February 26, 2013

Fun Games for Learning the 50 States

How well do your students know the 50 US states and capitals? If their knowledge is rusty, check out this terrific collection of fun review games and resources!
How well do you know your states and capitals? I'll be the first to admit that my knowledge gets rusty if I don't review them from time to time. I'm fairly good with capitals, but some of those state locations can be tricky to remember! I guess it's because I've never traveled to them, so they don't have any personal meaning for me. Imagine how difficult it is for students who've never traveled outside their own cities to learn all 50 states and their capitals! Fortunately, there are some great games and resources you can use to actively engage students in learning the 50 states.

Hands-on Exploration with Puzzles
One of the best ways to begin is to purchase a sturdy puzzle of the United States that includes the capital name on each piece. Place the puzzle in a center and let students work on it collaboratively when they finish other assignments. Over time, students will learn the state locations without even trying. I found this one online at Amazon.com, and it looks like the perfect item for states and capitals practice.

Online Interactive Games
Online interactive games also work well, and it's always a perk if you can find FREE online activities. I did a quick search and hit the jackpot on the Sheppard Software site. They have a terrific collection of free online games for practicing states and capitals, and I found myself stuck on the site brushing up on my rusty skills! It was a challenging test of my skills to listen as each state name was announced and then to click it on the map.

50 States Showdown Games
Online games are fun for some kids, but others quickly become bored with these types of activities. Playing on a computer just doesn't have the power to engage kids like playing with a real person. A more exciting way to practice states and capitals is with a fun cooperative learning game I created called 50 States Showdown. There are actually three variations of this Showdown review game, including Find the States Showdown described below. Students can play these games as a whole class or in teams of four to five. Each student will need a copy of one of the numbered state maps included in the packet and a dry erase board.

Here's how to play Find the States Showdown:
  1. The first Leader selects a number card from the State Numbers deck and announces the number to the team. 
  2. Everyone looks at the numbered map and, without talking, writes the name of the corresponding state (and capital, if desired) on his or her dry erase board. 
  3. When everyone is ready, the Leader says, "Showdown!" 
  4. Students compare answers and check the key to see who was correct. 
  5. Players who are correct earn a "Travel Token" for that round. 
  6. The next player becomes the new Leader, and steps 1 through 5 are repeated.
The game moves quickly and kids love it! It's a terrific way for them to have fun while practicing state names, capitals, and locations. 50 States Showdown is available from my TpT store, and the packet includes both color and black and white versions of the game directions and maps are included in the packet. If your students aren't ready for a game that includes all 50 states,  you can start them out with the five regional games in my States and Capitals Games Bundle.

US Regions & States Maps and Tests 
My talented daughter Wendy created the maps for this game, and she has a full collection of state and regional maps available in her Digital Classroom Clipart Store. She also created a huge packet of State and Regional assessment to test students' knowledge. There are three forms of each test, and one of them includes a place to record capitals and abbreviations. Answer keys are included of course! The US Regions & States Tests + Clipart Combo shown here includes both items. but you can purchase them separately, too.

Studying states and capitals can be fun for students when you provide hands-on practice with puzzles, opportunities to play games online, and the chance to test skills against classmates or team members. Do you have any favorite games or activities for learning states and capitals? Please share!

February 23, 2013

Taking the Mystery out of Vocabulary Study

Two Freebies and a Fun Game!

Vocabulary development is essential at every grade level, and that importance is reflected in the Common Core State Standards. As students build stronger vocabularies, they are better able to comprehend what they read and express themselves in writing. Unfortunately, it can be a challenge to find vocabulary lessons that are motivating and fun for students.

So I'd like to share two strategies that worked well for me in the classroom, as well as a new game called Mystery Vocabulary Detectives. Hopefully you'll find that there's no mystery to injecting a little excitement into vocabulary-building activities.

Vivid Vocabulary Anchor Chart
I love reading aloud to kids, and read-aloud sessions offer a great opportunity to introduce students to challenging and interesting vocabulary. To keep track of the words you discuss with your students, try posting a laminated "Vivid Vocabulary" anchor chart on your wall. Each day when reading aloud, stop a few times to record and discuss new words.

If you have a document camera, place the book under the camera and ask students to help figure out the meanings of new words by the context clues around them. Then the next day, before you begin reading aloud, do a quick review of the previous day's words.

You can download the chart above to use as a model for creating your own anchor chart. Or you can print it out and give it to your students so they may keep their own private Vivid Vocabulary Charts. You can download this freebie from my Spelling and Vocabulary Resources page.

Vocabulary Foldable Freebie
To provide more intensive vocabulary practice, try choosing five words from the chart or from other content areas and having your students create a vocabulary foldable using those words. You can download a free template and directions for the foldable shown here from my Balanced Literacy page.

Students write one word on each flap and draw a symbol or illustration of that word. Then they lift each flap and write the word's definition and a sentence using the word underneath. These foldables serve as a handy tool for studying new words, and they also make a great literacy center activity.

 Mystery Vocabulary Detective game from Laura Candler - Fun way to practice vocabulary in any subject area!
Mystery Vocabulary Detectives
The first two activities are excellent strategies for teaching vocabulary, but I also want to share with you a game that's not only effective but downright FUN! It's an exciting fast-paced word game called Mystery Vocabulary Detectives that can be used in almost any subject area.

In this game, students become detectives and guess the meanings of words based on clues given by an "eyewitness." The game can be customized with your own content-specific words, or you can use one of the prepared sets that comes with this product. And it's more than just a fun game; Mystery Vocabulary Detectives is aligned with Common Core State Standards in grades 4 through 6.

Field Tested and Kid Approved
Since I'm no longer in the classroom, I asked several 4th and 5th grade teachers to test Mystery Vocabulary Detectives with their students. I waited anxiously to hear the verdict, and I was thrilled to find out the game was a huge hit with my student field-testers! One student said, "This game rocks!" and another reported, "It was awesome to the tenth power!" In addition, several teachers told me that their students are now begging to play the game in every content area! High praise indeed for a vocabulary game ... what more could a teacher want?

February 15, 2013

Spelling Story Tips

Oops! Looks like you followed an old Pinterest pin or an old link to this page. The blog article you're looking for has been updated, and it has moved to a new page. Click over to Spelling Stories - Creativity Unleashed to find those tips and freebies. Sorry for the inconvenience!

February 1, 2013

Fun with Customary Measurement Conversions

Teaching Resources and a Measurement Freebie!

Teaching measurement can seem like such a struggle. Even when you provide plenty of opportunities for kids to practice with hands-on activities, they just don't seem to catch on.

It doesn't help that our customary system of measurement makes absolutely no sense whatsoever! Twelve inches to a foot, three feet to a yard, sixteen cups to a gallon... where is the logic? Bring on the metric system! Everything is based tens which corresponds perfectly to our base ten number system.

Unfortunately, I don't think the United States will be switching to the metric system any time soon, so we are stuck trying to teach the customary system in a way that makes sense. As with any math skill, the best way to begin is with concrete, hands-on practice using actual measuring devices like rulers, yard sticks, cups, quarts, and gallons. However, even after students practice and explore with real objects, many students have trouble converting units of measurement because they don't know the basic units fluently. If you don't know that there are sixteen cups in a gallon, you're not going to be able to convert cups to gallons without consulting a reference.

Measurement Foldable Freebie 
One way to deal with the problem is to have kids take notes in foldables and store those foldables in notebooks. Keeping them in interactive notebooks ensures that the information is handy when they need it. Measurement foldables are especially effective, so I developed this Customary Measurement Foldable to share with you as a freebie.

To create the foldable, print the two pages back to back. Fold the page in half on the vertical dotted line and cut the solid lines to form flaps. Students can lift up each flap and fill in the basic conversion units during your lesson. If you want to have them use the foldable in an interactive math notebook, you'll only need to print out the page with the measurement terms. To make sure it fits into any notebook, reduce the image to 85% of the original size when you print copies. Have your students fold them, cut the flaps, and glue the backs of the foldables into their journals.

Customary Measurement Conversions Pack
Measurement is a hot topic at this time of year, so I created a HUGE 70-page packet of measurement review activities and assessments aligned to 4th and 5th grade Common Core Standards. It's called Customary Measurement Conversions, and it includes activities, math center games, word problems, measurement task cards, and assessments.

Field-tested and Kid-Approved
Some of the activities were ones I had previously developed for my classroom, like the matching game my students are playing in the photo below. Matching games are so simple, but they are really effective for helping kids memorize basic units of measurement. They're also great to use in math centers and math stations because they can be played almost anywhere.

Unlike the matching games, Monster Math Mix-up was brand new untested. I always test my resources with students before publishing them, so I asked my Facebook Fans if anyone would volunteer to test Monster Math Mix-up with their students. Quite a few teachers agreed to do so, and I was thrilled to get a thumbs up from every single class.They LOVED the game!

I especially loved the feedback I received from Denise Bishop's 4th graders. The provided WRITTEN feedback! Here's what they wrote:
"Monster Math Mix Up was a fantastic game! The problems were great and they were at our level. The puzzles where funny and colorful. We fully understood the directions and didn't need any assistance from Ms. Bishop. We could have used this while we were doing the measurement unit and it is a good review for us. Thank you."

I also loved a collection of photos I received from Roseanne Welte's classroom. Here's one of a student putting together one of the monster puzzles, and you can see the Monster Mix-up spinner in the background. Reading those comments and seeing those pictures made me miss those days in the classroom! I want to thank the other 4th and 5th grade teachers who helped me as well. They all gave me terrific feedback! If you want to see the entire Customary Measurement Conversions Pack, you can click this link to preview it online or click the image below to find it on TpT.

Thanks, Digital Classroom Clipart! 
This post wouldn't be complete without me taking time to thank Digital Classroom Clipart for the amazing measurement clipart in this product. It just so happens that this very talented artist is my daughter Wendy!

When I started planning this unit on customary conversions, I begged Wendy to create a collection of measurement clipart for me to use because I couldn't find what I needed anywhere else. If you like it, you can purchase this collection from the Digital Classroom Clipart TpT store. If you do, please rate it and leave her feedback. In case you are wondering, yes, I did purchase it, and I left her feedback, too. It's so nice to have a talented artist in the family!