January 29, 2015

Fraction Predict and Compare Partner Activity

Free Predict and Compare Fractions Partner Activity... WOW! Students love this activity, and it sparks some amazing conversations about fractions!
No doubt about it ... comparing fractions is tough for kids, especially when those fractions have different denominators! In fact, some might argue that this skill is too challenging for 3rd and 4th graders, which might be true if they have to find least common denominators. But if kids develop fraction number sense instead of memorizing algorithms, they will blow you away with how easily they use creative thinking to solve comparison problems!

How do we get kids to that point? It's easier than you might think! One key is structuring math assignments so that students are motivated to think, and they are rewarded for unique approaches to problem solving. The second key is giving kids time to talk over new concepts with a partner.

Predict, Justify, & Check Partner Math Talk Activity
Use this simple partner math talk activity to boost engagement and increase rigor with almost ANY assignment. Pair each student with a partner before the activity, and then guide them through these steps. If possible, have students repeat this cycle of predicting, discussing, and checking answers several times before moving to independent assignments.
  1. Predict - Before solving the problem, estimate the answer and record your prediction.
  2. Justify - Turn to your partner and justify your estimate or prediction. 
  3. Check - Solve the problem. Where you correct?  Discuss why or why not.
Why It Works
What's the secret to Predict, Justify, & Check? No one likes to be wrong, so asking students to explain WHY they believe in a certain outcome will make them think critically about their reasons. If they are right, they are rewarded by feeling a sense of pride. If they are wrong, they are motivated to figure out where they went wrong in their thinking because they will want to get the next one correct.

Try It With Fraction Predict and Compare
To see this strategy in action, visit my Fractions File Cabinet page and download one of the two Fraction Predict and Compare freebies to try with your students. (The only difference is that one has a penguin theme and the other is penguin-free!) The directions below are for whole group instruction, but it can also be used as a guided math lesson or in math centers. Each packet includes a Predict and Compare math mat and special fraction cards that have fractions on one side and corresponding fraction bars on the other side.

Partner Prediction Activity Directions:
  1. Pair each student with a partner. Each student will need a dry erase board or scratch paper for recording responses. 
  2. Display the Predict and Compare math mat under a document camera, and place two fraction cards on it with the number form face up. Don't let your students see the fraction bars on the backs of the cards.
  3. Ask your students to think about which fraction is larger and to compare them using <. >. or =. They should record their responses without talking to their partners
  4. Next, ask everyone to compare their dry erase boards with their partners and to talk over the reasons for their answers. 
  5. Finally, flip over the fraction cards to reveal the fractions bars on the backs of the cards. Show your students which fraction is larger and discuss their answers.  
Free Predict and Compare Fractions Partner Activity... WOW! Students love this activity, and it sparks some amazing conversations about fractions!

Classroom Tested-Teacher Approved!
What's exciting about Fraction Predict and Compare is how quickly your students start applying a wide variety of creative and effective strategies to compare the fractions.When I created Penguin Fraction Predictions, I asked for volunteers to test it out with their students. Kris Sandwell agreed to try it in her 3rd grade class, and that evening she shared this feedback with me:
"My students LOVED this! They did not want to leave and requested that we play it again - not once, but twice! There was so much conversation going on - how to figure it out, do we use number lines or some other tool, what was the best tool to use, how to we do equivalent fractions, etc. These were 3rd graders and they had so much fun I almost wanted to start yelling down the halls about how incredible the activity was. I would strongly recommend this for any teacher who teaches fractions!"
Formative Assessment or Center Game
I was thrilled that Kris's kids love the activity, but I was more excited about her comments regarding their conversations and the critical thinking that was taking place. The activity works really well as an formative assessment before you introduce the concept of comparing fractions. As you walk around the room observing your students, you'll see who will need extra help and support with this concept. The activity would also work well in a math center to reinforce the concepts after you teach comparing fractions.

ree Comparing Fractions Partner Activities - Kids love these partner activities, and they generate some great discussions about how to compare fractions.

Penguin Fraction Predictions and Fraction Predict and Compare are essentially the same activity, but one has a penguin-theme and the other one doesn't. You can download both of them for free from my Fraction File Cabinet page on Teaching Resources. They come with the fraction cards and the game board needed for the lesson. Both lessons are samples from my comparing fractions products. If you like these freebies, take a few minutes to click the links below to check out the fraction products in my store. I love creating helpful resources for teachers, and I think that these are some of my best!

January 21, 2015

5 Reader’s Theater Myths Debunked (and Tips to Make it Work in YOUR Class!)

Guest post by Sarah Wiggins

I first heard about reader’s theater in college and thought, “How fun! I will definitely do that when I have a class of my own.” When I did get my very own classroom, however, I was overwhelmed with everything that I was supposed to fit into my reading block. How could I possibly add one more thing? In my mind, I had made it this giant production that required tons of time and involved massive preparation including sets, costumes, and tense practice sessions. I soon realized I had been thinking of reader’s theater all wrong and letting the misconceptions prevent me from utilizing a valuable teaching tool.

Maybe you have believed some of these misconceptions, too, and my goal is to help debunk the myths.

MYTH #1—Reader’s theater must be a big production. 
TRUTH: You can make reader’s theater as big or as small as you want it. You don’t have to have props, sets, or any of that. The fact that it is divided into parts is special enough.

Try This:
  • Just print the scripts and go. 
  • Have students sit in their chairs in a circle with everyone’s knees facing the center, no need for “places” or acting, just reading. 
  • If you do want to go all out, wait until the last week of school or the week before winter break. Divide students into groups, and put them in charge of producing a play. Hey, that energy has to go somewhere.

MYTH #2—Reader’s theater takes too much time. 
TRUTH: Reader’s theater doesn’t have to require a huge time commitment. Carve out 15-20 minutes when you can.

Try This:
  • Pass out a script after the test on Friday or in place of a textbook story one day. 
  • Try finding scripts that match up with your social studies or science standards, and do reader’s theater during those times. 
  • Pack up a few minutes early, and let students practice their scripts until their bus is called. 
  • Do reader’s theater in lieu of morning work a few days a week. Just have students come in and begin working on a script instead of completing a worksheet.
  • Use it as a literacy center with a new script each week.

MYTH #3—Reader’s theater is just putting on a class play for fun. 
TRUTH: Unlike doing a play, where the focus is the acting, reader’s theater focuses on reading. The repeated reading aloud enhances fluency and word recognition skills. Not to mention, it addresses the Common Core speaking and listening standards. Added bonuses are teamwork, cooperative learning, and problem solving skills.

Try This:
  • Rather than reading a script as a whole class, divide your class into groups for reader’s theater. This way, each student gets more actual reading practice.
  • Before beginning reader’s theater in your classroom, set guidelines for fluent reading practices and behavior so that students know this is not just playtime. You may even create an anchor chart with your students like the one below.

MYTH #4—Reader’s theater takes too much preparation and paper. 
TRUTH: Initially, there is some work involved to get it going, but it will pay off in the end. Plus, you can re-use scripts from year to year.

Try This:
  • Make 5 copies each time you get a new script. Print on the backs of pages when possible. 
  • Highlight the parts ahead of time. If there are more than 5 parts, choose parts that have fewer lines and double them up. It’s ok for one student to read multiple parts. 
  • Keep the pre-highlighted scripts in plastic sleeves in a three-pronged folder.
  • Invite a trustworthy parent volunteer to do the highlighting and setting up.

MYTH #5—Reader’s theater is just for little kids. 
TRUTH: Reader’s theater can be adapted for students of all ages. Even “big kids” get excited when you break out a script.

Try This:
  • Find engaging scripts on your students’ reading levels. Many scripts are based on well-known books. Look for high interest topics, popular characters, and higher-level vocabulary. You may even find scripts that address your content area topics.
Think you’re ready to give it a try? Here is a FREE script to get you started. How Dorothy Saved the Scarecrow is a four-page script for grades 3-5 based on a familiar chapter from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.

Don’t worry if it doesn’t go perfectly the first time. Just jump in and try it! See how it goes, and tweak it as needed. It will get easier each time as your students get accustomed to your expectations.

Sarah Wiggins has spent eight wild and crazy years in the classroom and believes learning is more than a worksheet. She is on a quest to help students think outside the box, and she likes to share creative, practical teaching ideas on her blog, Using My Teacher Voice.

January 18, 2015

Penguin Fractions = Fraction Fun!

Fractions can be a tough concept at any grade, so I'm always looking for fun ways to teach them. A few months ago I decided to create a hands-on sorting activity, and I thought it would be fun to use penguin theme. I envisioned activity cards with penguins having fractions on their tummies, and that's what I created. I later added matching fraction bars which can be printed on the backs of the penguin fractions. Visual models are important for concept development, so being able to flip a card over and see that the fraction looks like makes them even more effective.

As usual, what started out to be a simple activity quickly exploded into a whole collection of resources! I created the sorting activity as planned, but then I started thinking of other ways to use the Penguin Fraction Activity Cards. I ended up creating several variations and sizes of the cards, too, in both black and white and color. The color cards are especially helpful if you can afford the ink because all penguin fractions of the same color have the same denominator.

Equivalent Fraction Freebie 
Would you like to try one of my Penguin Fraction lessons with your students? This Equivalent Fractions Sorting activity is a free sample lesson from Penguin Fractions: Exploring the Basics, and it comes with the penguin fraction activity cards and sorting mat you see here.

I love creating freebies for teachers, and this is just one of the many free resources I send to my email subscribers. If you'd like a copy,  just click here to get Equivalent Fractions Sorting and to sign up for my newsletter all in one step!

If you already receive my newsletter, this freebie is located on the private, members-only page called Laura's Best Freebies along with more than 75 other free resources. If you can't find it, sign up here and I'll send this freebie right over!

Penguin Fraction Resources
So far I've completed about a half dozen separate products and several bundles in my Penguin Fractions series, and I've got more planned. All of the products are aligned with Common Core State Standards for 3rd and/or 4th grade, but they can also be used for review with older kids.

One reason I'm excited about these new resources is the fantastic feedback I'm getting from teachers who have started using them. When I work on any new product, I share my early drafts with my "feedback team," a group of teachers who try the resources out with their students and let me know what works and what needs to be tweaked.

Tami Terry tried the activity with several of her classes and snapped a picture of these 4th graders testing out an early version of the benchmark sorting activity. The directions call for students to work with a partner and take turns sorting fractions into three groups: less than 1/2, equal to 1/2, or greater than 1/2. As the students work, they are encouraged to talk over the reasons for each fraction card placement. The kids loved it and it helped them understand the concept of comparing fractions to benchmarks. The final sorting board included in Penguin Fractions: Comparing and Ordering ended up looking like the one below.

Where to Find Penguin Fraction Resources
If you are creative and have time to make your own games, you can purchase the Fraction Activity Cards alone. If you would rather spend a few extra dollars and save yourself time, consider purchasing one of the ebooks or bundles which include the activity cards. Both ebooks include complete lessons as well as printable games and activities for practicing fraction skills. If you love the whole concept, you might want to purchase my Penguin Fraction Concepts Growing Bundle. I will be adding several more items to the bundle, and if you purchase it now, you'll get anything added to the bundle for free! You'll find links to all of these resources at the end of this post or by clicking the Penguin Fractions link in my TpT custom categories. Be sure to read the descriptions for each product before you make any purchase so you don't end up making duplicate purchases.

Years of Penguin Fraction Fun!
Yes, I know what you are thinking! Those penguin fraction cards are going to be a bit of work to print, laminate, and cut out. You want to print them in color, too, and color ink isn't cheap! Just remember that after you have them made, you'll be able to use them year after year. You'll be glad you invested the time and energy into creating these cards, because the penguin fraction activities will make fractions fun to teach and even more fun for your students to learn!


January 4, 2015

Tips for Classroom Goal Setting

Goal setting is a powerful process for bringing about change. Identifying what you want and mapping out a plan of action helps you achieve your dreams, both personally and professionally. The same is true for students. Since the goal-setting process can be unfamiliar and challenging, I'd like to offer a few tips, a freebie, and some additional resources for teaching these skills to students. You can find even more strategies in my ebook, Classroom Goal Setting.

Now's the Time to Review and Set Goals
Sometime in January many of you may be ending one grading period and starting another. This is a perfect time for students to reflect on the goals they set earlier and to set goals for the new grading period. When I was teaching, this was the time of year that students reviewed their grades and quarterly test results, they identified which goals they had met. Next, they wrote goals and action plans for the upcoming grading period.

Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, it wasn't quite as simple as it sounds! The process may seem easy, but it's a concept that takes time to develop. I explained the process in great deal in my ebook for teachers, Classroom Goal Setting, but I want to share a few more tips and tricks to help make things even easier.

Tips for Teaching Goal Setting 
  • Record Goals and Action Plans - After explaining the difference between a goal and an action plan, guide your students through the process of writing their own goals and plans. Use this one-page printable as a place for them to record their ideas. You can download and print My Goals and Action Plans for free from the sidebar of the Classroom Goal Setting page on Teaching Resources. 
  • Academic & Personal Goals - Along with goals for grades and attendance, students can set goals for things they want to achieve or accomplish at home. Ask students to set at one personal goal and three academic goals for themselves.
  • Baby Steps - Don't expect students to complete the entire form at one time. Break the lesson up into 4 small chunks. Have them write one goal and a set of action plans each day. Or write all 4 goals one day and all 4 action plans the next.
  • Conferring - Allow time to confer individually with students who are struggling to write goals and action plans. After students write one goal and action plan, collect their papers or journals to review. Many students will need additional guidance and it's best to identify those students early in the process. The single page form makes it easy for you as the teacher to review your students' goals and discuss them during individual conferences. 
  • Track Progress in a Journal - If you are interested in a more elaborate method of tracking goals and assessing progress each week, you'll want to check out Tracking My Goals, my new kid-friendly journal for elementary students. You can use this journal after students complete the one page form with their goals and action plans. I recently created an extensive set of journal pages that you can mix and match to create your own custom journal for your students. See below for details.
  • Review Goals and Check Progress Frequently - After they transfer their goals to a journal, set aside a few minutes each week for them to review their goals and track their progress.
  • Grading Tips - It's not necessary to grade this activity, but there's nothing wrong with considering this to be a writing lesson and grading their work accordingly. I didn't grade what my students choose as goals, but I did grade them on how well they followed directions and the amount of detail in their action plans. They seem to put more thought and effort into the activity if I made my expectations clear and if I treated this as a regular assignment.

More About Tracking Goals in Journals
Student journals are extremely effective for recording goals and reflecting on progress. Even elementary school students can set goals and track their progress when given the right tools and guidance.

I recently created a small half-page journal called Tracking My Goals as a companion to my Classroom Goal Setting book. This mini pack includes directions for assembling the journal and 20 different options for journal covers and pages. You can mix and match to create a journal that meets the needs of your students. To preview all the page options, click here. I also have a version for older students called My Goal Tracker that's available on TpT.

When I first created this item, it was just for upper elementary students. Then 1st and 2nd grade teachers asked for a primary variation, and I worked with them to create a variety of additional pages. Now you can choose between two different cover styles and over a dozen inside pages to create your own customized journal!

If you want specific, step-by-step directions for teaching students to set goals and create action plans, check out my Classroom Goal Setting ebook. Because the ebook and the student journal work so well together, I have packaged them together in a cost-saving bundle. You can preview those items in full by following the links in the Goal Setting and Data Tracking Combo description in my TpT store.

What if all teachers at your school taught their students about goal setting and helped them track their progress? What an amazing difference that could make! My Goals and Data Tracking School Site License will make it easy for all teachers in one school to have access to these resources. In case you didn't know, TpT does accept purchase orders from schools.

Goal setting is a powerful process. What greater gift can we give our students than to share this process with them? I hope these resources will help!