October 31, 2015

Seek & Spell Challenge - Word Work That WORKS!

Seek & Spell Challenge is an engaging word work activity that's so fun your kids won't know they're learning!
Do your students groan when it's time for spelling? Spelling might be an important subject, but it doesn't exactly inspire a passion for learning! But that might change if you introduce your kids to Seek & Spell Challenge! In fact, they might BEG for this activity!

Students are given a set of letter tiles that they use to create and record as many words as possible. Making words with letter tiles is not a unique concept, but Seek & Spell Challenge has a unique twist that makes it motivating and fun for kids. What's the secret sauce? Simply that all of the letters can be unscrambled to form a "mystery word," and kids love the challenge of searching for that word!

I first created Seek & Spell Challenge as a fun seatwork activity for my 5th graders to be used on special days, like the the morning of a field trip or the day before a holiday because it had a calming effect on the class and my students enjoyed it. But when I noticed how much my students' spelling and foundational reading skills were improving, I started including it as a regular work work activity in my literacy centers. The results were even more amazing when I used it weekly!

When I began creating my monthly  Seasonal Activities Mini Packs, I included a similar word work activity in some of the packs. The only difference was that kids didn't have to look for a mystery word, because the word or phrase was written at the bottom of the printable. (This Words in a Word example is in my November Activities pack.)

But about a month ago, I came across one of my old mystery word printables, and I realized that the original activity was worthy of being a separate product. Furthermore, it was so motivating and effective that it NEEDED to be shared with other teachers!

I decided to run the Seek & Spell Challenge concept by the elementary teachers in one of my Facebook groups to see what they thought about it. They loved the idea!  So I invited those who were interested to work with me on the project. I had only used the activity with 5th graders, and I wanted to adapt it for younger students and test the activities in classrooms from 2nd grade to 5th grade.

As I created the mini-lessons and printables and shared them with the teachers, they offered great suggestions, like using lowercase letters instead of the uppercase letters I had been using. The 2nd grade teachers asked for a variation of the printable with fewer lines and larger spaces for recording words. Throughout the process, these amazing teachers tested the printables and activities in their classrooms. Everything worked perfectly as planned!

Seek & Spell Challenge is an engaging word work activity that's so fun your kids won't know they're learning!
Click HERE to download a PDF preview.

What Teachers Love About Seek & Spell Challenge

I loved seeing the photos of students working with the materials, but the best part was reading feedback from the teachers about why they love the program. It was so validating to learn that what I had experienced in my classroom was happening in other classrooms, too. Here's what a few of teachers shared with me:
Seek & Spell Challenge engaged my students and encouraged "real thinking" about words and their spelling. I loved watching teams of two work together and brainstorm and then check the word wall or their "quick words" for correct spelling. Having to find the "Mystery Word" was the bonus! The kids loved this concept and it provided a nice challenge for those who needed it. Manipulating the letters is important for student growth as it provides practice and exposure that they need as spellers, writers, and readers. ~ Cheryl Jordan, 2nd  Grade
 My students loved Seek & Spell Challenge! I had them work individually and then with a partner. They enjoyed comparing the words they each had made, finding those that were the same and those that were different. They saw that they could rearrange the letters in each other's "big" words and make smaller words too. I know there are similar word work activities; however, this packet is much more thoroughly put together and easier to prepare and use in the classroom. ~ Cheryl Barrios, 3rd and 4th Grade
I love how Seek & Spell Challenge is naturally differentiated for each student’s level; my lowest students could find success and my higher students could find challenges. ~ Deena Hayes, 5th Grade
My students loved the kinesthetic aspect of Seek & Spell Challenge. It was interesting to watch how they created words and how the activity easily differentiates itself as the kids are working. Having the letters that can be confused underlined helps greatly. Even though my kids needed help finding the mystery word, they were still so excited to get to it via my clues and were just as happy when they finally figured it out. The mystery part adds such a fun element to the whole activity. ~ Sally Campbell, 2nd and 3rd Grade

Seek & Spell Challenge Holiday Word Work Freebie

Does Seek & Spell Challenge sound like an activity that would benefit your students? Wouldn't it be nice if you could try it before you buy it? :-) You can!

To give teachers a chance to test out the activity, I created a holiday word work freebie that's similar to the sets of mystery word printables in Seek & Spell Challenge. The reason I titled it a holiday activity is that the mystery word is "gingerbread," but you can use this one any time of the year. There's no holiday clipart on the page itself.

Download this word work freebie from my TpT store and try it with your students to see how it works. Here are some features you'll love about the Seek & Spell Challenge program:
  • Ready-to-use, no prep printables
  • 36 mystery words (1 per week)
  • Several options for grading rubrics
  • Editable printables and rubrics
  • Several formats make it easy to differentiate
  • Hands-on, kinesthetic approach    

Thanks to My Teacher Field Testers!

I wanted to wrap up with a funny story from Deena Hayes who tested the activity with her 5th graders. Sometimes teachers have to be a little sneaky to get kids started on a new activity, and Deena knew just what to say at the first sign of resistance!
"My class had a great time completing the activity. At first, they weren't exactly thrilled, because it looked like a spelling activity. I reassured them that it wasn't spelling at all, instead it was a fun puzzle contest. With that, the race was off and running!"
I am so grateful for the help from my field testers; Seek & Spell Challenge would not be the awesome resource that it is without their feedback and suggestions! To show my appreciation, I listed them all in the acknowledgements at the end of the book... and I sent them all a free copy of the finished product, of course!

October 27, 2015

Undercover Boss - School Style!

Guest post by Michelle of Teach 1, 2, 3

I was watching one of my favorite shows, Undercover Boss, when I had a brainstorm! What if a legislator, congressman, State Superintendent or Commissioner of Education went undercover in the schools in their districts? They would see the impact of the decisions that they make. It would be first-hand experience, much better feedback than what they normally receive.

If you haven't seen Undercover Boss, you can click HERE to watch the first few minutes of an episode on YouTube. But be sure to return to Corkboard Connections to read how the undercover boss concept might work at school.

If you listen to many conversations or read many posts involving education, you will often sense a negative tone. Teachers are facing more and more pressures today. Critics of new curriculum and standards, larger class sizes, less resources, and the list could go on and on. Is it any wonder that administrators, school leaders, and the Sunshine Committees are often searching for ways to support the staff and improve the school climate?

Undercover Boss - School Style

While it might be a pipe dream to have our government leaders spend a day as a teacher undercover, I do think administrators could do a modified version of it. Everyone at the school knows the administrator, so the undercover portion of Undercover Boss would not work. But, the principal could go back to the classroom and walk in your shoes. He or she would gain some of the same valuable insights that the people on Undercover Boss do. What is a strength and weakness of the new curriculum? How are the students adapting to the school wide behavior plan? Can the class hear announcements? Is there enough time to get the class through the lunch line? He or she could also see the impact of other decisions that are made by the administrative team.

Choosing a Class to Visit

An administrator is a busy person so how would he or she decide whose class to visit? This can be organized in a variety of ways. Here are two suggestions:
  • Reward - Put all of the names of the staff members who have perfect attendance for the month in a hat. Draw a name (or two,three . . . ) out of the hat. Those names are the winner of a 30-minute break when the administrator teaches a lesson. You may find that your attendance rate goes up which is a win-win for everyone! 
  • New Teachers - I don't know about you, but when I began my first year of teaching, I was completely overwhelmed with all of the hundreds of details and decisions that I had to make in a day. I really wished that a mentor would had modeled strategies with my class instead of giving me a list of what I needed to work on before we met the next time. It would had been more beneficial if I could have seen these strategies in action rather than verbally telling me what to do or handing me a book or article. A principal would be the perfect person to do this since he or she knows these students, sometimes for years and shaping the career of a new teacher has to be (I would think) one of the more rewarding aspects of the job.

Undercover Story Time With Your Principal

An easy way to implement Undercover Boss - School Style is for your principal to schedule a Story Time visit with each classroom. One of my former principals visited each class at the beginning of the year to read his favorite book and talk about what school was like when he was in that grade. It was a great way for the principal to introduce himself to the students. Students found ways to connect with him through the story time lesson. I often saw them talking to him in the hallway or lunch about topics brought up in his lesson. He share things like: playing soccer, favorite cartoons, and his favorite subject in school. All topics that are an instant hit with students!

It not only built relationships with students, but those same children went home excited about how their principal who was so "cool" and played soccer like them. I had several parents comment on how impressed they were that a busy principal would take the time to visit classes and do something like this. These visits were scheduled during the first month of school because he knew teachers have endless amounts of paperwork. Although we were asked to stay in the classroom, we were allowed to work on paperwork or other work that did not involve the students. This was like a 30-minute gift of time for us when we needed it the most. This was a wonderful community building activity that I highly recommend.

Story Time Freebies
If you are a teacher and you would like your principal to bring story time to your classroom, be sure to share this post with him or her. If you are a principal and would like to try this activity, I have some free printables for you. Here's what's included:
  • Signs: color and black/white
  • Schedule your story time visit with the teacher
  • Reminder about your visit
  • 3 reading response assignments 
There are 3 variations of the reading response assignment that you can use in different grade levels or to differentiate in one class. If you don't want to assign them yourself, you can give them to the teacher after your lesson.

Are you on the administrative team or have an administrator who likes to try new things?  Does Undercover Boss - School Style sound like something you or someone you know would like to do? If so, try one of these ideas or tell us your how you did it in the comment section below.  Learning and sharing from each other is one of the best parts of the blogging community.

I enjoy writing about how to have a happy school. I have compiled some of my posts about this topic on a page of my blog and will continue to add to the list as I add more posts. Click on the picture above if you'd like to read more ideas about this topic. Thank you Laura for inviting me to visit your blog today!

Michelle is the creator of the Teach 1, 2, 3 blog where she shares her teaching tips and classroom management strategies. She's taught in a variety of schools, both large and small, as well as public and private, and this wide range of experiences is evident in her teaching materials. 

October 15, 2015

The Question Connection for Elementary Educators

If you follow my Teaching Resources Facebook page, you may have seen my Question Connection posts. This is a regular feature where teachers can ask questions, and other educators respond with links to resources and helpful advice based on experience.

Submit Questions Anonymously
The only problem with submitting a question on Facebook is that up until now, there hasn't been a way to share it anonymously. But sometimes a topic is just too sensitive for you to want to post your question publicly.

Problem solved! Just submit your question via this private Google Doc form, and if it's a good fit for my Facebook page, I'll be happy to post it for you sometime in the next week or so. When you submit your question, you'll be asked to enter your first name, but you can make up a name if you want the question to be anonymous. To get started, click HERE or the Question Connection form below.

What are "Good Fit" Questions?
Because a lot of questions are submitted, I'm not able to share every question that's submitted. So I review all questions and select the ones that I think will be most relevant to elementary educators because they are the primary followers of Teaching Resources. What kinds of questions are a good fit for the page? You can ask for links to curriculum resources, advice about how to deal with classroom management issues, book suggestions, information about new online tools, etc. If you aren't sure if your question is a good fit, submit it anyway because you never know!

Don't Miss the Responses to Your Question!
My Facebook page has over 670,000 followers, so if your question is shared, it's likely to get some pretty amazing responses! I've seen questions that had over 100 responses! To be sure you don't miss them, click over to the Teaching Resources Facebook page and click the Like button to follow it. If you don't see your question after a few days, scroll through the posts on the timeline to see if it's there. 

Share Your Advice and Expertise
Teachers sharing their advice and expertise make up the other half of the Question Connection. So if you see a question you can answer, please jump in and help! Your advice might offer just the right solution for another teacher reading the post. Through the power of social media, you'll be making a impact beyond the walls of your classroom. Trust me, a teacher somewhere will be thanking you!

Got teacher questions? Ask and answer them on the Teaching Resources Facebook page because the best advice comes from real teachers!

October 8, 2015

20 Terrific Quiet Signals That Work!

Advice from Real Teachers Series
What's your favorite quiet signal? Check out these terrific quiet signals that include everything from call and response strategies to fun noise-making objects like train whistles and rain sticks!
When you teach hands-on lessons and use active engagement strategies, it goes without saying that you MUST have an effective quiet signal! You'll use it over and over again, so it can't be too annoying, and it needs to be something that will get your class quiet in less than 5 seconds.

I shared my favorite quiet signal on my Teaching Resources Facebook page and asked the followers to share their favorites with me. I loved the quiet signals that were shared so much that I decided to compile the responses as a post in my Advice from Real Teachers series. If you want to read my original question on Facebook and see the responses for yourself, click here.

20 Terrific Quiet Signals That Work! 
My favorite quiet signal is the set of chimes below, and I shared this image when I posted my question. Several teachers agreed with me and explained how they use chimes in their classrooms. Other favorite quiet signals included a mixture of "call and response" strategies as well as a variety of fun noise-making objects like a train whistle, a concierge bell, and a Tibetan singing bowl! I've included Amazon links* for those items so you can learn more about them if you're interested.

  1. Carol Hunt - Chimes...works like a dream! I use it to transition center activities. 
  2. Karen Swales - I had a set of these chimes in my classroom. They were especially effective with students with sensory processing issues and children on the autism spectrum.
  3. Reuben Hks - I raise my hand, and then students raise their hands and stop talking. This gives students a chance to finish their conversation if they are talking with a partner or working in a group.
  4. Pepper Sullivan - I use non-verbal signals.  I hold up 5 fingers and move about the room.  As students notice and start to pay attention, I drop to 4, then 3, then 2, then 1 as they all get quiet.
  5. Linda Legman - I say , "1, 2, 3,  look at me!" They respond, "1, 2,  look at you!"
  6. Sam Shaw - I've got a plastic dog toy duck that I squeeze.......it quacks.....I've also got a silly bike horn....
  7. Deborah Brooks - I have verbal cues as I am all over the room and won't readily have something nearby to chime and such. I usually say " Awesome!" And they reply "POSSUM"!
  8. Kelli Jo Wusterhausen  - One I learned from a colleague was "and a hush falls over the crowd" and they say "hushhhh" and the listen. 
  9. Jillian Bishop – A Tibetan singing bowl works well  
  10. Rosemary Montenegro - I flicker the light and say, in a very upbeat voice, "Show me your listening wings!" The kids stop what they're doing and stretch their arms out to let me know that they are listening!
  11. Matt Hill - I say "Sharkbait" and they say "Ooh ha ha" and freeze.
  12. Mindy Halverson - My favorite is a throw back to Vanilla Ice. I say "Stop" and the kids respond with "Collaborate and listen." I teach them how the song does it. We also talk about what collaborate means. I have had some groups that really got into it which made it more fun.
  13. Jaqui OShaughnessy - A wind chime. SO gentle and always gets the kids' attention.
  14. Casey McAdam - I say, "Hands on top, that means stop."  The kids stop playing because their hands must touch the tops of their heads.
  15. Karen Swales - For something more hands on, a Kalimba is a very soothing (and quiet) instrument. It's very calming when the student holds it with both hands to play. I found one similar to this at a local craft fair. 
  16.  Phillip Gumery - I use the simple ringtone on my mobile. It’s loud enough to get attention and works as a quiet time signal as well.
  17. Peter Jarvis - One classroom I saw had a remote doorbell. The button was on the teacher’s desk and the chime part somewhere in the classroom.
  18. Alicia Figluizzi - I use this bell and teach my high school students two signals. One ding means simmer down, be aware of noise/transition, and two quick dings means I need the whole class's attention or a transition is about to occur.
  19. Amanda Becker - I have 7 things. Haha - variety!  1. Concierge bell  2. Train whistle - mostly for clean up  3. Rainstick  4. Peace sign with my fingers 5. Coconut piano chime (it's awesome!) 6. Rhythm clap  7. Call and respond techniques
  20. Shawn Collins - I teach my students to respond to my verbal call in the same way. .. For example, If  say,  "Claaaaaaaassss." They respond "yeeesssssss?" I switch it up using a southern drawl, a British accent, and so on.  (This strategy was originally developed by Chris Biffle, founder of Whole Brain Teaching, and you can read more about it here.) 
What's your favorite quiet signal? Check out these 20 terrific quiet signals that include everything from call and response strategies to fun noise-making objects like train whistles and rain sticks!

How to Teach Your Quiet Signal
After you choose a quiet signal, it's important to teach it to your students so they know exactly what to do when they see or hear your signal. After you explain the procedure, have them practice it right away. Ask your students to pair up and discuss a topic of interest. After they've been chatting for 15 or 20 seconds, use the quiet signal. Then time your class to see how long it takes them to get quiet. Write the time on the board and challenge them to get quiet in under 5 seconds. Continue practicing until the class is able to accomplish this. It won't take as long as you might think! 

Having an effective quiet signal is one of the best ways to maximize instructional time. Instead of wasting precious minutes trying to get your class quiet so you can give the next set of directions, you'll have them quiet and ready to listen in 5 seconds! To learn more strategies for using quiet signals, click over to my Teaching Resources website.

Which of the 20 quiet signals shared here do you already use? Which new ones would you like to try? If you have your own favorites, I hope you'll share them with us in a comment on this post! 

*The links to products on Amazon are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on one of these links, you will not pay anything extra. However, I will earn a small commission on those sales which helps to support my work creating resources for teachers. Thanks!