December 27, 2014

Awesome Upper Elementary Teacher Connection Facebook Group!

If you're an upper elementary teacher who loves what you do, I invite you to join the Upper Elementary Teacher Connection, a private Facebook group. It's a virtual meeting room where educators can connect and collaborate to share their passion for teaching. Our members discuss active engagement teaching strategies and innovative instructional approaches, and they collaborate on classroom projects like pen pals or postcard exchanges. Click here to find out how to join this group!

Learn how to join one of Laura Candler's Teacher Connection groups on Facebook, two private groups for elementary teachers who love what they do!

December 11, 2014

3 Strategies to Conquer Math Word Problems

Guest post by Kady Dupre

Here’s a word problem for you:
Miss Friday’s class does a daily word problem. Ten of her students are great at word problems involving addition, and only 7 seem to understand subtraction word problems. Five of her students are bored with the easy problems. Thirteen students are still struggling with basic math facts and 3 have trouble reading the word problems at all. How many of her students are engaged and learning?

Here’s a better question: “How do you grow confident and effective problem solvers?”

Why Students Struggle 
with Math Word Problems
Students struggle with math word problems for many reasons, but three of the biggest I’ve encountered include:

Issue #1: Student Confidence For many students, just looking at a word problem leads to anxiety. No one can think clearly with a sense of dread or fear of failure looming!
Issue #2: Flexible Thinking Many kids are taught to solve word problems methodically, with a prescriptive step-by-step plan using key words that don’t always work. Plans are great, but not when students use them as a crutch rather than a tool. Today’s standardized tests and real-world applications require creative thinking and flexibility with strategies.
Issue #3: Differentiation Teachers want students to excel quickly and often push too fast, too soon. In the case of word problems, you have to go slow to go fast. Just like in Guided Reading, you’ll want to give lots of practice with “just-right” problems and provide guided practice with problems just-above the students’ level. 

Conquer math word problems with engaging classroom strategies that counteract the above issues! 

1. Teach a Problem-Solving Routine  

Kids (and adults) are notoriously impulsive problem solvers. Many students see a word problem and want to immediately snatch out those numbers and “do something” with them. When I was in elementary school, this was actually a pretty reliable strategy! But today, kids are asked to solve much more complex problems, often with tricky wording or intentional distractors.

Grow flexible thinkers and build confidence by teaching a routine. A problem solving routine simply encourages students to slow down and think before and after solving. I’ve seen lots of effective routines but my favorites always include a “before, during, and after” mindset.

To make the problem solving routine meaningful and effective:
  • Use it often (daily if possible) 
  • Incorporate “Turn & Teach” (Students orally explain their thinking and process to a partner.) 
  • Allow for “Strategy Share” after solving (Selected students explain their method and thinking.)

2. Differentiate Word Problems  

No, this doesn’t mean to write a different word problem for every student! This can be as simple as adjusting the numbers in a problem or removing distractors for struggling students.

Scaffolding word problems will grow confidence and improve problem solving skills by gradually increasing the level difficulty as the child is ready. This is especially effective when you are trying to teach students different structures of word problems to go with a certain operation.

For example, comparison subtraction problems are very challenging for some students. By starting with a simple version, you allow students to focus on the problem itself, rather than becoming intimidated or frustrated.

I've had great success in using scaffolded problems with my guided math groups. After solving the easier problem, students realize that it’s not that tricky and are ready to take on the tougher ones!

3. Compare Problems Side-by-Side 

To develop flexible thinking, nothing is more powerful than analyzing and comparing word problems. Start by using problems that have similar stories and numbers, but different problem structures. Encourage conversation, use visual representations, and have students explain the difference in structure and operation. Here's an example showing student work on two similar problems about monkeys. Click here to download a blank copy of these problems. My freebie includes several variations to help you differentiate.

Use these three strategies to get kids thinking and talking about their problem solving strategies while building that “oh-so-important” confidence, and you CAN conquer math word problems!

Kady Dupre has worked as a classroom teacher, instructional coach, and intervention teacher in elementary grades. She loves creating learning resources for students and teachers. She authors Teacher Trap, a blog aimed at sharing her challenges, successes, and insights as a teacher.

December 10, 2014

30 Free or Inexpensive Gift Ideas for Students

Advice from Real Teachers

Giving gifts is one of the joys of December, but if you have a large class and a small budget, it can be challenging to give gifts to all of your students. Read on for some terrific ideas!

Today's Question
Normally I share a question from a fan of the Teaching Resources Facebook page, but today's question was my own. I posed the following challenge to Facebook fans: "Do you give your students any sort of gift before the holidays? Let's brainstorm some easy options, especially gifts that are inexpensive (or free)." Over 250 educators responded with great suggestions! I compiled the answers and removed duplicate responses to come up with the list below.

30 Student Gift Ideas
Here are my picks for the top 30 gift ideas in no particular order. Most of them do involve a small cost, but some are free. If you want to read all 250+ tips, you'll find that question here on the Teaching Resources Facebook page.
  1. Amanda Flickinger - Here is my favorite: go to the dollar store and buy the elf/Santa hats. Use glitter puff paints to write their names. The kids freak out. They love them so much and don't want to take them off!
  2. Amanda Duseberg - I give a small box of crayons with a poem that talks about how we are like crayons, all different colors but together we make a complete picture.
  3. Kathy Wylie - Have the class write down each student's name and at least one thing they admire/like about the student.  Then you make Wordle collage with the words and print it out in color for each student.   If you want to get fancy you could mount on construction paper.
  4. Karen Esdale-Brown - I melt down the broken classroom crayons into Christmas cookie cutter shapes.
  5. Kerri Grooby - Reindeer food, cut circles of material about dinner plate size place a hand full of bird seed mixed with a little glitter, scrunch the material up so it looks like I little pouch and tie with string, attach some Christmas ribbon and a label to tell the children to sprinkle on the grass on Christmas Eve to ensure the reindeers stop by x
  6. Kimberly Price - I buy a shower board from Home Depot. They cut it for teachers at no cost. I have it cut into squares for personal whiteboards.  I use puff paint to write their names on them and give them a dry erase marker.  (I also give them a book from Scholastic)
  7. Anne Williams - I give a coupon usually for 5 or 10 extra points on any assignment or test. Free & the kids love it! I teach middle schoolers.
  8. Heather Rea - I order dice in bulk and little jewelry pouches. I put 6 dice in each. I print out and laminate Farkle instructions and a score card. This would work with any dice game.  Reinforces math skills and it's fun!
  9. Karen Richau - I give them a sheet that has a gift for January through May: January, cozy day dress down, February, half day of reading, March, afternoon of playing board games, April, homework pass, May, half hour of recess. I run this by my principal and she generally approves it. I roll it up and attach a candy cane and Christmas pencil. They love it.
  10. Tracy Wood -  My class always gets snowman soup. If you Google the idea a template will come up to print. You fill a small baggie with hot chocolate, marshmallows and broken candy cane pieces. The kids take it home put it into a cup and pour hot water over. All the little pieces float to the top. It's not too expensive and they LOVE it!
  11. Carol Ann Henthorne - Last year, for my 5th graders, I had each student write something nice about each other student. I typed them out, cut them into strips, curled with scissors, and inserted them into glass ornaments.  They loved reading all the comments from their classmates! This year I am adding a vinyl cutout from my silhouette to put on the ornament.
  12. Erin Duarte - I buy simple ball ornaments (I use the glass ones, but for younger kids you could use plastic) and with a silver or gold Sharpie write their name with the year then write "Love, Mrs. Duarte" and tie a ribbon on  it. They are so simple, but I have kids come back and tell me they still have their ornament 13 years later. I usually put it in a cellophane bag with a holiday pencil, a homework pass, and a candy cane.
  13. Victoria Schoenly - I'm a specialist now serving 750 students, so no longer give presents, but back when I had my own classroom, I would make grid logic puzzles using my students' names in the clues/puzzle--usually 5 or 6 puzzles would be enough to include everyone.  Then I'd make a cute cover and photocopy the booklets front and back on colored paper.  They always seemed to love the booklets and would look eagerly through all the puzzles for their names.  They also got a homework pass if they brought it back completed after the holidays. Aside from my time, my only expense was some colored photocopy paper.
  14. Alona Chastain - $1 books through Scholastics with a candy cane
  15. Lori Hanson - I greet them one morning during the week before the winter holiday with a donut and cup of hot cocoa.
  16. Amy Larson -  Coupon books for free time, sit by a friend, no homework, first in line, etc. 2nd graders love them.  I tie them on a fun Christmas themed pencil or candy cane.  
  17. Joyce Merchant - Gloves from dollar tree (request from students themselves)
  18. Maureen Chenard - For middle school and high school.  I do a raffle for all three of my blocks.  I have 84 kids this year.  I'll pick up Arizona teas, over-sized Hershey bars, extra-large boxes of skittles, Reese's pieces, Mike n Ike's, etc. I usually spend about $10 for each block on the candy n teas.  Then I buy 3 $5 Starbucks cards (1 to raffle off in each block).  I also have a large container of sour patch or jolly ranchers, and miscellaneous pencils, pens, erasers, sharpeners, etc that I've collected or had donated over the years for any student who didn't get a raffle item. Often times the kids even bring in extra items to raffle off.  This is my fourth year in middle school, it's been a hit so far.
  19. Reuben Hks - I always buy each of my students a book from Scholastic. Each month, they have a book in the book club that is $!, so I buy one of those for each student. Then they each have at least one book to read during the break, and they are all reading the same book, so we can discuss it when we return from break.
  20. Christine Skaggs - In the past, I've bought large packages of the individual microwave popcorns throughout the year and put out a basket of mandarin oranges/clementines, as well as any other healthy food that I could buy cheap in large amounts.  They are able to take what they like.  My older students received a pass for homework or some project.  One year I bought scarves/ knit stretchy gloves from Walmart at the end of the season and gave them away the following year.
  21. Jane Smith - I order the 3 pack of pencils with their name engraved for $1 apiece. The students are amazed how I got their names on them. This also settles the “can't find my pencil” dilemma for about a month. (Order from
  22. Geneva Goodney - We give a page of coupons per subject area (LA, SS, Science, Math) with a free homework pass, one day late pass, 15 minutes of computer time, shoes off, add 5 points to a quiz grade/daily grade), use as a 3 point bonus on a test/major grade) and our students love it! We also have a book exchange with a new/gently used favorite book. We always have extra books for students who forget or cannot purchase a book. They wrap them and we read a story and they pass them around on cue. The book they have when the story ends is the one they open and keep - unless they find a friend and trade again :)
  23. Anna Harageones - After Christmas, I buy the mini stockings (originally 4 for $1) at Walmart when they are marked way down. I also try to stock up on their Christmas stocking stuffers (mini puzzles, pens, and yo-yos) when  they are on clearance. I keep these for the next year's class. I decorate the stockings with puffy paint and hang them on our class Christmas tree. The day before Christmas vacation, I fill their stockings with the goodies. They are always so excited and appreciate. Because I bought the year before on clearance, it doesn't cost very much.
  24. Vickie Schmidt - Snowman soup--- a little bag filled with a package of cocoa mix, mini marshmallows, a mini or regular sized candy cane. Put a little tag on it with "instructions" (they change every year -- personalize for class). Sometimes they are put in a little seasonal (plastic) mug from Oriental Trading.
  25. Stacey Reilly- Inexpensive earbuds. Kids keep them in their pencil cases and use them for the computer when they need to watch a video. I buy in bulk.
  26. Tami Terry - Because I do pullout and have over 100 students, it's impossible, so each year I buy a new game or two for the classroom, and add them to our collection.  This year, Quiddler Junior for the younger ones, and Karma for the older ones.  Last year, Fluxx :)
  27. Jennifer Matney - I've done decks of cards 4/$1 and make a little book of educational card games that I've pulled from several sources. I've done cheap educational games or activities from Oriental Trading such as mini Boggle, mini dominoes pkgs for about 50 cents (and I teach them how to play several games and ways to practice math facts).
  28. Jackie Hatcher - I use clip art for a Christmas picture and print off a homework pass. They love it more than the little gifts I always buy.
  29. Amy Marie - I make candy cane reindeer.
  30. Teresa Wilson - I make handmade ornaments for my students with their name and date and who it is from! Salt dough or cinnamon ornaments are so easy!
Question Connection - Advice from Real Teachers
Do you have an idea for a free or inexpensive gift for students? Please post it in a comment below. If you would like to submit a teacher question of your own, be sure to watch for the Question Connection announcement on Wednesday evenings at 8:30 pm ET on the Teaching Resources Facebook page. Even if you don't have a question, please follow me on Facebook and offer your advice when you see the questions come through!

Great Questions + Advice from Real Teachers = The Question Connection! Enjoy!

December 7, 2014

Easy Differentiation with Colored Folders

Guest post by Kelly Witt

Differentiation is the buzzword that just keeps on buzzing! Teachers, administrators, and evaluation
systems are placing more and more emphasis on differentiation in the classroom. Sometimes, the thought of organizing lessons to meet the individual needs of all of your students can feel like an overwhelming challenge. One of the best and simplest ways I have found to do this is with colored pocket folders.

Most teachers have folders everywhere, so the set up is pretty easy. I use center boxes in my room to free up space & assist in clean up. Each center box is labeled with a number and has 4 colored folders inside – one for each learning group in my classroom. You could use center buckets, baskets, tubs, or anything that makes it easy for you!

Students simply go to their centers and retrieve the colored folders that represent their learning groups, i.e. the “red group” or the “blue group”. In each folder, students will find the specific assignment for that particular center.

Three Ways to Differentiate Instruction
Differentiation can be accomplished in three ways: through product, content or process. Differentiating product is probably the simplest method, especially in the primary grades. For example, students in all groups can listen to or read the same text; however, you may require each group to recall a varying number of facts from the text.

For example, all of these students were reading or listening to our latest Weekly Reader. I asked each group to identify facts learned about turkeys, but the expectation varied depending on the level of the group.

To differentiate the process for each group, you may have one listening to the text, one partner reading, and one group reading independently. The text or the content may remain the same, but each group is assigned a different process for learning the information. You can easily do this with colored folders by putting direction sheets inside folders, or by placing the needed materials (iPods, tablets, books, etc...) inside each folder.

Differentiating content is another way to address the varying needs within your classroom. In my room, I have different spelling lists for my students. The lists are posted using their group colors, and can be found in their colored folders at the Word Work center.

By differentiating the spelling words or content, I then have a choice of whether to assign every student the same work, or provide each group with a different opportunity for working with their spelling words.

All teachers manage centers in different ways, and what works for you might not work for your neighbor and vice versa. However, no matter how centers are set up in your classroom, using colored folders is a breeze to implement! The best part about this system is its simplicity and manageability. Students simply grab their colored center folder and begin working on their group’s specific assignment.

My students are grouped in various ways throughout the day. Sometimes, a student might be working at a center with other kids at the same level. Other times, that student might be at a station with someone that is working much higher or much lower than he.

All students turn their work into an envelope that is included in each center box. They just put their work inside the envelope and cross off their name. At the end of the week, I grab all the envelopes and paper clip the check-off sheet to the front of each stack for easy grading.

Differentiation can be a challenge, but often it sounds a lot scarier than it is. Start slow. Try differentiating in just one area or in just one way (content, product, or process) before diving in head first. Believe me, it’s worth it!

Kelly is a first grade teacher and blogger at First Grade Fairytales. She loves sharing ideas with other teachers and providing resources that help make learning fun and engaging.

November 23, 2014

20 Reading Skills to Teach with The Name Jar

Guest post by Shawna Devoe

My name is Shawna and I am the author of The Picture Book Teacher’s Edition blog. I believe that every book offers opportunities to compare, connect, infer, question, and visualize. I know that teachers are extremely busy and stressed trying to get everything done, planned and prepped. Sometimes it only takes one idea, or example to spark a great lesson. I write book reviews and reading strategy notes to help the busy teacher plan a great lesson for whatever picture book they are reading.

The Name Jar 
by Yangsook Choi
The Name Jar is about Unhei, a nervous little girl who is starting a new school in America. When she tells the kids on the bus what her name is and those kids cannot say her name, she decides that she does not want to tell her class what her Korean name is. Unhei wants to change her name to an American name.

Her class decides that they want to help figure out an American name so make a name jar, putting in all different kinds of names for her to choose from. In the end, will Unhei pick an American name, or will she keep her Korean name? Use the below reading skills, strategies and ideas to help create a meaningful lesson to go along with this wonderful story of fitting in and just being yourself.

Readers React with Strong Thoughts
I teach my students that readers often have strong reactions to things that happen or might happen in a story, and we call these "strong thoughts." For example, a reader might actually find himself or herself talking to a character because of something they are doing or saying, i.e. "I wouldn't do that, you are going to get into trouble." Or it might be a moment  when the reader thinks, "I knew that was going to happen." In the case of The Name Jar, I have specifically picked out a moment in the story that could produce a strong thought. The students will think about what was said and tell Unhei what they think. To make easier to use  this activity, I created a Strong Thought Freebie for you to download. Just click the image below to find it on TpT.

The Name Jar Reading Strategy Notes
You can use The Name Jar as a mentor text when teaching over a dozen different reading strategies or skills, including point of view, character analysis, story elements, and summarizing. I've jotted down my notes about questions and possible topics to discuss for 20 reading strategies. You wouldn't want to teach them all of course, but these notes may help you find a way to use The Name Jar with a strategy you will be teaching soon.  

Reading level: 2.9
Theme/subject: pride, self-esteem
Genre: realistic fiction

Suggested Vocabulary/phrases: grooves and ridges, blush, smiled broadly, identity, pouch

Reading Skills and Strategies: 
  1. Asking questions - {possible questions before} I wonder what he story is going to be about? I wonder what a name jar is? I wonder what the girl is doing on the front cover? {possible questions during} I wonder why Unhei and her family had to move? I wonder if Unhei will make friends at her new school? I wonder if she will be teased because of her name? I wonder what Unhei will pick for her new name? I wonder what Joey is doing at the Korean market? {possible questions after} I wonder if Unhei will give Korean names to the kids in the class? **Remember to have your students answer/reflect their questions. 
  2. Author's point of view – Third person. Be sure to find 3 pieces of evidence to support this. (he, she, her)  
  3. Author's purpose – entertain {evidence} the story has characters, a setting and a problem and solution. 
  4. Beginning, middle, and end - {most important event from beginning} the kids on the bus could not pronounce Unhei’s name correctly. {most important event from middle} Unhei was trying to figure out what American name she should choose. {most important event from end} Unhei decided to keep her Korean name. 
  5. Cause and effect – Why was Unhei nervous and scared? Because it was her first day of school at her new school. Why did Unhei picture her grandmother’s smile when she looked at the little wooden block? Because her grandmother gave it to her before they left Korea. Why did Unhei blush on the bus? Because the kids couldn’t pronounce her name. Why did Unhei not tell her classmates her name? Because she wanted to pick a new American name and she hadn’t chosen one yet. Why was there a jar with names in it on her desk? Because her classmates were trying to help her pick a new name. Why was Joey at Mr. Kim’s market? Because he was ordering his own name stamp. Why did Joey take the name jar? Because he wanted Unhei to keep her own name. 
  6. Character analysis - Describe Unhei. Describe Joey. {looks like, feelings, thoughts, character}
  7. Character changes – In the beginning, Unhei was shy and unsure about her name but by the end she decided to keep her Korean name. 
  8. Compare & contrast – Compare and contrast Unhei and Joey.  
  9. Connections - {possible text-to-self connections} Being new to a school. Having someone tease you because of your name. Having a difficult name to pronounce. Wanting to change your name. Having a friend that likes you just for you. {possible text-to-text connections} Father’s Rubber Shoes by Yumi Heo. In both of these books the families move from Korea to America. Will I have a Friend? by Mariam Cohen. In both these books the main character is worried about starting a new school. 
  10. Fact & opinion – {facts} Unhei and her family moved from Korea to America. Unhei’s grandmother gave her a name stamp. Unhei wanted to pick an American name. Unhei saw Joey in Mr. Kim’s market. {opinions} Kimchi is delicious. The kids on the bus were being mean to Unhei. Madison was the best name Unhei read from the jar. Unhei was really upset that the name jar was missing. Unhei was excited to have a friend visit her at home. 
  11. Main idea & details - {main idea} The story is mostly about Unhei wanting to choose an American name. {details} The kids on the bus made fun of Unhei’s name. Unhei was anxious about meeting new kids at her new school. The kids in Unhei’s class started a name jar to help her pick an American name. 
  12. Plot - The turning point or climax in the story was when the name jar got lost and Unhei found a piece of paper on her desk.
  13. Predict – What do you think the story is going to be about? What do you think a name jar is? What name do you think Unhei will choose? What do you think Joey is doing at Mr. Kim’s market? 
  14. Problem & Solution - {problem} The problem is Unhei doesn’t want to use her Korean name in America. {solution} The students in Unhei’s class start a name jar so that Unhei has names to choose from.  
  15. Sequencing – Unhei was nervous and excited to start her new school. The kids on the bus made fun of Unhei’s name. Unhei decided to not introduce herself to her class till she picked an American name. Unhei told her mom she wanted an American name. Unhei and her mom went to Mr. Kim’s market. The kids in Unhei’s class started a name jar. Unhei showed Joey her name stamp. Unhei got a letter from her grandmother. Unhei saw Joey at Mr. Kim’s market. The name jar was lost. Unhei introduced herself to her class using her Korean name. Joey came to Unhei’s house. Joey showed Unhei his Korean name stamp. 
  16. Story Elements - List title, author, characters, setting, beginning, middle, end, or problem & solution.
  17. Strong Thought – In the story Rosie says that they didn’t get to choose their names when they were born and all the kids thought about this. After hearing this, what would you say to Unhei about her Korean name? (Click to download my Strong Thought Freebie).

  18. Summarize - {someone} Unhei {wanted} wanted an American name {but} but was having a hard time thinking of one {so} so the kids in her class made a name jar to help her find a name. {then} Then came the day for Unhei to choose an American name and she {finally} finally decided to keep her Korean name. 
  19. Theme – It is always better to be yourself. 
  20. Visualize – Unhei wanted to choose an American name. What if you were allowed to choose your own name, visualize what that name would be and why that name would be better than the one you have.

Shawna Devoe is the author of The Picture Book Teacher’s Edition. You may also find her on Facebook and Pinterest. She has reviewed over 140 books on her blog and provides teaching notes for all of them! You can use the searchable links in the sidebar of her blog to find a complete listing of those titles. 

November 13, 2014

20 Tips for Motivating Gifted Kids to THINK!

Advice from Real Teachers Series

Chances are good that you have at least a few gifted children in your classroom, even if they aren't formally identified as being gifted. These students can be a joy to work with, but it does take a special teacher to know how to motivate them to set high goals for themselves and being willing to take on challenges.

Today's Question
Taylor is a fan of the Teaching Resources Facebook page who asked, "I'm working with a great group of gifted students. The only problem is that some of them don't like to have to think because they're used to everything being so easy. How do I motivate my top students to want to push to the next level? How do I get them to want to dig deep and not just to be masters of the surface level?"

Encouraging a Growth Mindset
Dozens of teachers shared their expertise in responding to Taylor's question, and many of them referred to Carol Dweck's work on encouraging students to develop a "growth mindset" where they accept challenges and see the value in tackling difficult work. Dweck wrote, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and it's a life-changing resource. If you aren't familiar with her work, watch this fascinating YouTube video that gives a great overview of some of the most relevant information for teachers. If it interests you, purchase the book to learn more.

Top 20 Suggestions for Motivating Gifted Kids to Think
Here are 20 of the best suggestions for motivating gifted kids to stretch themselves and reach their true potential. If you would like to read them all, click over to my Facebook page where you'll find them.
  1. Steve Miller - Raise the rigor and your expectations. Failure IS an option in the real world. This means YOU have to be more rigorous in designing, prepping and executing difficult concepts. Your kids will step it up only when YOU "teach it up." The first grades will be a wake-up call. Reel 'em in and teach!  That's what all of us were called to do!
  2. Matt Squires -They're used to being praised on their intelligence, not their effort. They do not have 'growth mindsets.' (Watch this YouTube this from Carol Dweck- it's incredible stuff). Make a huge effort to reward and praise their effort , not their intelligence and natural talent.
  3. MeLinda Gray -The main thing to focus on is what they are interested in. Are they gifted in your content area?  If they have are identified gifted you need to know in which subject areas. Then, remember it is not giving them extra work, but giving them challenging work that is on a different level than the regular ed students, if you have any regular ed kids.  After that, find out what they are interested in and try to design lessons, reading, etc, around those interests.  Using webquests online can be a huge help in language arts, plus they love using the internet.  It is a lot of extra prep, but they will really start responding and it will be so worth it.
  4. Mary Breveleri - Asking for evidence to back up an answer can get them to think deeper.  What did you read or see that makes you say that?  Deeper questions will result in deeper answers. Surface questions will result in surface answers. :)
  5. Sarah Smith - I had the same problem with my high math group. I would have the class solve a problem and choose 3-4 students with different answers or methods of solving the problem and have each student explain their solution and how they got there. I would then have the rest of the class debate on who was correct and why. It really made the students think about their own thinking (if that makes sense).
  6. Mary Moncus - We do team competitions.  My gifted kids are very competitive and working in small groups they can help and motivate each other.
  7. Pam Dobrowski - I have to give them graphic organizers that prompt their thinking otherwise they won't give me what I know they can do. I teach second grade.
  8. Cathleen Triplett - Project Based Learning:  Have them brainstorm problems in the community and research and solve them. They could create a website to show what they've learned and educate others.
  9. Morgan Callahan - Try the book Your Fantastic Elastic Brain! Great for teaching kids how we can expand our minds.
  10. Zanda Clearbrook - You could try a flipped classroom, or at least incorporate some aspects of it. Give them the information up front, and they come back and do some kind of research/project that shows their understanding of it. Layered Curriculum could also be a choice to use, but that takes a bit to set up the first time.
  11. Michelle Watt - The important thing to remember about gifted students is to challenge them to go deeper not broader. Also, reward the process rather than the right answer. Research fixed vs growth mindset. They have likely been rewarded for always getting the correct answer rather than their thinking process.
  12. Lorri Hurst - Use guided inquiry to push them outside of their comfort zone.  I do this with my AP students all the time.  When they ask me a question I ask one in return.  Ask questions to guide them to the place they need to be. You may have to explain this to your principal and even send a letter of the change in expectations.  Make sure you explain your goal is to produce the Best Most Productive student you can.....thinkers not memorizers!
  13. Connie Copenhaver - The passion and drive GT students need are firm, fair, expectations from a teacher who embraces growth mindset and gives challenge, rigor, enthusiasm, to academic choices to student-driven projects.  Allow the GT students to soar and be guided by you.  Give room to grow within your lesson standards.  Do not fear the what ifs...allow students to truly enjoy and engage in self-selected projects within a good question as stated in genius hour standards. You will see such joy of learning like never before!  It will transfer into all areas in your classes.  Good  luck!
  14. Kathryn Rasinya-White - Give them CHOICE! Find out what interests them and let them explore that topic using a multidisciplinary approach.
  15. Kathleen Curran - Read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck. By focusing on a growth mindset it may get them working more. They're used to being praised for how smart they are, not how hard they work. Works for low students as well
  16. Granny Bee - Genius & Passion Projects. STEM & STEAM. Anything where they get some choice and they have to set goals. Odyssey of the Mind. I tell my smart ones if they don't challenge themselves they are going to get lazy. Rabbit & the hare? The slow and steady ones will pass them up.
  17. Stephanie O'Moghrain - Genius Hour!!!  Google it, and spend about 6 hours absorbing all the info.
  18. Patricia Sardina - Try to change their mindset. If they've always been told that they're gifted failing might make them feel awful! The frustration would be just the beginning... Instead of everyone telling them how smart they are, go for, "You can learn anything." This implies a process; trying, and failing and trying again until you've got it right. If they believe that being challenged will help them learn more and keep them at the top they will go for it! Make it a game if you can: "let's see how many new words you can learn this week" or "What do you think is the best way to do this?" Good luck!
  19. Pe Howell - Give them some challenges. Can you assign a project on a topic of their choice that utilizes some of the skills you want them to enhance?
  20. Reuben Hks - Try using Kaplan's icons of depth and complexity. Here is a link to some information about them from, which is also a great website for GATE ideas. 
Do you have any of your own strategies to share? If so, please post it in a comment below. If not, which strategies in this post interest you? 

If you would like to submit a teacher question of your own, be sure to watch for the Question Connection announcement every Wednesday at 8:30 pm EST on the Teaching Resources Facebook page. Even if you don't have a question, please follow me on Facebook and offer your advice when you see the questions come through! Working together, we can accomplish more!

November 6, 2014

Teaching Kids to Write Super Sentences

Teaching Kids to Write Super Sentences - Strategies and free seasonal printables to encourage students to add detail to their sentences.
How do you encourage your students to write longer, more interesting sentences? You know what will happen if you simply them to write longer sentences...  they'll just add more words to the end, resulting in long, rambling run-ons!

After struggling with this problem myself, I developed a three-step process to help my students turn boring sentences into super sentences. I began by teaching them the difference between fragments, run-ons, and complete sentences. Then we practiced revising and expanding basic sentences to make them more interesting. After I modeled the activity and they practiced it in a whole group setting, they played a game called Sentence Go Round in their cooperative learning teams. The difference in their writing was dramatic! Before long, they were adding more detail to their sentences without creating run-ons in the process.

Step One - Mini-Lesson on Sentences, Fragments, and Run-ons
Begin by explaining that complete sentences can be short or long, but they must have two basic parts, a subject and a predicate. The subject tells who or what the sentence is about, and the predicate is the action part of the sentence, or the part that tells what the subject is doing. If it's missing one of those parts, it's a fragment. If it has a whole string of sentences that run on and on without proper punctuation, it's a run-on sentence.
Teaching Kids to Write Super Sentences - Corkboard Connections blog post with sentence-writing lesson and free seasonal sentences to expand task cards.
Next display a series of phrases or sentences and ask your students to decide if each on is a fragment, a complete sentence, or a run-on. Try these:
  • Rabbits hop. (Your students will say it's a fragment since it's so short, but it's actually a complete sentence.)
  • The big brown fluffy rabbit in the garden. (Looks like a sentence, but it's missing a predicate.)
  • Rabbits love to eat carrots and one hopped into our garden and I thought it was cute even though it was eating the carrots. (A run-on of course ... kids don't usually have trouble spotting these, but you might want to have them find all the subjects and predicates to make your point.)
  • The hungry rabbit hopped into the garden because he wanted to eat a carrot. (Even though this one is long, it's not a run-on because it only had one subject and one predicate.)

Step Two - Mini-Lesson on Revising and Expanding Sentences
After your students can distinguish between fragments, run-ons, and complete sentences, it's time for them to practice their sentence-writing skills by learning how to revise and expand basic sentences. This activity should be modeled in a whole group or guided literacy group first, and older children can do the activity later in cooperative learning teams. To start the activity, you need a set of task cards with basic sentences that lack detail. I used an example from the Fall Sentences to Expand freebie for this lesson, but you can also use one from any of the below. Look for the link to each item below its cover image, or click over to the Writing Sentences section of my TpT store where you'll find them all.

Summer                  Fall                     Winter               Spring

Whole Class Modeling:
  1. Start by selecting a basic sentence from the one of the freebies above. Let's use "She picked apples." Write the sentence on the board or show it to the class using a document camera.
  2. Explain that "She picked apples" is boring, but if we ask ourselves questions about it, we can add details that answer the question and make it more interesting. For example, if we ask "Who picked apples?" we can name someone specific. Demonstrate how to make the change as shown below.
  3. It's still a boring sentence, so let's ask, "How many?" and say that Mary picked a dozen apples.
  4. Go through the same process, each time repeating the revised sentence and asking another question. After 4 rounds of changes, it might look like the one in step 4 below.

Teaching Kids to Write Super Sentences - Corkboard Connections blog post with writing lesson and free seasonal sentences to expand task cards.
Whole Class Interactive Lesson:
  1. Next, repeat the process and actively involve your students. Ask one student to randomly select a sentence card and write it on the board.
  2. Then ask all students to think about a question they could ask and how they could revise the sentence to add one detail. It can be more than one word, but it shouldn't be more than a short phrase that answers that question. If all students have individual dry erase boards or chalkboards, ask them to write down their revisions and show them to you.
  3. Call on one student to come forward and display his or her revised sentence.
  4. Repeat the process three or four more times until you've created a sentence that's detailed and interesting, but not a run-on.
Modification Idea: If you notice that some students are creating run-on sentences, ask everyone to pair with a partner before sharing with the class to make sure all sentences are complete sentences.

Step Three - Cooperative Learning or Small Group Activity
The first two steps are the perfect segue into Sentence Go Round, an activity for cooperative learning teams or small groups to practice expanding sentences. The product below includes sample sentences for the teacher to display, as well as printables for students and a sorting activity to practice identifying fragments, run-ons, and complete sentences. Sentence Go Round also includes activity directions and question cards to prompt students as they are creating their new sentences. A recording page is provided for students to write each basis sentence and the final expanded version. All of the student pages that are in color are also available in black and white.

Feel free to substitute the seasonal sentences in one of the freebies for the basic sentences in this pack. To learn more click this link to preview Sentence Go Round or preview it in my my TpT store. If you purchased this item before I revised it, you can download the revised version for free.

Teaching Kids to Write Super Sentences - Corkboard Connections blog post with free seasonal sentences to expand task cards to go with Sentence Go Round from Laura Candler.

I hope your students enjoy these lessons and Sentence Go Round as much as mine did, and that it results in them writing super sentences instead of boring ones! Don't forget to download the free seasonal sentences that I created to go with the ones in Sentence Go Round.

November 4, 2014

5 Ways to Engage Parents Using Google Drive

Guest post by April Smith

One of my goals at the beginning of this school year was parent engagement. In the past, our school has sent home between 3-5 flyers every week trying to get parents involved, with little success. I was frustrated with how much work I was putting into communicating with the parents, only to not hear anything back.

I needed something revolutionary to engage the parents. Many of our parents work long hours and often don't even see their kids in the evening to gather all of the flyers we're sending home. I needed a solution that was easier for them to access, and easier for me to prepare.

After attending a workshop on using Google Drive in the classroom, it dawned on me that I could use this completely free service to collaborate with parents in a way that was much more accessible than sending home a ton of paper with a forgetful 4th grader.

Benefits of Google Drive 
  • Parents don't have to pay for Microsoft Office in order to read what you send them digitally.
  • Parents use the same username and password they use for their Gmail account.
  • Google Drive can be downloaded on smart phones and tablets, so parents can access every document without having to own a computer or pay for internet at their house.
  • Google saves everything you're working on, so you won't have to start from scratch when your computer restarts for updates half way into creating your monthly newsletter.

5 Ways to Use Google Drive for Parent Engagement 

1. Collecting Contact Data - I used to spend a great deal of time trying to read parent handwriting as I typed up individual contact information into a spreadsheet. From your Google Drive, you can create a Google Form with as many questions as you'd like. I setup a computer station for parents to visit when they come in for Open House before school starts, and I post the form link on my class website for the parents who weren't able to make it. For parents who still haven't filled out the form, I print and send home a paper copy, then input the information it myself.
With a couple of clicks, you can set up your form to organize the data into a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is stored in your Google Drive and is completely private unless you change the settings to share it. If you share students with other teachers, this is a great way to share contact information - just be view-able by you and the teacher you send it to! Check out this simple tutorial.

2. Sharing a Presentation - Easily upload your Back to School (or other) PowerPoint to your Google Drive or create one using Google Drive's Presentation app. Next, change the sharing settings so that anyone with a link can view it. You can then copy the link and e-mail it to your list of parent e-mails (that you collected from your Google form I hope), and also post it to your class website. If parents missed your live presentation, or want to refer back to it, they can access it at their convenience.

3. Sending a Class Newsletter - Your class newsletter can be created and sent to parents using Google Docs. Check out this great newsletter template that you can edit for your own class newsletter. Make sure you change it so that parents with the link can only view.

When you create your newsletter, you can add photos from your classroom to it and link to resources you want to share.

4. Communicating About Behavior - Every year I have a couple of students who end up needing parent communication about behavior on a daily basis. Instead of coloring in a smiley face every day or sending home multiple notes, why not share a Google Spreadsheet with their parents? Not only is this a wonderful resource for divorced parents and busy families, but it simplifies the process for you. You can add information to the spreadsheet directly from your own device (I use the Google Drive app on my I-pad). I can immediately add an anecdotal note about the student without having to dash across the classroom looking for a pen, or waiting until the end of the day when I've already forgotten what behaviors happened when.

I personally set up a Google Form that I can fill out quickly, with the particular problem behaviors for that student as check-boxes. I then share the spreadsheet where the data goes with the parents.

*Remember to change the share settings so that only the people you invite can view. This definitely shouldn't be live to the entire internet due to privacy issues. I never include the student's name just to be safe. I save the document and form as the student's class number (i.e. "Student 23") just in case.

5. Conference Sign-ups - This year I sent home paper forms for parents to sign up for a parent-teacher conference slot. They had the option to fill out the paper form with their top 3 choices, or log into the Google Doc to add their name to a guaranteed slot. The parents who turned in the paper form were given one of their appointments depending on the availability, but the parents filling it out online immediately knew when their conference slot was. I only received 4 paper forms, leaving a lot less work for me. I also had 100% attendance this year, which means the parents knew when their time slots were and there was no lost paper between me and their family.

Implementation Tips 

During Open House, Back to School, and even Parent-teacher Conferences, I personally show parents how to create an account and download the Google Drive app to their phone. For parents without e-mail addresses, I also help them sign up for Gmail, and download the app on their phone with notifications turned on. I was surprised to see how many of them were using Gmail and Google Drive for other things once I introduced it to them!

For those parents who do not have smart phones, devices, or computers, all of these files can be easily printed just like any other file on your computer. I've even had parents fill out a Google form using paper and pencil, then I filled it out digitally for them. You can also have a computer available in your classroom where parents can log in and participate.

Get started now at!

April is an upper grade teacher that loves creating fun and interesting activities for her students. She shares technology, Math, and Language Arts lessons on her website

October 30, 2014

Exploring 2-Digit Multiplication with Base Ten Blocks

Guest Blog Post by Dr. Shirley Disseler

The way we do math has changed! The Common Core offers a new way to look at an old subject and encourages us to integrate relevant content. There are many new and exciting ways to get students motivated in the math by teaching in this more constructivist manner. For example, manipulatives like base ten blocks can be used to create area models of multiplication. This method’s focus is based on place value, which is an area of great importance for elementary students if they are to master math concepts in later years. Many teachers are just not comfortable with this new format, so I would like to describe an activity to get students comfortable with the new way to use place value to multiply two-digit numbers using manipulatives.

First the teacher should provide a hands-on practice time so that students begin to get comfortable with the manipulatives. To do that students should be given base ten blocks and provided a problem such as 12 x 14. Students then build the model and write the partial products. Students would draw the model and explain where the partial products portion of the model. It would look like this:

This approach is optimal for students because engagement is ramped up. Students do not realize they are really practicing multiplication of 2 digit numbers, and it affords the teacher the time to walk around and assess the level of struggle going on among students.

Area Model Match-Up Freebie
Once students have begun to understand students can begin to investigate the topic in more of game-like format using the Area Model Match-Up Activity, a lesson included in my book Strategies and Activities for Common Core Math Grades 3-5, Part I. My publisher has allowed me to share this activity as a free download. Click the image on the right to download it and read the complete directions.

In this activity, students play in groups of 2 or 3 to draw a two-digit multiplication problem card. Each student models the problem using base ten blocks and the others try to identify the problem and create a solution. Area Model Match-Up covers the standards included in Numbers in Base Ten for grades 4 & 5, as well as many of the math practices of the current standards. This strategy provides a more hand-on approach to understanding the actual number placement in two-digit multiplication problems. It takes out the misconception that students often have about the zero that serves as a place holder in this computational skill.

Math will always be about numbers, but the fact that students now need to “know” the math, not just “do” the math somehow makes it more fun. At the same time, it makes it somewhat scary for those teachers who did not learn to teach in this way.  Try these activities and see how engaged the students become!  Enjoy and remember… Common Core brings the “do” and the “know” together!

Dr. Shirley Disseler is Assistant Professor of Elementary and Middle Grades Education at High Point University in North Carolina. She has National Board certification as a Middle Childhood Generalist. Dr. Disseler has taught both elementary and middle school math and science, and has received many awards throughout her teaching career. She is the author of Strategies and Activities for Common Core Math Grades 3-5, a 2-part series.

October 29, 2014

Five Ways to Teach Your Students Empathy

Guest post by Emily Liscom

As teachers, we strive to push each of our students to his/her full potential. We have the responsibility to educate each student academically, emotionally, and socially. In my classroom, the single most important thing I can teach my students is empathy. If my students are able to understand the thoughts, feelings, and needs of others, they will be able to interact in a selfless manner. This will also help them to avoid physical and unpleasant conflict. 

Teaching students empathy can be extremely difficult, but it is very rewarding. When your students can practice empathy, it will benefit your instruction because your students will be in tune with the content you are teaching. It will also benefit your community, because your students will feel safe because they have the tools to solve conflicts.

1. Use Reading Standards that focus on character to teach empathy. 
Most reading curriculums include at least one standard that focuses on character and that's where you can sneak in a few lessons on empathy. If you are teaching the CCSS, Anchor Standard Three specifically deals with character. As grade levels increase, that standard narrows its focus to a character and his or her actions in response to an event. Using this standard is the perfect opportunity to assist students in understanding how characters feel and react to different situations. This is a great way to teach empathy, especially for those teachers whom have a tight academic curriculum with little time to incorporate extra learning activities into their curriculum.

 2. Allow your students to share their personal stories from the beginning of the school year.
This helps all students gain a better understanding of who they are personally and why they act as they do. The more students know about each other, the easier it is to understand their actions and/or emotions that may arise throughout the year. This will also help you to understand each of your students.

3. When there is a conflict, have a plan for solution driven conversations.
I have a go-to conversation stem for my students to use when they have a conflict. For example: “When you _________________ it makes me feel _________________. I don’t like to feel _________________ because _________________. Next time, I would like you to _________________.”

Because the conversation stem includes a part where the child can tell why they don’t like to feel a certain way, it really lets students understand that particular emotion.

4. As a class, take the time to focus on one feeling at a time. 
When you introduce one feeling at a time, your students will be able to identify and understand each emotion separately. For each feeling, I will create an anchor chart to guide our class discussion. To encourage participation and ownership, I will have each student write or draw a picture on a sticky for when they felt that way. I will have them put the sticky notes on their desks and then students will participate in a gallery walk around the room to observe pictures. Students then place their sticky notes on the anchor chart. After I finish the lesson, I always hang the anchor chart in a visible place.

5. Accept each student for who he or she is, as an individual. 
Show love and compassion for your students, and they will learn to show it towards each other. Be patient and model respectful conversation and problem solving. Students will not learn this in a day. You are one of their most influential role models so use it to your advantage and know that each interaction you can model is helping build a community of caring students.

Emily Liscom is currently a first grade teacher. She is the author and owner of the website Education to the Core. She loves to share ideas and resources that are both effective and purposeful. 

October 18, 2014

3D Printers - New Dimensions in Learning!

Guest post by Renee Peoples

“What can a third grader do with a 3D printer? How could it help them learn? Isn't it just a fancy toy? When would a teacher find time for such a thing? Who would program it, run it, teach students about it? Where would it go? Why would I want to have one?”

These were just a few of the questions in my mind when I saw that DonorsChoose had a program to try to get a 3D printer in every school. I was not interested.

Then, a few weeks later, I got an email that the program was opened up to every school in the country. I started to get interested and asked an engineer if there was anything for an eight year old to do on a 3D printer. He thought they would find plenty to do.

So I wrote a DonorsChoose proposal and got it approved. The next day, my project was funded because most of it was covered through a grant from the Makerbot, the manufacture of the 3D printer. I had no idea how much our classroom would change! 

3D Printers in a Nutshell
If you haven't seen a 3D printer, let me tell you a little about it before I share how it impacted our classroom. It's not really a printer in the normal sense of the word because it doesn't create 2-dimensional images on a piece of paper. Instead, it creates 3-dimensional models out of plastic. Our printer is a Makerbot Replicator 2 (shown below) and it looks like a large open box.The operator of the printer has to program the printer to create the object, and the object is created inside the box.

Luckily, there is a website, Thingiverse, where people who know how to write the programs put things they have made. In order to make the website better, there are contests. People upload their programs. A teacher (yes, even a third grade teacher) can get the program off that, put it into the 3D printer software, and be ready to print real items.

The "printing" process could take as little as 10 minutes or it might take hours, depending on the size of the object. It's exciting to watch because the item is in view the is in view the whole time it is printing. You can actually see the extruder lay down the plastic!

How 3D Printers Can Impact Learning
Having a 3D printer in the classroom can add a new dimension to the learning process because it allows students to make physical objects that relate to their curriculum. Need to see what a femur looks like? Print one! Studying explorers? Print a Viking ship! Studying geographic features of the earth? Print landform models!

Being able to create models of what they are studying makes a serious impact on students. It turned out that a 3D printer is not really is not a toy; it is technology at its finest. After a few minutes setting it up, maintenance turned out to be fairly easy.

3D learning happens across the curriculum. We read a story about a boy who made a hand with the help of his father. Going online to look at items to print involves a lot of reading. Writing about what students want to create when they grow up is very engaging for students in the classroom, and sure gets their creativity flowing.  Math concepts are embedded. If the project is too big and will take too much time or filament, we reduce it. Proportional reasoning is very interesting when you do it with real items. Vocabulary and science increase as you use the printer. Public speaking skills are enhanced when students explain how it works. “The filament goes into the extruder....”

I have only scratched the surface in the months since we acquired our printer, but I know that there is so much more to learn and do with it, and I can’t wait!

After 30 years of teaching in preK to 5th grade and administration in 4 states, Renee Peoples is now a Teaching and Learning Coach in Swain County at an elementary school, where she coaches teachers and students to integrate technology into their daily activities.