Saturday, December 22, 2012

Great Anytime Student Gifts and Curriculum Tool! Wordle & Visual Poetry...
Visual Poetry
I'm a little late on posting my Christmas goodie for my kids, but it's something you can do any time of the year including birthdays or even a nice New Year's back to school surprise.  Most of you have probably seen Wordle and others like it floating around on Pinterest, but for those of you who don't know what it is, Wordle is awesome!  It is a very simple program that you type a word list into and it creates a "word cloud."  The more times you repeat a specific word, the larger that word is in relation to the others, and you can spend tons of time playing with color variations, font styles, and layouts.

Last year I used Wordle to make rectangular bookmarks that I laminated using phrases to describe each child, our grade, school, and other fun facts, with their name repeated most frequently to make it the biggest.  The past few years I've been a bit of a scrooge because it drives me crazy when I spend time handmaking something and proudly giving it to the students only to find it crushed, trashed, or otherwise!  Well, that did not happen with these bookmarks last year- the kids kept them for the entire rest of the year and used them.  They were so appreciative and gave me the confidence to spread the niceness again this year.

Our school gave us iPads this year and I figured there must be an App by now.  I didn't find Wordle exactly, but rather "Visual Poetry."  This app enables you to select different shapes and letters.  I wanted to use students' first letters to make their bookmark this year.  Wow was this easy!  It took all of about 20 minutes to make all of their letters using the copy/paste feature.  The time consuming part was matting, laminating and cutting, but somehow this proved to be a relaxing and mindless break that was greatly needed.  I punched holes, added a few beads on a string, stuck candy canes on them, and the kids were thrilled again.   (After checking it out today, I see they have Christmas shapes too!)  The $0.99 was well worth it!


Even better- the kids were DYING to know how I had done it.  I showed them the App and also Wordle so others could access the similar program on the class computers.  They turned this into a whole new lesson!  One group made a thank you for the local meteorologist who had visited our classroom and he showed their Wordle on the news (we had it framed--shown is a screenshot).  The group that had my iPad, secretly made one for me (The red, green, and blue heart below).  On our last day together, we had a crafty day (I know, in fifth grade?- how dare we????) and they were begging to use Wordle to make Christmas cards for their family.  It was the quietest, most relaxing day I've had with them all year!

I have now made Wordle an ongoing part of extra credit in our weekly newsletter.  Students can take a concept we are working on in science, a character we are focusing on, or a math concept and create a Wordle with at least 20 different terms strategically repeated depending on importance.  It's so fun, they don't even know they're thinking!

Have fun!

:0) Heather

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Great Informational Text Resource...FREE!

Tween Tribune is something I have just learned about and not actually had my kids accessing yet, but the potential is AWESOME!  Everyday, a new set of articles are posted that are appropriate for intermediate students and beyond.  Students can comment on articles after you've set up their accounts, and then you approve their comments, making this a very safe venue for sharing.  The articles are current, high interest, and well written models of informational texts.   The vocabulary is tough but easy enough to glean meaning of through use of context.  These are perfect for your core mini lessons in reader's workshop if you need a piece of informational text.  The photos that accompany each article are also highly engaging and can be used as their own inspirations for future writing prompts.  

Bonuses!  There is a daily Quiz relating to one article and you and your kids can track  your "Q" scores.  At the end of each article, there is a critical thinking question three words that can be defined using  the article's context.  I am thinking, on our classroom blog, I am going to use this as weekly extra credit in reading.  Generally, the kids really enjoy anything that is computer related and will give it a shot.  I am also dying to try out the comment section.  Before school and during lunch, I also open my room for those kids that don't have computer access and will probably test this baby out on them!  

Another idea, is to use the "20 lesson plans that teach and engage, no matter which text a student selects," prompts. These would be great "what do I do when I'm finished choices." This web site has opened a can of worms for me....there's so much to explore! PLEASE: If you sign on and find something great, post in the comments sections for all to see- but mostly for my own selfish reasons hehe....

Check it out....but reserve some time to do it!  Enjoy!

:0) Heather

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Promoting a Positive Classroom Environment...EASY!

I discovered a book that I think has been floating around for a few years and is probably well known to many of you, "How Full is Your Bucket?" I owe a million thanks to Mrs. Motion, our new guidance counselor for sharing this story with my fifth graders!

 Initially, I thought it was a nifty story and forgot about it for a few days until I heard one of the kids say, “That’s NOT filling someone’s bucket!” I reread the story and decided that this was definitely something we needed more of to encourage a safe and positive classroom without anything too complicated! And so, our bucket fillers were born. I scrambled up a too small bucket and printed out a few slips, and discussed appropriate times to complete a “bucket filler” for someone. THE SLIPS WERE GONE within the hour!!! I figured the kids would do it for a few days and then it would die off, but that was about 3 weeks ago. Since then, we have had hundreds of bucket fillers read to one another and the students are even starting to write them for past teachers, resource teachers, and my substitute who was just thrilled to get a positive compliment from a student. I have also found that the bucket fillers are a way for me to reach out more frequently to recognize all students for the little steps they are taking to improve themselves…and watch them smile!

 At first, there were a lot of “thanks for being a good friend” or “you are so nice,” but as I praised the really specific fillers and introduced my own specific praises in bucket fillers, the kids have begun to notice the small things they do for one another. This has been such a positive and simple classroom management strategy! I use the bucket fillers during almost every transition and the kids are just dying to hear the next one, making transitions super efficient.

Students also began writing bucket fillers to me which was a nice surprise.  Sometimes it's nice to know the kids notice the little things you do!  I started keeping them on my big blue cabinet behind my desk and before you I knew what happened, it was covered and I started adding them to the neighboring wall!  I hope you are able to experience as much fun as we've had with this book!  Click any of the images for your bucket filler slips.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Parent Night Scavenger Hunt

Time flies! We are already three weeks into the school year and had our parent night on Thursday.  I am not a public speaker, to say the least.  I can do without the sweating, rapid heartbeat, and nervous stutter...hehe...give me kids- not adults!   This freebie was certainly created with the kids in mind, however, I have a sneaking suspicion my subconscious had a hand with this one.

Click the picture for your copy!
We do so much in such a short period of time that is not visible for everyone to see, and the kids are usually really excited to let their parents in on a few of our nifty happenings.  So rather than me standing up and doing the traditional "teacher speech," I let the kids drive the night.  We create a list of the things they most want to share with their parents and the kids become our tour guide.  I have a newsletter with all of my pertinent information to hand to the parents at the end as well as a rolling slide show of important stuff for everyone to review while their kids are dragging them all over the classroom.

On this year's scavenger hunt, a few of the kids' favorites were their "Secret Knowledge of Grown-Ups" stories we are working on to introduce the writing process, their Word Study folders because they are already stuffed full of words, their mnemonic name classbuilders, and our Hooked on Books reading incentives.  Finally, they have to introduce their parent and teacher.  The awesome part about using this activity is that it frees you up to speak with each parent individually as their children introduce you.  I also get such a kick out of hearing how excited the kids are to share their early success with their parents.  By the time they are done, the parents always say, "No! I don't have any questions!  They told me EVERYTHING!"  It creates a very positive atmosphere for parents, students, and teachers to celebrate a new year together.

The text portion of the file is fully editable so you can add your own activities to show off, but the background has been flattened to preserve copyrights. I hope you can use this in your classroom and have a super parent night!  Have a fabulous school year.

:0) Heather  aka "Wild About Words"

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Get $150 in free books! Easy to do!
Who can resist free books?  A fellow teacher passed this opportunity to me and I signed up right away...about a week later I got an email letting me know I needed to order my $150 worth of free Magic Tree House books!  If you work in a Title I elementary school, you are eligible for $150 worth of chapter books and the awesome Fact Trackers, all courtesy of Mary Pope Osborne!  You have to submit a short proposal and be sure to mention the Books A Go Go name in the application as it says in their home page.  I think their program specifically links to the $150 in books.  I am so excited to get my books in the mail!  This is the perfect program for my fifth graders...we are going to use paired sets to analyze fiction (with the chapter books) and nonfiction (with the fact trackers).  And...because they are a little lower in level, I can accommodate all of my readers and still challenge my more confident guys with more advanced activities!  We are just waiting for our box of books to arrive!  Good luck and I hope this helps get you more books for your classroom!

UPDATE ON 12/22:  Because I received this quickie grant and became a member of their distributor,, I got an email that offered $100 in books, "No strings attached."  I figured they would charge shipping and was broke but checked into it anyways and found their special offer of free shipping with a $100 purchase!  Ten minutes later, my cart was full, I entered the code, received the free shipping and voila....we got our a books a few weeks back- and they have a great variety at more than 50% off.  We got two complete Lightning Thief hard cover sets, 10 Bad Kitties of varying titles, a bunch of Beverly Cleary titles, and 10 or so Franny K. Steins.  A HUGE set of books for 100 even!  I definitely recommend applying for this grant and for sure, register on to get their emails.  Happy holidays!

:0) Heather

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Cooperative Learning Selector Prompts


Cooperative learning requires teachers to be as quick on their feet as children!  Sometimes it’s tough to remember strategies, praises, cheers, and starting prompts.  This resource is meant to be a helper for starting prompts.  

When two or more students are preparing to share, either with one another or with the whole group, many times it makes sense to identify who will begin speaking in order to ensure the fluency of the activity and active engagement and accountability by all students.   It’s easy to fall into a rut and use the same “starters” over and over, but in the name of novelty and fun, I created a set of  64 prompts to add a little extra oomph to your day- and take some pressure off of the 4,000 other decisions you make in a day!  

I printed mine in color, mounted on black tag board, and laminated the cards (I might have made them just so I can use that darn personal laminator I just bought!).  After punching a few holes, I placed them on a ring and they are in fingertips' reach whenever I need them on my whiteboard. These would be awesome to start the year with as you begin teaching rituals and routines in cooperative learning!  


:)) Heather 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Classroom Rules: Back to Basics

Last year, I had the opportunity to participate in a CLC exploring Explicit Instruction. Initially, I was hesitant to "buy in" because I had the idea that it took away the "fun" in learning. I prided myself in being the teacher whose kids were always active, moving around, and seemingly engaged in their learning. Explicit Instruction, from what I knew of it, contradicted this. Boy was I wrong! Quite the contrary, once I started trying out some of the strategies, I was seeing results immediately!

 Explicit instruction provides students with multiple opportunities to interact with content, whether it’s rules, problem solving in math, or vocabulary instruction. The teacher clearly defines the concept and then provides engaging activities for students to practice applying this concept. This repeated exposure coupled with the scaffolding of difficulty levels, provides the safety net your below-level students need and the challenge your upper level students need, enabling everyone to grow, succeed, and have fun!
I highly recommend reading Anita Archer's, "Explicit Instruction: Effective and Efficient Teaching."  The title says it all!  She streamlines lessons like a pro and you can even watch 11 of her videos on her site.  Click the video link and you will be impressed at her pace and efficiency.  Watch the kids! They are in awe of her and EVERY child is participating.  It's not the video either...we practiced this as part of our CLC.  First, we used one of our classrooms as a "test room" and then did the same lessons in our own classrooms.  In both situations, the kids were all fully engaged and retained the information we had taught with a much higher level than we expected.  My kids looked forward to the days I would come back form the CLC training to test something new on them!

Basically, you are laying a foundation for all of your students to be able to dig deeper and apply more abstract concepts.  Since this training, I have begun introducing virtually every lesson with the explicit instruction model which pairs perfectly with cooperative learning strategies.  With these two methods in place, student attitudes and success soared.  I can't wait to see what happens this year when I get a whole year to implement this structure!

With this in mind, I want to start the year a little differently.  Traditionally, we always spend the first few days as a class creating our rules and doing a few activities with them.  Our rules get written on a poster and plastered on the wall, and more or less, forgotten.  This year, I want students to engage more with the rules and in analyzing their own performance.  And so, I decided to create an explicit instruction unit introducing and exploring our classroom rules.

First, I decided I wanted the rules to be as simple as possible and short!  The list is pretty traditional, but you'll see, the deeper into the explicit instruction unit you go, there is quite a bit of detail attached to each rule.  Here's my list:

For each rule, the teacher introduces it and explains why it is important.  The next three slides discuss how the rule should look, sound, and feel, followed by some non-examples.  

The slides look simple, but there is a set of suggested teacher prompts included in each notes section as you can see in this screen shot:

The prompts are all editable (but the backgrounds are not to protect clip art privacy rules).  This introduction is followed by three activities that engage the students in multiple interactions with the rule and cooperative learning strategies.  Each day ends with students reflecting upon their understanding of this rule in their own "Rule and Goal" book (18 pages).   Each of the first four day works around this same basic routine.  

The fifth day is a cumulative review using cooperative learning strategies and reviewing the class pledge as students all sign their name to a class chart and in their personal booklets. Students also work together to create a consequence chart.   The best part is, I will now have a concrete reminder for myself and students each month because the rest of the student booklet includes a monthly student evaluation of their progress with the classroom rules.  This ensures that I don't get lackadaisical about reinforcing and reviewing these rules!  I'm even thinking of keeping track of my own progress...I've broken a rule or two myself I'm thinking.  
Here's your reward for sticking around:
Minute to Win It Set #4
Have a blast and take those pictures...

:0) Heather

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Must Have Picture Books Linky!

The Teacher Wife
Ohhhh this is my favorite thing to talk about!  One of the reasons we decided to go back to self-contained this year is to be able to more flexible schedule our day and include more read aloud while integrating vocabulary in a more natural way.  I love picture books, especially with the fifth graders who think they are just too cool.....then ask, "Can I read that?" or complain when you miss read aloud time!  Sooooo, here are my TOP 5 FAVORITES!  This was a tough list to compile!
Product Details
This is a true picture book- no words.  I have had the greatest conversations with my fourth and fifth graders though!  Basically, there is a naughty magpie, a set of hands, and a set of magic pencils.  The objects the pencils draw come to life, and the naughty magpie gets a hold of the pencils.  With lots of clever solutions, the hands ultimately win!  The illustrations are phenomenal!  This was an obscure find on a discount shelf and I use it every year for story structure, sequencing, cause/effect, and summarizing.

The Secret Knowledge of Grown-Ups
This book is more appropriate for fourth grade and up, but you will laugh out loud (literally) reading these short scenarios.  Each scenario starts with a "Top Secret" folder that reveals the real reasons behind every day rules.  My favorite is:  Eat your vegetables.  Official reason:  They're good for you.  Real reason:  To keep them under control.  The story continues by showing the evolution of what used to be man-eating vegetables.  Collage illustrations engage you from the start.  I've used this for several years when developing classroom rules.  We twist the rules and figure out the "real reasons" for the rules we have developed.  Hysterical results! 

Product Details
This is a pretty popular one already, but I just can't read this story enough.  With Janell Cannon's beautiful illustrations and beautiful theme, it's a story for all ages.  Stellaluna is a character the kids can relate as she tries to fit in as the "different one," and ultimately learns that you don't have to look the same to have something in common.  Check out my explicit instruction vocabulary unit- kids dig a lot deeper into a story they know well.

There's a Frog in My Throat: 440 Animal Sayings a Little Bird Told Me
There's no plot, but lots of pictures so I stick it in my favorite picture books to teach with file!  Teaching figurative language interpretation in reading and use of it in writing can be tough.  With this book, the kids can't get enough and will be using them in excess!  Great illustrations!

Product Details
This isn't just a favorite read aloud with my class, this is my favorite picture book EVER.  I used to sit on the floor in my bedroom and just look at the pictures over and over and over!  They are luscious.  Ul de Rico is actually an artist, not really a story writer but he hit the bullseye with this story of greed.  A great book for introducing theme and character traits.  The goblins are so easily disliked!  Just talking about it makes me want to go grab it and read it for the 1000th time!  Warning:  There is a blue goblin butt in the book- hehe.  The kids always find it when I intentionally don't point anything out on that page!  I've never got in trouble for showing a goblin butt though...knock on wood! LOL

Thanks to "The Teacher's Wife" for starting this linky!

The Teacher Wife

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Common Core and More!

I think this is the most valuable FREE app I've found yet!  I have found the standards hard to maneuver and slow to load but this app puts all of the common core standards right at your fingertips.  In less than 15 seconds, you can have your grade level and subject pulled up right in front of you.   Awesome, awesome resource!

Reading Trainer

This probably doesn't qualify as "fun," but the reading nerd in me is getting a kick out of "Reading Trainer."  It claims to improve your reading speed, blah blah blah, AND you can post your scores that outsmart your friends on Facebook? LOL  Well, somehow, I find it interesting and yet another way to spend 5 minutes playing with an Ipad.  There's all sorts of eye exercises, letter and number challenges, and anagramming that increases your score.  The great won't let you complete another lesson for 30 minutes, so you CAN'T do it for hours! $1.99- not a bad deal!

:0) Heather