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.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Victory Freebie #2!

Victory beignets for me...

Victory FREEBIES for YOU!
Yay! Today I have for you an exclusive sneak peak at my brand new product, Reading Literature Graphic Organizers for Grades 4-8. These 2-D graphic organizers are sized just right to fit in your interactive notebooks! Download this free SAMPLER set of 10 graphic organizers by clicking on the icon below. Sorry, this offer has expired. 

Check out this product on TpT here!

Today's Freebie #2 is one of my all time favorites. I loooooove teaching The Giver, and I'm so sad this year to not be teaching it. I'm not sure that my 6th graders would understand the novel. BUT I hope you'll consider teaching it, especially with the movie out, and here's a COMPLETE novel unit by Created for Learning! That's a $15 value! Sorry, this offer has expired. 

Jonathan and Lisa of Created for Learning are an adorable couple and I was lucky enough to get to chat with them for a while at the TpT Conference in Vegas last July! Check out this husband-and-wife team's blog here and be sure to follow their TpT store here.

Next up is an adorable digital paper/background set from Teresa at Digital Mojo!
Sorry, this offer has expired. 

Do you love them as much as I do? Be sure to thank Teresa by following her TpT store here!

Freebie #3 comes from Chalk & Apples.  Her Word Work for Big Kids is a perfect addition to literacy centers in the upper elementary grades who focus more on word meanings than spelling in their word work/vocabulary center or as their seat work.  They work with any vocabulary words and are perfect for use with Daily 5.  You can download it for FREE by clicking on the graphic of the cover below. Sorry, this offer has expired.   Just print, laminate and place them in the work work center for easy implementation!

Check out her blog here and be sure to follow her at Chalk and Apples Facebook page too!

These freebies are only available for 24 hours, so get 'em while they're hot!


Who Dat!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Our First Novel Study - Al Capone Does My Shirts

In the past, my students have read Al Capone Does My Shirts as the summer reading novel for incoming sixth graders. At a new school this year, that didn't happen. So, I decided to make it my first novel study! 
Most novels are hard to start, right? It takes a while for students to get into the book and become interested. One of the best things about this novel is the first chapter. Let me tell you, students are interested and begging for more right from the start! Here's the first line:

Today I moved to a twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water.

The protagonist, Moose, seems to have all kinds of problems, and adjusting to life on Alcatraz Island is just one of them. It's the 1930's, and his 15-year-old sister, Natalie, has severe autism. Of course, there isn't even a name for her disorder yet, and the family struggles to live life with Natalie and get help for her. The heart of the book is about a family dealing with a mentally handicapped child. On the surface, the book is also about baseball, criminals, prison, and the politics of 12-year-olds. Just right for my sixth graders! 

I didn't choose this novel as much for teaching a specific skill as I did for fostering a love of literature. As we read the novel, we're going to work on the elements of plot as well as practicing our short response to literature.

Before we started reading, I wanted my students to get an overview of Alcatraz Island and the prison there. Since I couldn't find anything I liked already made, I put together this cold read activity and article for my students to complete. It was perfect! Of course, you can use it even if you aren't teaching this novel. I'm sharing it with you free, so click on the images below to download through Google Docs.

My plan is to stop every few chapters and consider one essential question. I just introduced my students to the ACE method, so I'm going to actually do the first five (at least) questions WITH them, modeling good answers, before letting them try it on their own. 

We just started the novel on Thursday, and on Friday they were already begging for more!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Spelling & Vocabulary Program for Common Core

I've had so many people ask me over the past few months for more details about the spelling program I've been using, so here's the skinny on it.

When I learned that I'd be teaching spelling this year, I set out to find a program that would be useful beyond spelling a list of random words each week. If I am going to spend time each week on spelling, shouldn't it be on something that is transferrable? Yes! Shouldn't it be aligned to Common Core? Yes! And.. Shouldn't it be super easy for me to implement? YES!

I'm so glad I found Margaret Whisnant's Word Trek program!

Let me walk you through what we do each week.

On Mondays, we start by updating our Word Part list on the first page of their spelling notebooks. You might remember that our spelling notebook is simply the back (upside-down) of our English (Writing/Grammar) notebook.

This was Week 1, when we only had two word parts. We're now up to thirteen!

Then, students write the words and definitions (there are ten each week) in the notebook. The entire program is in ABC order, so when we're finished, they'll have a mini-glossary of words we've learned.

I have them write on the backs of pages and not skip lines in order to make sure there aren't any wasted pages (or space!) in the notebook.

Then, I'll give them the spelling homework packet for the week. I assign it on Monday, and students have until Thursday to finish it. The packet is run off straight from the Word Trek book and includes matching definitions, fill-in-the-blank sentences, synonyms, antonyms, and a section on etymology and word study! The last few are always more challenging and give the students something to think about and make connections to the real world. Here's a peek at one of the lessons:

On Thursdays, I check to see that the students have completed the assignment (I don't grade it, but give points for completion) and we go over the answers. There's always plenty of content that's interesting and leads to more discussions and connections!

Then, we take two tests on Friday. One is a traditional spelling test, and the other is the vocabulary test that is included in the program. If the students study the words and their meanings and complete the lesson for the week, it isn't too hard to ace the test. Most of my students have gotten the hang of it now that we've finished Week 6. Here's a peek at that test:

And there you have it! Easy, simple routines, and NO PREP for me. The students are learning SO much about Greek and Latin root words - and let me tell you, SO AM I!

There are even more components to this program that I haven't mentioned, including connections to writing assignments and more. You really need to download the 40+ page preview file that includes four complete lessons, background, instructions, and so much more to help you decide if (THAT!) this is the program that you need.

Margaret Whisnant has been my favorite seller since long before I ever thought of selling anything myself. Any time you purchase from her, you can count on the highest quality. If the $99 price tag has you nervous, DON'T BE! You won't find a spelling program from any publisher that is anywhere near this good, and even if you could, it would no doubt cost considerably more. You can also download one unit at a time (six weeks) for around $20, making this more than affordable.

Have you already started another meaningless spelling program? Cut your losses and get with the program, sister!

A few more things about the program: There are actually three books in the series. I asked Margaret before purchasing which one she thought I should use for my above average sixth graders, and she said to start with Book Two, which has turned out to be just the right amount of challenging. Margaret has told me that she spent over ten years working on this program, and let me tell you, it shows!

I could work for Margaret selling these books, but just so you know, the only motivation I have for telling you about them is the wonderful results I've been getting in my classroom.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Victory Freebie #1!

Woohoo! Thanks for being patient while I fixed a few links!

I've got some awesome stuff for you this time!

First, I've had this product FREE on TpT all week celebrating my recent milestone. If you haven't grabbed it already, head over there now! It's normally $4.50, but will be free for only a few more hours.

Now, here's an excellent Close Reading lesson from Diane at Fifth in the Middle! It's perfect for NOW because the topic is FOOTBALL! I just finished up a football unit and this was a great addition! You'll find original leveled passages (4 levels for differentiation!) and several common core activities for each one. Trust me. It's good stuff! And it's only available FREE here!

Be sure to follow Diane's TpT store by clicking here, and check out her blog here.

And finally, another one perfect for the occasion is this math lesson on uniform choices from Mrs. Renz's Class. Check out her TpT store here and give her a follow! You can also follow her blog here.


Woohoo! Here's to hoping we do this again next week!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

September 11th Lesson, Part 2

If you missed the first part of my September 11th lesson, find that post here.

This year I'm taking advantage of my students overwhelming interest in all things September 11th related and adding a few more activities to my September 11th literacy unit. All components can be downloaded free on TpT.

I've already discussed Day 1 (walking them through the events of 9/11 with the interactive timeline) and Day 2 (students completing independent questions in the computer lab so that each has his own computer). Here's what I'm planning for Days 3-4.

I made my own timeline of what I thought were important events from 9/11. Of course, they're all important, but we're working on discerning and extracting the most relevant information. Here's mine:

Of course, there are ways to slightly alter this activity in order to simplify it for other students, use it with more immature students, or differentiate within your own classroom. You might have them create a timeline that focuses on only one aspect of September 11th. This is easier than looking at all of the events on the timeline and discerning which ones are most important.

You might have your students look for

  • all events related to flights
  • all events related to the North Tower
  • all events related to emergency response
You get the idea. I made a few blank timelines with different numbers of events.

I also created some activities that were more scaffolded. Here they are, in order of increasing difficulty. Easy first.

Given the events, find the times. Great for ESL or struggling students.

Given the times, find the events. They'll have to shorten the event descriptions. An example is shown.

Find the time or event. Once again the students will have to do some shortening of the event descriptions.

If you're using partially completed timelines, challenge your highest students with this one! Find an important event to fill in the blanks on the timeline. Remember, each event must be between the times indicated above and below the event!

I went and added all of these additional pages to my original Interactive Timeline Freebie on TpT, so simply download the updated version to receive these new activities. Here's a link to the updated product.

Finally, I'll have my students write a short summary to practice writing in chronological order. Because I want my students using quality, vivid verbs, we'll first brainstorm vivid verbs that might be used in a 9/11 summary. I'll start students off by suggesting words like crashed, devastated, terrified, and my students will typically come up with better verbs than I had even thought of.

Also, because it's the perfect time to practice using where parts in sentences, such as:
  • At 8:19am
  • After both towers collapsed
  • As officials notified South Tower tenants to remain in the building
  • Once the FAA grounded all flights
I'll have my students underline all of the where groups and color code them. If you're using any of my writing units, this will fit in perfectly!

And we are going to make and wear our 9/11 ribbons on Thursday in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the tragedy. I made them for my students and also posted them as a freebie on TpT. Click the product below to download on TpT. If you decide to use it, please consider leaving feedback.

I'm linking up today with Mrs. Laffin for A Peek at My Week! Be sure to check out what other teachers are doing this week.
Wait a minute. I suddenly have the feeling that I've been misspelling her name for a long time. What!