up writing 5 cooperative learning books that were published by Kagan. You can see all of my books below and click here to find them all on the Kagan website.

Believe it or not, many educators are still skeptical about the benefits of cooperative learning. However, it's not cooperative learning that's the problem - it's poor implementation that turns teamwork into "group work." I used cooperative learning in my classroom for over 20 years and found it to be the very best way to actively engage students and keep them focused on instruction. As I worked with Dr. Kagan’s structural approach, I began to apply the principles of accountability and equal participation to my own instructional practices to ensure that each cooperative task was a learning opportunity for all. As I internalized these principals, I was able to create my own effective cooperative learning strategies. If you are one of those skeptics, I invite you to explore some of the resources in this blog post to discover the benefits of teamwork in the classroom. You can also explore the resources on the cooperative learning pages on my Teaching Resources website to discover strategies that are engaging as well as extremely effective.

Kagan Cooperative Learning books by Laura Candler
Click the image below to visit a page with links to all titles.

For more information on these cooperative learning titles, click on the links below.