Tuesday, May 29, 2012

FREE Colorful CAFE Posters for the Daily 5

Last week I attended a school workshop on the Daily 5 and CAFE - and came away so excited to start, that I wanted everything set up before I left for the school year. Things can get so hectic during the summer, that having my Daily 5 / CAFE bulletin board ready to go would be a weight off, and I could concentrate on other things.  I couldn't find exactly what I wanted, so I just made my own and thought I would share them with you.

Just click on the image below to download yours free from my TpT site.
I also just saw - literally minutes ago -  that Runde's Room is hosting a Daily 5 / CAFE book study sometime at the beginning of July.  YES!!  I can't wait to chat with everyone and share some fabulous ideas.  Perhaps I'll see you there!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Another One Bites the Dust.....

When I came across Amber's Linky Party at Adventures of a Third Grade Teacher, I just had to join in - I am constantly critiquing what I am doing, so an end-of-the-year reflection is perfect! 
 Although I still have four weeks of school left, I can already tell you what went really well, and what I'll need to work on for next year. So let's start!

The Good

1. Team Activities  This year my teammate and I vowed to incorporate more team building and group activities. We did a ton of awesome stuff this year:
  • Beginning of the Year Get-To-Know-You Team Builders (Cross the River, Human Knot, etc...) 
  • Making tie-dye t-shirts in our team color - Go Team Yellow!
  • Liquid Nitrogen Ice-Cream Making with a guest speaker from Cryo Tech
  • Hoot Pancake Breakfast with Cocoa before our Christmas Break
  • Storigami Storyteller Christine Petrell Kallevig
  • Mythapalooza Toga Party! - Students performed Pluto Takes a Bride & Perseus and the Sea Monster. Then we enjoyed some Greek food and watched the Percy Jackson movie.  :-)
  • Wordle End of the Year Student Gifts (yet to come!)
2. Class Dojo   This revolutionized my classroom management. Students were more involved and really working toward those positive points and trying to avoid getting negative ones. with any behavior management system, it works best when I'm consistent with it.

 3. Teaching Blog & Collaboration
When I starting this teaching blog, I had originally intended for it to be a place for reflection, and to share some strategies and resources through TpT. I didn't fully realize how much I would enjoy sharing and collaborating with other blogging teachers.  And I didn't realize how much I would learn and gain from others - Mother's Day printables, insights into implementing the Daily 5 and CAFE, and especially Charity Preston's advice at TBTS.  More locally, I've been lucky to have an amazing Teaching Assistant for most of this year. She is fully involved, jumps in with insights and explanations, happily helps with grading, brings humor to the class, and has become a terrific friend. I can only hope that we are scheduled together next year as well.

The Bad

1. New Spelling Program
We switched to a high-frequency focus this year with 50 words that all sixth-graders must master by the end of the year. Every two weeks students would focus on four words they personally missed on the pre-test, completing one homework assignment. That wasn't the bad part. The bad part was trying to efficiently keep track of which students were working on which words each week. Also - they had "Spelling Buddies" who would theoretically help them study and quiz them. But very often, they couldn't find their paper telling them which words they were doing, their partner could not pronounce the word accurately, and and if they got just one wrong, their grade was a 75.  And with only 4 words every two weeks, few of my students took it very seriously or ever really studied.

2. Individualized Student Interventions
With the switch this year from 80 minutes of English Language Arts to trying to fit in both ELA and Social Studies into 100 minutes, I've been scrambling to cram in the full curriculum of both subjects and have not been great at making time to meet with students individually. My students have grown this year, but not to the extent that I'm happy with. I really hope that the Daily 5 and CAFE will help with that next year.

The Ugly

3. Organization
Supplies, filing cabinet, desk arrangement, wall design, lack of coherent units....... EVERYTHING needs a tune up next year! Again, I think the Daily 5 and and CAFE will help with organizing classroom routines. I'm moving more items to binders and working on unit plans based on the Common Core. Here are a few ideas I want to try:

So how did your year go? Stop on over to Amber's Blog and link up!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Origami Stories

Do these look familiar to you?  If your students are anything like mine, you're discovering these darling creations all over your classroom - in desks, on the floor, fluttering past your head....   ;-)
So...why not harness your students' natural paper-folding tendencies to create origami?

Last week our team welcomed Storigami artist and storyteller Christine Petrell Kallevig to our school. She was pretty awesome  - demonstrating to the students how to fold a series of origami figures along with a story. A hat transformed into smaller and smaller kites and then into a crane.......    A pond morphed into a turtle and - poof! A box!

My sixth graders particularly liked her modular origami - colorful figures created using multiple component papers.  Each child can create one simple shape and then join them together into a larger object.  Isn't that red, white, and blue swan fantastic?!

 A class origami project could be an awesome team-builder at the beginning of the year or maybe a fun end-of-the-year closing activity. If you have time to fill during the last days of school, you could show your students a few videos and let them have at it. (Also works as a great way to clear out those stacks of old dittos you know you'll never use!)
If you're looking for instructions, video, and other ideas, the Origami Resource Center website is terrific.

Star Wars origami anyone?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Extreme Makeover: Blog Edition

An English friend of mine used to say, "start as you mean to go on".  So when I decided to begin blogging, I knew from the start - even though I was thoroughly green - that I wanted a truly great blog design. A space that was pleasing to view, welcoming to visitors, and also inspiring to myself since I'll be spending so much time immersed in it.

Blog "Before"
And from my point of view, Misty & Erika from Honey Bunch Blog Design absolutely achieved that. Here is the Before picture, which my darling husband so kindly called "ugly"!

And just look around for the After - to even say that it's better doesn't begin to do it justice. I contacted HBBD when I started noticing that the blog designs I liked the most were their work. Places like Tales From Outside the Classroom, Dennett's Teaching Tools, and Teaching in Sixth Grade.

When I first started talking to Misty, I had a vague notion of what I wanted, but nothing definite. Something that matched the "diary" of my title with perhaps some notebook paper.

And I am thrilled with how Erika brought it all together, highlighting the features I loved best like the clever flowers made of pencil shavings, string, and paperclips.

If your blog needs a little (or a big!) "lift", I wholeheartedly recommend Honey Bunch Blog Design. I just know you'll love their work! 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Stealth Disco Prank!

 Click here to watch these awesome teachers play a prank on their high school students!
I sooo want to do this!  We did a Flash Mob send-off last year, which was great fun, but this would be even better!

Did your school plan something fun for the teachers to do at the end of the school year?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Penny War Persuasive Essay Fundraiser

One of the things I struggle with as an English teacher is how to guide my students to a writing topic that they really connect with - something they actually care about that has real-life meaning to them. The Persuasive Essay - one of four major writing pieces that our sixth graders need to complete - can sometimes go awry. At least, it did for me! In the past, I allowed students free reign to choose topics, and they often ended up with seemingly thoughtful subjects like dress codes, allowance concerns, lunch menu choices, etc... And yet...their writing often lacked any feeling or real arguments.  So, for the past two years, I've done something different - the Penny War.

This is how it works:

1. Two teams of students compete to raise the most money. We did Guys vs. Gals since our class really responded to that and we have fairly even numbers. You could also have different classes or groups competing. Each team races to fill their jug with pennies and other change, but we also accepted dollars. (See variation below.)  I also upped the ante by promising the winning team an ice cream party. That alone was MAJOR motivation!

2. While we are collecting coins, each student does some research and writes a persuasive essay nominating a specific charity to receive the money. Their goal is to convince their classmates to vote for their charity. Sites like Charity Navigator are a great resource to help them find specific information, and to ensure students are selecting a reputable organization.

3. When the essays are complete, each student reads theirs out loud to the class. Then each person votes on which charity should receive the money. I always have this work as a secret ballot and have them vote for two charities. This resolves the issue of every student simply picking their own!

My students were more engaged in this writing assignment than in any other we've done this year. So many selected a charity based on a personal connection that their arguments were already powerfully motivated and they knew that their writing MATTERED this time. It wasn't just an exercise. 
  • One student who supported The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation wrote movingly of how she had to carefully watch her diet and calculated how many insulation shots she had to give herself in the past year.
  • Another girl described her adorable puppy that her family adopted from the local SPCA.
  • A boy explained how The Make-A-Wish Foundation granted his little brother a wish after he was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease.
The read-aloud day was moving, and although there could only be one winner, I think all the students felt good about increasing the awareness of their chosen cause and charity.
As you might guess from the picture above - the girls won!  And both teams raised a total of......... $255.52!!

And the winning charity.........
The Make-A-Wish Foundation

Traditional Penny Wars have the pennies counting as positive points, and all other change counting as their equivalent in negative points (a dime = minus ten points, a dollar = minus 100 points, etc.) Therefore Teams would strategically put non-pennies in the other group's jar to try to wipe out their points. I tried this the first year, and it was a nightmare trying to count it out, so I went the simple route this time! Also - you could have students help you roll the change, but again - I tried that, and it nearly gave me an ulcer! Using a CoinStar machine or the equivalent at your bank is much easier.

How do you engage your students in the writing process?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Mother's Day thank you....

 A heartfelt thank you to all the terrific Moms who work so hard and give of themselves every day....

And a special thanks to my Mom who.......
  • helped me paint my classroom two summers ago
  • sewed the gold trim on my toga for Greek Day last year
  • proofread my first Welcome Packet about twenty times and helped me make adjustments
  • took my daughters to her house for a sleepover the weekend I had grades due and over 50 Persuasive Essays to score
  • did not roll her eyes or laugh when I mentioned I was starting a teaching blog  :-)
I guess you never really outgrow needing your Mom, and I am so very lucky to have her.

Last Thursday I was invited to my daughter's preschool class for "Muffins for Mom" where she gave me these.......

Not quite accurate (26? Meat?), but oh so cute!

Hope you all had a marvelous Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mother's Day Gift

Since I've started teaching in a middle school, I've rarely included many seasonal or holiday craft activities. I guess I was worried that my uber-cool sixth graders would balk at something too crafty or sentimental. But I recently ran across Laura Candler's free printable Mother's Day Coupons so I decided to break tradition and try them today.


 I gave my student supplies to create a card to put them in, and let them get to work. Some made traditional cards with construction paper flowers, hearts, and lots-o-glitter - my gals just LOVE them some glitter this year! One of the boys turned his into a little booklet while another girl created a "pop-up" based on a technique we used recently for a book project. 

 Clever ideas!

Are you doing something special with your class for Mother's Day?  

And now that I have set the precedent - help! I need some ideas for Father's Day!!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

End-of-the-Year Student Gift

I am so excited about this project! I finally found a meaningful, budget-friendly gift for my students at the end of the year that I know they'll just love.

 1. Give each student a copy of the class roster and a Positive Attributes sheet. (You can also use the Class List form included in the free download below – just change “Student” to the names in your class.)

2. Ask your students to write down one positive trait, adjective, or attribute for each person in the class. You can also include other staff as well, such as teaching assistants, student teachers, aides, special education staff, parent volunteers, etc.

3. Collect the papers and create a Wordle for each person at Type the student’s name in many times so it is the largest word, and then add the other attributes. The more times an attribute is added, the larger that word will be. Experiment with the font, layout, and colors. (I preferred the half horizontal/half vertical option, with "wild" colors. Also - the black background looks great on the computer, but will really eat up your ink, so I opted for white.)

4. Print a colorful Wordle for each student and frame it. (They had a ton at my local Dollar Store.)



*Don’t reveal the purpose of the exercise – it makes the surprise at the end of the year better!

*Discussing the definition of a trait, quality, or attribute ahead of time helps. I encouraged my students to use their own ideas but had the Positive Attributes sheet as a reference in case they got stuck.

*This can also be done as a carousel walk, where each student puts their name at the top of their paper and then they rotate to each student’s sheet adding a word. This does make it easier to input the words. However, I was concerned that they would be influenced by what others wrote before them. It also wouldn't really be anonymous and they might not give an honest response.

FREE Download - Wordle Student Gift Guide

Do you have any traditions or send-offs for students at the end of the year, or suggestions for gifts that won't break your budget? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Friday, May 4, 2012

FREE Friday! - The City of Ember Journal Response

My first freebie for you!

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau is one of my all-time favorite novels to explore with my sixth graders.  They are so intrigued with the city-below-ground and love to pour over the map in the front. (Who doesn't love books with maps?) The thought of being done with school and getting a real job at age 12 seems just about ideal.  Well - at first! 

When I introduce this novel, I don't hold back anymore on "the secret" - I tell them up front that Ember is deep underground. There are enough of my students who have read it or seen the movie (ick) that trying to keep that under wraps was getting tricky. They'd generally tell their friends, and then it turned into a I-know-you-found-out-but-I'll-pretend-you-still-don't-know scenario. This way we can discuss the little clues throughout the story and focus more on how the author built suspense.

After discussing the premise, I conduct our very own "Assignment Day".  I am the stern Mayor with the little drawstring bag, asking students to "walk forward" and select a tiny slip of folded paper that will reveal their job, their destiny, for the next three years.  (Yes, I know the bag is green in the book. Still working on that detail!)
"Assignment Day"!
Each student reads their job out loud and then returns to their seat. Adding little comments along the way can get the whole class erupting in laughter or groaning in sympathy:

"'s assistant...a vital job. You're not squeamish at all are you?"

"Supply Depot Clerk! Perfect! You'll finally get a chance to work on your handwriting!"

"Mold Scraper......I am so very sorry."

Their task is to imagine they are living in Ember and graduated with the two main characters - Doon and Lina. They have to keep a journal describing their experiences - their job, their interactions with the characters, their opinions on events.  It's a fun way to keep students writing, and with jobs like mold scraper and pipeworks laborer - there's a lot they want to share! Do you have a great idea for clever journal prompts or activities to pair with The City of Ember? Please share!

Coming Soon: Our Penny War and a terrific end-of-the-year gift idea to give your students!

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