Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pick a Pal Participation Cards!

If you're looking for a little novelty to spice up your Guided Reading rotations or whole group activities, these cards may help add a little extra pizzazz! Although they aren’t used on a daily basis, the cards are great for mixing things up a bit while sharing out in class. The kids really enjoy having some choice in who participates next, and they enjoy raising their hands when the criteria fits them so that they can share an answer or read next. Essentially, I always begin by choosing one card and picking a child who fits that criteria to model how it works. Then it’s just like dominoes. Each kid chooses the next person. There are a few “Wild Card” cards to allow kids to pick whoever, especially after I prompt them to pick friends that have not been picked yet. I particularly enjoy using these cards in the first few weeks of school to get to know each other better and throw in a little bit of novelty. Use them how you see fit!  I've just upgraded from my old construction paper & index card prototypes, and I'm loving the new digital look!  If you're interested in the 20 page crystal clear file, you can check it out at my TpT store HERE

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dear Chicago, You Exhaust Me!

Hi friends!  I just returned from the Differentiated Instruction Conference in Chicago!  It was my last hurrah with some of my current colleagues before starting fresh in a new district, and it was a great conference!  Of course, I had absolutely NO Internet service the entire time, because I refused to pay the $15/day fee, and this made my blogging addiction so much more apparent.  I was definitely going through withdrawal, and it wasn't pretty.  I couldn't even pull it up on my smart phone!  So, I suppose I'm going to have to catch up on all of your great posts over the next several days.  I'm sure that I missed a TON!  The Lesson Plan S.O.S. ladies and I tried to orchestrate a little Meet & Greet, but it just didn't pan out.  Someday maybe... :)  I think that might be the next "conference" I attend.  What you do you think about a blog convention in Hawaii?!  Haha!

As I type, I am quite honestly trying my hardest to think creatively and logically, but I am extremely grumpy today! I hope it doesn't come out too much in this post.  :)  Remember my little surgery last week?!  I had a 27-year-old baby tooth extracted last Thursday.  I thought it was going to be no big deal except for the anesthesia and initial haze.  Well, I ended up with what my surgeon refers to as "a good old fashioned dry socket" by Monday.  By the time I got back to Ohio, I was at that point where I didn't care what they did to my mouth as long as they made it stop hurting.  They packed it, and the pack fell out within two hours while I was shoveling Panera's cheddar & broccoli soup into my mouth like I'd never eaten before in my life.   I was jolted awake at 3 am this morning, so I took a Vicodin, and popped onto Pinterest.  Yes, I was on Pinterest at 3 am.  Frowning.  Scowling.  Clicking.  Clicking.  Clicking.  They can't get me back in to the office until 4 pm today, so in the meantime, my intellectual capacity is...meh.  I'm also a little apprehensive about braces on Monday... and my impending tooth implant.  {My adult tooth never came in!} If I were a Care Bear, I would totally be Grumpy Bear today.  So, naturally, I'll have to share lots of the ideas I've learned later since I have absolutely no ambition to create anything on my growing list or to type a dissertation today (aside from what has just turned into "A Week in the Life of Amanda"). Ha!   Just know that I have read your comments about writing, and I will post about that later tonight once I have my happy pack installed again.  I'll post about the fabulous literacy activities I picked up in Chicago throughout the weekend and next week!  :)

In the meantime, here are a few nuggets (conference notes) from Dr. Rick Duvall about integrating math and writing:

* Rick Duvall recommends beginning every math lesson with poetry.  You may consider Lunch Money and Other Poems about School.  It looks fabulous!

* Research shows that children’s literature provides a meaningful context for mathematics & celebrates mathematics as a language. Children’s literature also demonstrates that mathematics develops out of human experience. It also addresses humanistic and affective elements of mathematics. It fosters the development of number sense.  It integrates mathematics into other curriculum areas. It restores a aesthetic dimension to mathematical learning.  It supports the art of problem posing, not just problem solving.

* Making Writing Work in Math: Kids need to do, do, do.  They need to explore through manipulatives & have concrete experiences.  Then, kids need to talk a lot & share with others.  Let them talk it out first.  Then, write, write, write. Lastly, allow kids to share their writing for accountability. 

* Give students the opportunity to utilize writing to internalize algorithms.  Allow them to  practice a lot with base-10 blocks etc, then use Smartboard (if possible), discuss, & model.  Next, allow kids to talk & write.  Give them a problem.  Have them solve it.  Then write out how it was solved step by step.  Use Math Notebooks for writing.

* Writing to Reflect: What are you thinking about circumference?  {Pose these kinds of questions to have kids reflect on their learning.}  Allows for natural favorite kind!

* Have kids create story problems then trade them.  Have kids solve each other’s problems in their notebooks.

* Have kids write “ Noticings” about mathematical concepts. Tie metacognition lessons into math instruction. Really emphasize real world connections. Numbers have meaning.

* Writing for Accountability: Layer in a written component in centers/workshop approach.

* Write what you learned in a poem form etc.  Overlap curriculum. How can you bring what you learn in L.A. and content areas into math reflections. 

* Writing to Respond to Literature: Where the Sidewalk Ends- The Googies are Coming {Think about context clues, address antonyms/synonyms etc. Bring in visualization.  Recognize patterns & do some language building.  Kids describe which adjectives describe them and then figure out how much they would cost if the Googies were going to buy them.  {cute idea}

* Check out a bibliography on his website.  It’s broken down by mathematical concepts.

You can find more info here: &

I'll never forget my MES team, but I'd like to forget what Chicago did to my bangs! :)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Writing Workshop Tips and Tricks

 By now, if you've been following my blog for any length of time, you probably realize how much I LOVE literacy.  I am a HUGE literacy junkie, and I have really gotten into writing instruction in particular over the past two years.  I am an admirer of all things Lucy Calkins, Ralph Fletcher, and Georgia Heard.  They are right up there on a pedestal with my reading pals: Debbie Miller, Anne Goudvis, Stephanie Harvey, Ellin Keene, Tanny McGregor, Linda Hoyt, and Kathy Collins.  Of course I can't leave out Fountas and  Pinnell!  {That's the short list too.}  Anyway, I thought I'd share some writing tips with all of my fabulous followers to help kick-start a new year.  Is it seriously almost time to go back?!

Organizing/Planning Writing

Sketching can be really powerful when trying to get a student to include details in their writing.  Generally, the more detailed picture they draw, the more detailed their stories become.  Then, you can prompt them and ask them to look at their sketching to see what they left out that they still want to add to their paper.  (Note:  This doesn’t have to be anything elaborate.  They can simply do a quick sketch to help them visualize or remember fuzzy details before jumping into the process.)

Timelines are extremely helpful when you doing any kind of writing that has to be sequential.  Teaching them to plot out the main events in their story can help to keep the story focused and in order.  They can refer back to it as they write to make sure they don’t start going a totally different direction.  It also allows you to ask questions about specific events to help them elaborate later in the process, because you can see the entire picture in a sense. 

Checklists help during planning, free-writing and drafting.  This can help them stay focused throughout each process.  They already know what is expected and what is coming next before they get to it, so they panic less.

Story Maps:
  When writing fiction, I have the kids plan out the bones of their stories ahead of time by writing out story maps.  They describe their main characters, supporting characters, settings, problems, and solutions ahead of time.  Some even write alternate beginnings and endings before beginning.  This planning helps them to shape their stories without getting sidetracked.  They continuously refer back to their story maps when they get stuck. {You probably recall my love of Heart Maps too.}

Things to Consider

Students do their best writing when they are given the choice to write about what matters to them.  Yes, prompts are necessary due to testing, but don’t underestimate the raw stuff. Prompt them to think about what they are really trying to say.  Ask them to think about what is really important and then write it down.

Teach them to write tight, focused “seed stories”.  Teach them to focus on small moments.  (Feel free to ask me about this if you want to know more.)  I basically tell the kids that we are trying not to tell “watermelon stories”.  Essentially, a watermelon story is a story that gets too broad and goes way too many directions.  It could also be one that doesn’t have any sensory details.  (Showing examples and studying them is really helpful.  Show them what you want, and they will do it.  Allow them to underline, highlight and discuss what they notice about the mentor texts.)

If a student is worried about spelling, teach them to write their draft without stopping to correct it.  They can simply circle any unknown spellings as they go to come back to at another time.  (Encourage them to use the Word Wall during drafting. Those words are expected to be spelled correctly 100% of the time, as are any old spelling words.)  Otherwise, I don’t get too hung up on invented spelling.  We want them to take chances in their writing and aim for million dollar vocabulary words.

 Living a Writerly Life

Encourage students to read like a writer.  Help them to see books through a writer’s lens, constantly searching for creative leads and endings, beautiful language, imagery, etc.
Encourage them to see the stories in their own lives, and identify themselves as the main characters in their own lives!  We all have stories to tell.   Share your own stories and model the process for them.

Encourage students to read the types of writing they are trying to write.  For example, when we were studying personal narratives, we studied “Owl Moon” to find out how Jane Yolen wrote about an owling experience with her father.  We read the book together and picked it apart, talking about what the author did that was effective--- things that they could try in their own writing.

Encourage students to keep a writing journal to write down any interesting experiences, ideas, lists, etc.  Help them to see potential stories in virtually everything around them.

Research what real published authors do.  Share information from their bios or websites about what it’s like to be an author, what the process is like, etc.  Read books like "Author: A True Story" by Helen Lester.

Real authors collaborate and share.  Therefore, I give the kids a chance to work in writing partnerships.  These groupings are flexible and change often.  They also do peer reviews to help one another improve their writing. (I know this is more for groups, but since I’m sharing, I figured I’d share for future use!)

Frank Serafini was really onto something when he made the following assertions:
Writing instruction should develop life-long writers.
Writers write because of the desire to write, not to be famous!  (They just have to write!)
Writers learn to write by writing.
People teach people to write, not programs.  (This is a BIG one!)
Writing Instruction should address processes, procedures and products of writing.
Writing is an act of discovery, not an act of transcription.
Our processes and procedures should support writers, not get in their way.
Writing should not be seen as a stage-bound linear process.

Over the years, I have enjoyed seeing my students grow as writers through Writer's Workshop.  Because I have had so much success with this hands-on approach to Writing Workshop, I really wanted a way to beef up my writing instruction and make it a little more engaging for my kiddos while building in a natural scaffold to help them with the various stages of the writing process, so I have started creating a series of units that incorporate interactive notebook templates to provide support along the way.  So far, I have created a Personal Narratives unit and a Fictional Narratives unit, and I have plans for more in the future.

I also created a unit to launch Writer's Workshop a few years ago called We Are Authors: Launching Writer's Workshop, and it has helped set the tone for living writerly lives by helping my students SEE themselves as real authors with stories WORTH telling!  I believe that's part of the battle.  If your students BELIEVE they can write, and you give them the tools to do it by explicitly teaching them the author's craft and studying mentor texts by fabulous writers, THEY WILL AMAZE YOU.  I promise.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

It's official...

I will officially be teaching 3rd grade in a district closer to my home next year, and it is really bittersweet.  I am really excited to be a part of my new district, but it's sad to leave my current team members behind {and our brand new building with an air conditioner}. :)  In all seriousness, I  spent four wonderful years with so many wonderful colleagues and a supportive administration.  They were like a school family to me, but I'm ready for a new chapter in my life and career. I know that this move will be the best for my family. I was offered the job yesterday, and since then, I've basically gone over the deep end.  I ran to my current classroom to start sorting my own materials from district materials for a few hours.

Then, today, after I had surgery in the morning and went to visit my dad in the hospital, I came back home and started to research Reading Street more to prepare for the impending school year.  I actually fell asleep with my fingers and head on my laptop from the anesthesia and pain medication.  Sad, but true!  I'm trying not to think about how time consuming it will be to pack, move, and set up a brand new classroom.  {As a sidenote, this will be the 5th time I have switched classrooms in the 6 years I've had one!  I'm sure you can imagine my excitement.}  I went ahead and whipped up labels for a Focus Board to correlate with Reading Street.  It could be easily used with any basal series or even Reader's Workshop.  I'm still turning gears in my head about how to keep my workshop going with the basal series.  I just can't ever relax.  It's a blessing and a curse!  Help yourself to a copy if you think you can use it!  Let me know what you think!  Thanks for following me!  I can't believe I hit 1,000 followers!

Sunday, July 10, 2011


I was inspired by Christina Bainbridge!  Okay, and I have to admit, it's not the first time she's inspired me.  I've been stalking her website for years, and now she has a blog, so now I'm following that too!  I found the cutest idea for helping kids learn to choose good fit books, and I couldn't resist adapting it for my kiddos.  We used the I-PICK method last year, and even with a cutesy song, the acronym was challenging to remember.  So, when I saw the C.O.W. method on Christina's blog, I was really excited!  If you want to check out her original document or check out her other wonderful ideas, make sure that you check out her blog! My adaption of the poster can be snagged below.