September 27, 2013

Book Character Day - Fun and Educational!

Is there a school district anywhere that still allows traditional Halloween activities? Most elementary students love to dress up on Halloween, but many schools no longer allow Halloween parties and activities. However, there's fun and educational way to sneak in a dress-up activity if you can get it approved! Host a Book Character Day!

Your students can dress up as their favorite book characters and take part in activities to explore character traits. If Book Character Day happens to end up on October 31st, so much the better! The event includes activities based on character development skills and concepts that are aligned with Common Core Standards RL 3.3, RL 4.3, and RL 5.3.

If you are really adventurous, you can dress up, too! Unfortunately, I didn't have a picture of myself from our Book Character Day to share. So Melissa Mazuur of Common Core and So Much More graciously let me use this picture of her when she was dressed up as Camilla from a Bad Case of Stripes. Your students will love it if you dress up, too!

Book Character Day Freebie
Book Character Day is a fun and educational way to sneak in a dress-up activity on Halloween! This freebie is CCSS aligned, too!
Book Character Day was a hit with my students, so I put together a free packet of materials to help other teachers get started with this event. I know it's not even October yet, but this activity does take a bit of planning. I wanted to share the materials now so you could start thinking about the best way to host your event. The packet includes a letter you can use as a guideline for your own correspondence with parents. It also includes suggestions for activities dealing with character traits and a blank rubric you can use for evaluation purposes. As you can tell from this list of resources, Book Character Day can be hosted any time of the year and not just in October.

Where to Find this Freebie
This Book Character Day packet is a freebie for my email newsletter subscribers. It's just one of over 75 freebies you can download from Teaching Resources after you sign up. If you are already a subscriber, look for a link to Laura's Best Freebies in a recent newsletter.

Do you have a principal who expects you to cite the Common Core Standards for every activity? Not a problem for upper elementary classrooms because the CCSS are right in the back of the packet. These activities are aligned with the standards that address character traits in grades 3, 4, and 5.

Book Character Parade
Another activity that would work well with Book Character Day is a Book Character Parade. Here's a snapshot that Barbara Gruener of the Corner on Character shared with me from a Book Character Day that was held at her school. You can tell how much this young man is enjoying the chance to portray a book character from that adorable grin!

Have your students ever participated in book character activities like these? If so, please share your ideas with us in a comment on this post!

September 25, 2013

Walls for Language Learners

Use of Space that Fosters Success
Guest blog post by Krista Carlson

For many of us teachers, it happens at the beginning of every school year. We walk into our classrooms for the first time after a summer away, feeling a bit overwhelmed by those four blank walls staring back at us. We have a variety of visions as to what we imagine our classroom looking like when the hustle and bustle of the year gets under way and all of those once empty walls have been long since covered time and again.

This being said, it is incredibly important throughout this process that we take a moment to step back and think about how those four walls (which seem to shrink each year) can be utilized to their utmost potential. The walls in our classroom should not simply be a place for enhancing the aesthetic feel of the room, but rather spaces strategically organized for students to use as resources throughout the year.

This idea of "walls for learning" is not new one, but a key one for teachers to remember. It is also an idea that is beyond essential in classrooms full of students who are language learners.

So let's start at the beginning... In all honesty, to start off the school year, your walls should be relatively bare. Yes, you should have a plan and quite possibly some titles on them sharing what will be going there, but everything else should be authentically created by and with your students as the year progresses. Here is a glimpse as to what this may then look like on the first day of school.

Still inviting right? But also, completely open for the world of possibilities the year will bring!

Now one may ask, what is it that I should be planning and beginning to pin on these classroom walls to start off on the right foot. Here are a few ideas that we consider to be "non-negotiables" in our Dual Language/Bilingual classrooms. Keep in mind many of these can and should be carried over to monolingual classrooms as well!

1. Content Walls

Walls in your room should be set aside for each of the content areas that are taught (math, science, reading, writing, etc.). These are places where vocabulary, anchor charts, etc. reflecting the content should be added as covered. Furthermore, pictures, photos, realia and any other examples of the concept should be placed right next to it on these walls as a another piece that students can utilize to connect meaning to text. Here is an example of a Science/Social studies content wall from a teacher in our district:
It is important to note that the items you place on the content wall should also be in the language of instruction for that particular subject area!

2. Word Study Walls

In all classrooms there should also be places dedicated to the study of words and their components. In Dual Language/Bilingual classrooms this space should be in tact for each language of instruction. However, these walls may look different depending on the grade level. In the lower primary grades, teachers may want to organize these walls alphabetically (more similar to the traditional word wall style). In the later primary/intermediate grades, teachers may want to look toward organizing these word walls more by concept covered (i.e. long vowel patterns, digraphs, contractions, etc.). Here is an example of an English wall organized by concept:

3. Cognate Wall

A Cognate Wall is a helpful space for any classroom with language learners. Cognates are words that sound similar and have a similar meaning in two different languages. For instance, "chocolate" while pronounced a bit differently, is spelled the same in both English and Spanish and means the same thing. Having a place where you can share words with these commonalities in your room will remind learners of a new language that they can utilize their knowledge of their primary language to assist them in understanding the second. It is always a good idea to try and separate your languages by using a different colored sentence strip, marker, etc. to highlight for students which is which on the wall.

4. Bridging Wall

Bridging Walls have a similar purpose to Cognate Walls, but take the idea of making connections between languages a bit further. After the completion of a unit of study in Dual Language/Bilingual classrooms the teacher may conduct a "bridge" lesson. This is a time in which the teacher works to connect the unit vocabulary, concepts, etc. from the language in which the unit was instructed to the other language. For instance, if I taught a unit in Mathematics on two-dimensional shapes in Spanish, at the conclusion of my unit, I may spend a day or more working with my students to introduce them to the vocabulary we have learned in English as well. No new content is being taught - just the vocabulary in the second language!

The "Bridge" is also a time is which a teacher could point out some explicit similarities and differences between the two languages found in your discussion of these content words. Thus, any anchor charts sharing these connections highlighted should be placed onto your Bridging Wall for students to reflect back on! Here is an example of one of these anchor charts that a teacher created with her students after a math unit in which she highlighted the vocabulary in both languages and then focused on suffixes and how they are similar in both English and Spanish.

It is important to note that Cognate and Bridging Walls are truly the only two places where the two languages are being used side-by-side. All other walls highlighted above should be done in the language of instruction for that particular subject area.

5. Other Walls

There are a variety of other wall spaces that you may also want to create and fill based on your students particular needs. In the past, I have had an "Accent Wall" highlighting words with accents and where they are placed in Spanish. I have also had an "Articles Wall" denoting the different uses of the "el" and "la" articles in the Spanish language. I have seen other teachers create an Antonym and Synonym Wall, a Homophone Wall, a Dialect Wall, you name it! The possibilities are truly endless, as long as the focus remains the same- that they are "walls for learning".

Your classroom walls should truly be places that you and your students visit daily as resources. They should be interactive and spaces in which your students feel comfortable using. The list I have shared above are merely suggestions as to how one may do this in his/her classroom- you must figure out what works for your students, you, and your district!

Now that you have your classroom up and running this school year, I encourage you to think deeply about how you have set up your space...and ask yourself...Does each space have a place in the successful development of my students learning this school year?
Krista Carlson is the author of The Second Grade Superkids blog where she works to highlight best practices, lesson ideas, and products for Dual Language and Bilingual teachers. She was a dual language elementary educator for the past five years, two years at the 1st grade level and three years at 2nd grade. She is currently the Dual Language/ELL Coach for her building.

Thanks to the folks at WiseDecor for helping me connect with Krista and making it possible to share her terrific ideas here. WiseDecor believes in the power of words for education and encouragement. They shared with me that they're glad to have played a role in bringing the valuable insights in this article to teachers who are key leaders in life's ongoing task of learning.

September 11, 2013

How to Introduce Decimals with Base Ten Blocks

How to introduce decimals using base 10 manipulatives and math center games for reviewing place value concepts There's a reason math teachers start the year by introducing or reviewing place value concepts. Understanding place value is essential to developing a solid foundation of mathematical understanding.

Introducing Place Value
Whether you're introducing whole number concepts or decimal place value, it's important to start at the concrete level, and base 10 blocks work perfectly because they are sized according to their value.

Even 5th graders aren't too old for base 10 blocks. Primary teachers often use them to introduce whole numbers, but base 10 blocks are also effective with upper elementary students when exploring decimals. Kids have to understand that each place to the left is 10 times the size of the place to the right, and base 10 blocks are the best way to explore that concept.

How to Introduce Decimals with Base 10 Blocks
When introducing decimals, you can use the cubes to represent tens, the flats to represent ones, the rods for tenths, and the units for hundredths. I found that it's really important to create a place value mat (like the one shown above) for these lessons because it helps students remember what place is represented by each model. To create mats like the ones I used in my lesson, draw the 4-column chart above on a large sheet of heavy paper (18" x 24") and laminate it. Use a dry erase marker to draw a decimal point between the ones place and the tenths place. Or you can print the patterns in my Build a Number freebie to create the place value mat on 2 sheets of 8.5" by 11" paper.

Seat your students in teams of four and give each team one set of Base 10 manipulatives. It's best if each student has a dry erase board and marker, too. Ask your students to divide up the materials so that one person has the cubes, one has the flats, one has the rods, and one has the units. Introduce each piece and explain how it represents a particular decimal place. I explained that even though they had been taught that the "flat" was equal to 100, I wanted them to think of it as one whole... maybe one whole cake for a family of mice! If they sliced the cake into 10 parts, each part was 1/10 or 0.1. If they cut those 10 slices into 10 parts, each part was 1/100 or 0.01 of the whole.

Fun decimal practice! Students work together to "build" a decimal with base 10 blocks. Then they write the word name and expanded form of the number.

Team Practice: Build a Decimal 
After you introduce the value of each part of the model, lead them through the "Build a Decimal" lesson. Start by writing a decimal in standard form on the board and asking students work to with their team to "build" that number on the team mat. You can make up your own numbers or use the Build a Decimal task cards provided in this freebie. After you check to make sure that they represented the number properly on the mat, ask students to write the word name and expanded form.

Expanded form is particularly difficult when representing decimals, and using base 10 manipulatives seems to help illustrate the concept. For example, it's easy to see that the number on the mat can be written as 20 + 4 + 0.6 + 0.09 because students can see each place represented with physical objects. The expanded form of this number could also be expressed as 20 + 4 + 6/10 + 9/100 or completely broken down to 20 + 4 + 6 x (1/10) + 9 x (1/100). All of those ways to express decimals are much more easily viewed when looking at a mat such as the one below. Students can also see that each place to the left is 10 times greater than the one on its right.

Place Value Games Combo

As with most math concepts, it's not enough to introduce them with hands-on materials and then move on to the next lesson. Kids have to practice the terminology and work with the concepts until they are fluent with them. That's where math games come in handy. These four place value games are bundled together in my Place Value Games Combo pack, which is great for 4th and 5th grade. My students enjoyed all of these activities, and they perfect for math centers and small group instruction.

Place Value Games Combo - 4 terrific math center games for reviewing whole number and decimal place value concepts!

Place Value Partners Game 
CCSS 2.NBT.A.3, 4.NBT.2, and 5.NBT.A.3
Place Value Partners is my most popular game for reviewing whole number and/or decimal place value. It's similar to Battleship, but students use a game board with lines for placing numbers and number cards instead of ships and a coordinate grid. See the image below to understand how the game is set up and played. The Sender calls out each digit, one at a time, and tells the Receiver where to place them. When all the numbers are in place, they compare their game boards, check the final number and write its standard form, word name, and expanded form in their math journals or on a recording page. The packet shown here includes four different variations of the game board to include everything from 4-digit whole numbers to decimals.

Place Value Partners game and three more math center games for reviewing place value.

Bingo Showdown Decimal Review 
CCSS 5.NBT.3 and 5.NBT.4.
Decimal Place Value Bingo Showdown is a variation of the classic Bingo game that can be used for whole group instruction, small guided math groups, cooperative learning teams, or in learning centers. What more can I say? It's Bingo and kids love it!

Place Value Spinner Games 
CCSS 4.NBT.2 and 4.NBT.3
Another game my students enjoyed was the Spin 4 Cash Place Value Review Game. In this activity, students practice word names and expanded forms using task cards and a spinner. When they get a correct answer, they may spin for a certain amount of "math cash." I also created an international version called Spin 2 Win that awards tokens instead of cash.

I'm the Greatest - Comparing Numbers Game 
CCSS 2.NBT.4, 4.NBT.2, 5.NBT.3
The final game I want to share with you is I'm the Greatest, a simple activity for comparing numbers. The teacher can play against the class, or students can play against each other in cooperative learning teams. In this game, players attempt to create the largest number by placing randomly-selected numbers on a game board. There's a bit of luck involved, but in order to win, students have to be able to read word names and compare numbers accurately.

All four games are available from my TeachersPayTeachers store, either individually or as a part of the Place Value Game Combo. Even if you have already introduced place value concepts, these games make great review and practice activities throughout the year. You've heard that practice makes perfect, and that definitely applies to place value concepts. Plenty of place value practice is needed to make perfect!

September 5, 2013

Make Your Mark on International Dot Day!

Have you heard about International Dot Day? It's celebrated on September 15th, and it's all about encouraging kids to discover how they can make a difference. Why is it called "Dot Day"? To find out, read the book that inspired this special day!

The Dot, written by Peter Reynolds, is a short picture book suitable for all ages. It's the story Vashti, who became upset in art class because she didn't think she could draw. Her teacher challenged her to "Just make a mark and see where it takes you." So Vashti defiantly jabbed the paper and made a dot, and what happened after that shows how one simple act can snowball into something big.

If you haven't read the book, you can listen to a quick YouTube video of it before you read this post. If you like it, order a copy of The Dot now so you'll have it in time for Dot Day!

The Dot is a simple book, but it's definitely one with a message to share. Actually, it has several important messages. Children will be able to relate to the central theme about "making a mark" and making a difference. As a teacher, I was also reminded about how important it is for us to support our students and believe in them. Vashti's teacher honored her simple dot by framing the signed picture, and this small bit of encouragement was enough to help Vashti discover a hidden talent.

International Dot Day Resources
I had heard from several friends about International Dot Day, so after I read The Dot, I began looking for resources online to support this event. Boy, did I find them! Peter Reynolds is the founder of Fablevision Learning, and they've created a website full of resources for teachers to use when reading the book to students and celebrating Dot Day. The best place to begin is the "Getting Started" page, and from there you can follow a link to a page where you can download this amazing free Educator's Handbook. It's 16 pages long and includes a letter of introduction from Peter Reynolds and a great collection of ideas for celebrating International Dot Day. Here are some other ideas to get you started.

Ideas for Celebrating Dot Day or Dot Week:
  • Read The Dot and discuss the themes in the book with your students. To help foster this discussion, I created a set of eight free prompts on task cards that you can to use as a jumping off point for discussion. Don't feel you need to use them all; look through the set to find the ones that are appropriate for your students. You may want discuss them in a whole group setting first, and you can use them as writing prompts later or have students use them in small groups with the Talking Sticks discussion strategy. Click the image below or this link to download these free discussion cards.
  • Use some of the suggestions in the Educator's Handbook to have students create dot artwork individually or with a group. Since I'm a big fan of cooperative learning, I especially liked the Buddy Dot idea on page 9. What a unique idea!
  • Participate in Skype in the Classroom activities for Dot Day. See page 13 in the Educator's Handbook for details.
  • Use Technology to Animate Dot Drawings - If you have an iPad with a camera, students can use technology to bring their colored dot drawings to life. Read this blog post about the free ColAR app that can transform 2D coloring pages into 3D animations. It's absolutely amazing, and I know that students will love seeing their own artwork transformed this way! Be sure to watch the short video demonstration to see how it works. The app is free and the Dot Day coloring page is free, too. 

More Dot Day Ideas from Suzy Brooks
Third grade teacher Suzy Brooks has been celebrating International Dot Day for several years. She's now an ambassador for Fablevision Learning because she enjoys spreading the word about their inspirational resources. Visit her blog, Third Graders Dreaming Big, to read about her celebrations in 2010, 2011, and 2012 and see her terrific classroom photos. She promises to write about her celebration this year after it takes place because she wants to be able to include photos the activities in her post. If you have celebrated this event in the past or have special plans for celebrating it this year, please share your tips and strategies with us. It's one small way you can make your mark!