Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Character Traits, Novel Study, and a HUGE November!

It seems like it's been way too long since I've blogged about what we're up to in my classroom. The month of November has been a CRAZY one for me, but in a great way!

We spent four fun-filled days in Nashville attending the AMLE conference. We brought all three kids with us (!!) as well as my in-laws, who made the family trip possible by helping with the kids.

We are HUGE country music fans in my house, and my oldest son, Tyler, is an awesome guitar player. It was a dream of his to visit Nashville, and we surprised him with CMA Awards tickets! Here's a photo of Tyler and me from our seats, one row from the top!

Can you believe that boy of mine is ONLY 13?!

The next day, he worked off those CMA tickets by helping out in our booth.

We even had our two youngest boys (ages 9 and 6) in the booth for a couple of hours. Talk about a family affair!

Meanwhile, I really wanted to leave something meaningful and productive for my students to do in the classroom since I'd be out for three days. I decided to start a second class novel right before leaving and have the students read the majority of the novel while I was gone. So, that's how we came to finish The Sign of the Beaver in just over a week! I decided to try something different this time and do more with the entire product of the novel, instead of smaller chunks along the way. So far, I'm really pleased with that. It's a short novel - the audiobook is under 3.5 hours, so that should give you some perspective.

With this novel, I'm focusing on story devices and characterization. Since I plan to hit back on characterization a lot over the next few months, I put together this little characterization tab book for my students to glue in their notebooks.

This interactive notebook activity includes well over 100 sample character traits, organized by generic traits such as happy, sad, mad, lazy, smart, and even positive and negative traits.

I've already emailed a free copy of this activity to all of my email subscribers. If you'd like a free copy of this character traits interactive notebook activity, simply type your email address below to subscribe. After confirming your email address, a copy of this activity will be automatically delivered to your inbox.

What makes this novel so great for characterization is the fact that the book has two strong, dynamic characters. So, we analyzed one of the characters together and then the students analyzed the second character on their own.

I started by using this graphic organizer to analyze Matt.

We glued it in our interactive notebooks, making it a left-side page for the new character traits tab book. (Read about what I've been doing with left side pages and graphic organizers here.)

Now, since the students have this example we did together in their notebooks, I can pull out this organizer at regular intervals throughout the year for new literature we read and expect that my students can complete it independently. If a student claims that he has forgotten what to do, I'll refer him to the page in the notebook and let him know he's a big boy and can do it on his own.

So for now, my students will complete the organizer for the second character, Attean.

I also use this characterization lesson to teach my students how to do a Character Analysis project that they'll have to do in the spring with their literature circles. Here, I'll ask them to draw the character, list 3 traits with text evidence, identify one of the character's goals, one problem, and a solution to that problem. Whew!

And for those of you following my Grade 6 Pacing Chart, you might be noticing that I've strayed from the plan. I've strayed far, far from my plan! Just when I get something how I like it, I go and change it. Why must I do this? Am I the only one who can't do ANYTHING the same two years in a row?!

And finally, here's a chance to win some TpT gift certificates!

We are so excited for the holiday season that we couldn't help but spread some love! Lots of your favorite TPT Teacher-Authors and I have teamed up to give YOU some TPT spending money. We love you and appreciate you (and we wish we could give all of our fabulous followers some money)!

Enter the Rafflecopter below by simply following our TPT stores, and you will have a chance to win one of four $25 TPT gift cards! Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Victory Freebies #4

Woah! Two wins in ONE week! And a ROAD WIN at that! :) 

To celebrate, I'm sharing some pages with you from my brand new Practice & Assess Reading Literature: Grades 4-5 No Prep Printables! 

Click here to grab a free practice and assessment for Story Vocabulary - it matches up perfectly with Lesson 1 from the Interactive Reading Literature Notebook! You can also download them by clicking on the thumbnails of the printables below.

You can check out this product here in my TpT store.

Freebie #2 comes from Hello Mrs. Sykes.  Mystery Word of the Week Set 1 is something that I'm DEFINITELY going to have to try myself!  **Sorry, this freebie is no longer available.**

Get more stuff from her blog and be sure to check out her TpT store here.

Victory Freebie #3 is Winter Themed Nonfiction Text Practice from Fourth Grade Flipper. Grab it now and save it for a cold winter day! **Sorry, this freebie is no longer available.**

You can thank Holly by following her Teachers Pay Teachers store. You can also check out her blog here!


Victory Freebie #4 is from Everything Just So. These Reading Response Task Cards can be used for fiction and nonfiction texts.  **Sorry, this freebie is no longer available.**

Do check out Jennifer's blog here and thank her by following her TpT store.

These freebies are for a LIMITED TIME ONLY, so grab them NOW while you can! 

I told my students that there would be an awesome surprise on Friday if the Saints won tonight. Now, I have to figure out what that's going to be! Good night! :)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Victory Freebies #3!

Woohoo! I just watched that BLOWOUT from the first row behind the Saints sideline! What an awesome birthday gift from the hubs. 4+ hour drive home in traffic means I'll be teaching tomorrow without having slept. Now that's hard core! And.. Victory means I get to share some freebies with you tonight! 

Some freebies are only available for 24 hours, so grab them while they're hot!!!

First, here's a new set of frames I just finished. They coordinate with a recent set of page borders. Click below to download them from TpT. (Note: Link is now working!)

As a bonus, you can also receive an exclusive set of matching chalkboard frames by signing up for my email list. After signing up and verifying your email, these will be automatically sent to your inbox immediately. These chalkboard frames aren't available anywhere else!

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**This freebie has expired**

Freebie #2 comes from Peggy Means.  Her Revise With ARMS product is an excellent way to teach your students to revise!

Check out her blog, Primary Flourish, and be sure to follow her on Teachers Pay Teachers.

**This freebie has expired.**
Victory Freebie #3 is from Art With Jenny K.  This lesson is her number one best seller and only posted in her TPT store about a month ago! It is a perfect 21st century lesson to engage and inspire students.  And it's been updated to include a Halloween lesson, just in time! Grab it free by clicking on the cover sheet graphic below.

Be sure to thank Jenny by following her TpT store here! You can also check out her blog here.

**This freebie has expired.**
Victory # 4 is from Rachel's Rockin' Resources. We Love Math is an addition computation game great for all you primary teachers!

You can thank Rachel by following her blog and her Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Viva la Vivid Verbs!

These first few months of this school year have been a little bit rough in the writing department in room 37. I find myself pulling out lessons from last year and discovering mid-way through them that this year's students need more. More time. More practice. More scaffolding. More patience!

We are still focusing on sentence writing and I have spent more time this year than I EVER have on teaching students to choose strong, vivid verbs that not only tell the action of the sentence, but also tell HOW without adding anything extra.

A really basic example:
(boring verb)  Tim walks to school.
(vivid verb)  Tim hobbles to school.

You get the idea.

So many of my students either OVER-did the verb or UNDER-did the verb. I was so frustrated! I would either get this:

Tim runs to school
Really??? You changed walk to run and you want me to be impressed with that?!

OR this:

Tim peregrinates to school.
say WHAT???

Yes, peregrinates is actually the word one of my students substituted for walk, and I had to look up the word myself.

peregrinate - to travel or journey, especially on foot

Some of these kids will pick any word from the thesaurus, the more awkward and complicated the better.

So now, we have a new word in our vocabulary. In my classroom, peregrinate now means to use a word that is so ridiculously obscure that you have no business using it whatsoever.

Just like we call each other out on toaster-strudeling, we now call each other out on peregrinating.

Hint: When your teacher needs a dictionary just to grade your paper, you've overdone it. THAT'S peregrinating.


So, we spent an extra WEEK on verbs. At this point, I'm pretty sure I have done everything I possibly can to make sure my students can choose the right verbs when writing sentences.

Here's something new we added to our interactive notebooks - a mini-verb thesaurus.

right side - when closed

and open

And, we focused on ONLY verbs and replaced boring verbs with vivid verbs in sentences.

Since I know that many of you will be teaching a similar lesson, whether you're using my writing notebook or not, I went ahead and put these new activities in one PDF and made it a freebie.

Grab it on TpT, and if you find it useful, be sure to leave a little love there for me!

Next week, we'll be writing our first essay. Oh, boy!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

My Left Side Solution: Graphic Organizers

After my second year of using interactive notebooks, I sure thought I had the whole thing figured out. Of course, that is never the case with anything in the classroom, and I’ve learned that it can always be improved!

When it comes to notebook pages, sometimes I have a left side of the page, and sometimes I don’t. The right side always contains the content information, and sometimes I insert some bit of example or application on the left side. I just don't want to force a left side when I don't need it or when we don't have time for it or when it really isn't necessary. But sometimes, it IS necessary.

The problem I have with the left side is control of content in the interactive notebook. My students’ notebooks are, essentially, their textbooks for my classes that they are building as we learn. I certainly don’t want any big mistakes or false information in there, because students use them as a reference, and this could easily cause problems in the future. And when it comes to collecting the notebooks and grading everything on that left side - well, ain't nobody got time for that!

This year, I’ve tried something new, and I’m excited to say that it’s really working out well for me and without anything extra that we aren’t already doing! Plus, it’s definitely adding value to my students’ notebooks and making them even MORE useful!

I started having my students glue completed graphic organizers on the left side of the page. The key here is that we do these together – this is the guided practice portion, or the WE DO portion of the application lesson. We do it together so that when my students glue it in their notebooks, it is neat (no erasing or crossing out and drawing arrows all over the place) and it is accurate!

The first thing I found when looking for graphic organizers to use is that I had to have them copied in a special way (a certain percentage, less than 100% of full page size) and it was always a huge pain getting the papers ran off correctly. Half the time I was making my own organizers anyway. So, I put together a comprehensive collection of graphic organizers that supported most of the concepts in my students’ notebooks – and therefore, were Common Core aligned – and were sized just right to fit into their interactive notebooks without any hassle or haggling with the copy lady.

Here are a couple of examples from a student’s notebook this year. The first lesson is simple story vocabulary, so the organizer is also very simplified. Students are applying these words to a story we read.

What’s the best part about having a graphic organizer in the notebook next to the content? Now, I can pass out this organizer any time, for ANY STORY, and not explain it again. At all. My students can revisit the example in their notebooks, along with the concepts/skills/vocabulary next to it, and voila! Even MORE independence!
In case you missed the last victory freebie – a few sample pages from the graphic organizer pack! – here’s the Story Vocabulary organizer. Grab it by clicking it below.

Here’s another example of a two-page spread using an example organizer on the left. Students have notes on the right about answering a short response to literature question and – you know it – an example on the left!

I have REALLY had to break down my ACE method for my kiddos this year. They’re struggling a lot more with this concept than my previous sixth graders did. Having them practice using this organizer has helped TREMENDOUSLY. That needs its own blog post, so be looking for that in the next couple of days!
If you’re interested in adding this component to your students’ notebooks, I’ve done all of the hard work for you. Check out this new pack on TpT. It includes all literature standards and matches up nicely with the notebook lessons when applicable.