Friday, September 30, 2011

Making Seed Stories Tangible etc. etc

I love the watermelon story/seed story concept, but sometimes I still have kids who stare at me blankly whenever I bring it up for the first time.  They look at me like I'm speaking Spanish, but I try to keep plowing ahead with the analogies and examples until they are fluent in the "writing language" we use in class.  Even though I am no longer allowed to use Units of Study to teach writing, I still find ways to blend great strategies into the Reading Street curriculum.

We talked a lot about how watermelon topics are big huge stories full of lots of different ideas, just like watermelons are full of lots of seeds.  I rambled a bit about my dogs, making sure to give lots of irrelevant information while also staying away from any really specific or particularly vivid details.  You know the type of story I'm talking about:  "I have two dogs named K-Fed and Loralei.  They are soft.  They are funny. I like to play with them.  Sometimes I like to take them to the park.  They don't like to go to the vet. They bark.  They are crazy.  Sometimes they drive me crazy.  I had a dog when I was a kid.  Her name was Mindy.  Now my parents have a dog named Sadie.  My sister doesn't like dogs.  She has a cat named Fancy.  I like to be fancy, but my husband tells me that I don't need another purse.  I love purses..."  You get the picture.  The kids are always quick to point out that I changed my topic and that the story could use some work.  So then I tell them that usually when I read my own writing and realize that it's kind of veering off-track, I ask myself, "What am I really trying to say?"  In that case, I was trying to talk about my dogs, but somehow I started to talk about purses.  So, I explain that we sometimes can start with just one tiny idea to write about a small moment or a seed story.  I think out loud about different ideas I could write about.

At this point, I usually explain how I'm going to focus on one small moment with my pets that I really remember well.  So, I usually talk about how my dogs can be destructive, because it always gets a rise out of the kids, and they can really visualize it playing out.  So, I typically tell them about how my mom, my sister, my grandmother and I went to breakfast one summer morning at Bob Evans, and how I left the dogs in the crate before we left my house.  I explain that, "...when we got home, K-Fed met us at the door.  He jumped and danced around my feet like a little lima bean and squealed like a pig.  I heard barking coming from the living room.  Loralei was crying in her crate, and K-Fed's was peeled back like a candy wrapper.  The middle of my floor was bare and carpet-less.  My couch had a gaping white hole on the arm, and the floor was littered with stuffing, shoes, broken sunglasses, a water bottle, and my husband's gym 30 lb. gym bag that had been dragged down the hallway from our spare room." At this point, half of the class usually has their mouth open in shock and the rest are laughing hysterically.  Of course, they ask if this is a true story, and I explain that it is.  I tell them that some of the best stories are based off our our own real life experiences since we are the main characters in our lives.  

This year, I launched Phase II, kind of spontaneously.  I was talking about how I took one experience and s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d it out while adding that to our anchor chart.  I happened to have Silly Putty in the marker tray that I tried to use with a student for a sensory anxiety-reducing tool, and it caught my eye.  It was one of those moments that you wish you could just bottle up and tap into any time you feel like you're stuck in a rut.  Totally lightning in a bottle!  I finished writing on the chart paper, sauntered over to the board, and clutched the Silly Putty in my hand.  The Silly Putty's little egg-shaped container looks little seed-like, don't you think?!  So, I reread what we just wrote on the anchor chart, and reminded them how I tried to write a seed story.  Then, I cracked open the "seed" and started to s-t-r-e-t-c-h it out.  I pointed out how some ideas start small, but we can make it longer by adding details about the experience.  Insert oooohhhhs and aaaahhhhhs here.  My captive audience of 8 and 9-year-olds love anything toy-like, so I knew it did the trick, especially when I heard, "Ooooooohhhhhh, now I get it!"  Now, this is my little prop whenever we review the idea of writing small, focused seed stories.  I'm definitely going to keep it in my little bag of writing tricks.  

I haven't been taking a ton of pictures or doing anything particularly earth-shattering lately.  In fact, we're in the process of moving, and my old computer crashed, so I'm in also in the process of moving old files onto my new computer, because {of course} I can't get it to communicate with my external hard-drive.  It figures!  Anyway, here's a little hodgepodge of some of our classroom happenings:

Constitution Day activity that goes with my We the People unit on TpT! 

I was inspired by Reading Resource. Net, so I created a little poster to use while teaching vowel digraphs! 
This little beauty was not my idea, but it's a great tool for kids with anger/anxiety.  

Contents of the Stress Box.  Clearly it's being used for its intended purpose.  :)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Parent Communication

Lately, I've had a received a few emails about parent communication.  When I was self-contained, I used to send home a weekly newsletter every Friday to keep parents informed about classroom happenings.  I also used to have a classroom website.  It's no longer live on the web though.  Now that I have made a switch to a  new district, we send home a "Peek at the Week" on Mondays as a grade level and we maintain a team webpage.  I wish I could simply direct you to my old website, but you'll have to settle for screen shots of whatever I could fit on a page.  I couldn't shrink it down enough to give you a complete picture of the contents, but hopefully you'll get the gist.  Here are a few snippets to show you essentially how everything looked:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

We Are Ohio: A Campaign for Public Employees

Okay friends, I have made an effort not to get political on my blog, but I just wanted to share a little bit about what is going on in Ohio at the moment.  In November, we will be going to the polls to vote on a referendum that will either pass or overturn Senate Bill 5 (Issue 2).

Our governor is piggy-backing off of the legislation that was passed in Wisconsin.  Governor Kasich is blaming teachers, firefighters, policemen, and nurses for the financial problems Ohio is facing. I don't want to do any bashing or criticizing on my blog.  However, I feel like no matter where we teach, we are really in this all together.  What happened in Wisconsin is affecting us in Ohio, so I want to let all of you know what's happening in our state.  We already have a three year pay freeze in my district... and I can only pray that I will see an increase for my formally mandated, but no longer enforced Masters degree once the three years pass.  It looks like this is only the beginning...

Here's a brief overview:

What's in SB 5?  (Source)

•Collective bargaining rights reduced for all Ohio public workers SB 5 preserves wording from Ohio's existing collective bargaining law that gives public workers the right to collectively bargain wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment. However, the bill contains numerous exceptions -- some broad in scope -- that severely limit, or outright prohibit, the terms and conditions subject to collective bargaining. For example, SB 5 lists 15 topics that management can refuse to negotiate. These issues include employees' qualifications and work assignments. The bill also lists topics that cannot be negotiated under any circumstances, including health care benefits costs (locked in at a minimum 15-percent employee contribution) and the number of workers required to be on duty or employed in any department of a public employer.

•Safety forces could lose right to negotiate for protective equipment.

•Workers who strike could be jailed.   SB 5 bans all public workers from striking and establishes penalties for violating the ban. Under current law, only certain workers, such as police and firefighters, cannot strike. Under SB 5, employers could obtain a court order to halt any strike. Workers who violate the court order and continue to strike could be subject to a $1,000 fine and/or punishments in state law for contempt of court. A first offense for contempt is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and up to a $250 fine.

•Teachers could not negotiate class sizes Among the topics teachers cannot collectively bargain in SB 5 is "a maximum number of students who may be assigned to a classroom or teacher."

•Teachers' salaries tied to test scores SB 5 sets standards of performance that will determine how much teachers are paid. The standards are: the teacher's level of license; whether the teacher is considered a "highly qualified teacher," as defined by law; a "value-added measure" of student performance; teacher evaluations; and any other criteria the school board establishes. The performance-based salary schedules will vary by school district, but standardized test scores are a type of value-added measurement elsewhere in Ohio law.

•Public university professors could lose collective bargaining rights.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A and B Days... and more Reading Street Goodies!

Our school has a 6-day rotation for specials, Reading Street, and our Eagle Time ( our  intervention/enrichment time).  Out of necessity, my partner and I also created A and B days.  We noticed that some of our kids have a more difficult time attending to tasks during the afternoons, so we flip flop our classes every other day.  On A days, I keep my homeroom class for Language Arts first then they go to Math and Science in the afternoons.  Conversely, on B days, they start with Math in the morning, and then they come to me for Language Arts and Social Studies in the afternoon.  It's nice to know that students won't always be tuning out during the same class, and so far, it's been beneficial.  It actually hasn't been as complicated as I thought it would be, and I am soooooo glad!  I was writing A or B on the whiteboard every day for a few weeks, but I finally got around to creating little signs to signal A and B days to my homeroom kiddos during morning activities.  Help yourself to a copy, if you think you can use it in some way!

In other news, I just linked up with lots of fabulous bloggers for a Facebook linky party.  If you're interested, you can follow my TpT products through my facebook page HERE!  Feel free to take a peek at my Pinterest boards HERE!  :)  I'm always looking for new ideas and new people to follow!  :)

A & B Days

Lastly, since we are running Reading Street on a 6-day rotation,  I actually will be wrapping up What About Me? on Monday and Tuesday this week, but I wanted to post the new goodies for those of you who are moving on to Alexander Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday tomorrow!  :)   Enjoy!

Alexander Spelling List Alexander Vocabulary Alexander Who Used to Be Rich Objectives

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Without going into details, I am just going to say that this year is probably my most challenging year yet... and I've had a few difficult years. Ay carumba!  Luckily, I have made peace with Reading Street, and I am actually finding ways to enjoy it!!!  :)

We are currently working with What About Me? in our series.   The writing focus of the week is voice, and the kids are supposed to write a song.  I am trying to pull my old 6+1 Writing Traits knowledge into the lessons to blend it with Units of Study and Reading Street.  What I've found is that I can take a lesson from Reading Street, make it into a anchor chart, work on fluency, teach the author's craft, and find a little slice of happiness while doing it.  I modeled the reading "I Got a Funny Dog" from the series, then the kids read it with me.  We talked about how poems and songs are alike using "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" as an example.  We talked about rhythm and repetition as it related to the song.  We clapped out the rhythm as it was sung or spoken. We discussed how the rhythm relates to the syllables in each word.  We then turned to voice and how it relates to writing with pizazz.  I may or may not have whipped out a totally impromptu rendition of "I Will Always Love You" to point out that I am not talking about a singing voice... that when we talk about voice... it's your personality or style coming through your words.  FUN! Anyway, we looked at our chart, and we discussed how the details helped us visualize the poem, and then we coded it to examine the rhyming words, the use of repetition, and we used x's to show how we could clap out the rhythm.  That's just a little throw-back to my cheerleading days!  :)
The posters above my poster are from THE fabulous Hope King from!

One of our focusing skills this week is sequencing.  To set them up for success with the sequencing worksheets, we read the short story "Chores", then worked together to write important statements about the events in the story.  We discussed how this would not be full of lots of details like a retelling, because we were trying to put together a summary that only lists the most important details.  We worked out the main events, and I wrote them on sentence strips.  We reread it to make sure that it made sense, and then I decided to jumble it all up.  We read it out loud together, and the kiddos giggled.  They pointed out that it doesn't make sense to start with "finally" in this summary, and we discussed some of the other gaps in comprehension that could arise from putting the events in an incorrect sequence.  The students came up to the board to put it back in order again afterwards and explained why it had to be that way.  
Illustrating that jumbled events lead to jumbled thoughts.
 I am also pretty pumped that I get to overlap so much of my Social Studies and Language Arts lessons!  I will say that I like the heavy Social Studies focus in the series, because we don't allot more than a half an hour on Social Studies (or Science) every other day to allow enough time for Language Arts and Math.  The overlap makes the transition from one class to another more seamless!  Love it!

In other news, I found a great new blog a few weeks ago!  A few things she mentioned in her posts made me wonder if she was in a neighboring district, so I emailed her, and it turns out that we are "school neighbors".  Her district borders mine!  As it turns out, we will be on a literacy team together this year, and it seriously cracks me up that the world is as small as it is.  :)  Kim has a great first grade blog called Starbucks, Standards, & Sharpies!  You'll definitely want to check it out and say hi!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Constitution Day Ideas!

Since we are federally required to teach a lesson about the Constitution on Constitution Day on September 17th, and since I will be required to submit documentation of the lesson to my principal afterward, I decided to re-vamp my resources. Right now, I am knee-deep in an economics unit, and truthfully I really don't want to deviate too far away from that. Luckily, it's the beginning of the year, so it's a great time to talk about rules and rights. If you are interested, you can check out thirteen pages of my lessons and vocabulary posters HERE.

What About Me? Reading Street Goodies

Before I begin sharing my new documents, I want to acknowledge the significance of today.  It's hard to believe that it has been ten years since the attacks, and my heart certainly goes out to everyone impacted that day.  I was a high school senior, and I was sitting in AP English when one of my track coaches opened the door and said to turn on the television.  We heard that the tower was hit by a plane, and I remember questioning whether it was an accident.  Within minutes, the second was hit, and I was ushered off to my Government class.  It was at that moment that I realized that it wasn't an accident... that our country was under attack.  It was at that moment that my illusions of invincibility were shattered. I watched as the Pentagon was struck, and then we heard that another plane was hijacked.   We knew that it wasn't too far away from Northeast Ohio, and since we didn't know where it was headed, we held our breath.  We watched as the plane struck a Pennsylvania field, and we wept.  We cried as a class,  and we grappled with what had happened.  The hallways were silent as I walked into Choir.  We sang patriotic songs and held each others' hands.  It was at that moment, that I bowed my head to say a prayer for the people in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. The rest of the day was a blur.  I just remember that cheerleading practice was cancelled, and I spent the rest of the evening in front of the television with my family.

I feel like I blinked, and suddenly it's ten years later.  The emotions are still just as powerful... the memories just as vivid.  Still, I have faith in God, and I have faith in our leaders.  Last night at church, I was reminded how we are all called to love one another.  We are called to treat each other like we want to be treated, and we are called to love our enemies.  I am saddened by the hatred that exists in the hearts of terrorists, but I will continue to pray that God will speak into their hearts and that His great love for ALL people will ultimately change the world one heart at a time, because He is the only one who can.  He loves the whole world, not just Christians, not just Americans, and we are called to love EVERYONE as He loves.  I hope that I'll remember this today and always.  

Now, off of my soapbox!  Help yourself to the documents if you think you can use them with your kiddos!  I'll probably have more to post later this week.  :)

What About Me Vocabulary What About Me Spelling List What About Me Objectives What About Me Focus Wall Vocab

Friday, September 9, 2011

This is the Start of Something Good... Don't You Agree?

It's hard to believe that we just wrapped up our third week of school, but then again, maybe not.   I definitely fell asleep by 8:30 a few nights ago while watching HGTV.  That is about two hours before my bedtime... and I was O-U-T... out!  :)  The hubster and I move in two weeks, so in between teaching & packing, I am squeezing in a little home decor television.  I'm just a tad excited about our new forever home!   Unfortunately, I have been neglecting my camera in the midst of all of this excitement, and I don't have a TON of photos from the first few weeks of school.  Here's what I do have from this week... and it's not much!

We were learning about how to write a character description based on character's actions and inferred character traits.  We decided to create a character description about Farmer Brown from Click, Clack, Moo and Giggle, Giggle, Quack, because most of the students had read those books at one point in time or another and it was an easy, accessible text for all of my students.  So, we started to brainstorm actions performed by Farmer Brown in either story and what those actions reveal about his inner-feelings or personality.  We created a T-chart, and then used the T-chart to create a really simple paragraph modeled after our sample in Reading Street.

Then, I had the kiddos re-read previously read books from my classroom library to get reacquainted with characters.  They were armed with Post-It notes to jot down what they noticed about the characters' actions and character traits.  I gave them ten minutes to think and jot... then I asked them to find a partner.  The partners shared what they found about their characters, decided which character would help them create the most descriptive character description, and then worked together to practice writing one.  Each student was responsible for recording the description in their Writer's Notebook to refer back to in the future.  Dare I say it?  Even though I am missing UofS right now, I actually enjoyed the lesson!  :)

I actually used the lesson as an opportunity to model drawing vs. sketching.  I started by writing my title on the anchor chart, then beginning the T-chart.  I quickly sketched a head shot of Farmer Brown with pink marker and tried to just get the gist of his appearance.  Then, the kids were encouraging me to add some color to make it look a little more like him, so I just sort of dabbed in color quickly to the shirt and hat using a yellow marker.  I asked them to think about the differences between illustrations, drawings and sketches.  They were quick to point out that illustrations usually accompany text in books, and that drawings can be anywhere.  They were unable to differentiate between drawings and sketches at all.  So, I pulled out Giggle, Giggle, Quack and my old file folder activity for the book.  I shared the illustration first, and we talked briefly about what we noticed.  Then, I showed them my drawing, and we discussed how many details I tried to capture through my drawing like colors, texture, patterns. and even shadows.  Then, I redirected their attention to the original sketch on my poster.  We discussed how it was only a small part of the illustration and how it lacked lots of details.  We also discussed how quickly I generated the sketch.  I explained that sometimes I will ask for detailed drawings, but mostly we will be sketching in class.  :)  I seriously wish I would have thought of this before... because I could see all of the lightbulbs go off in their heads.  Seriously though, I am not the best sketcher, so it looks a little sad next to some of my other charts.  Haha!  Probably because I also tried to write quickly and draw lines that were a little wavy to show a few of my perfectionists that sometimes we can make everything look wonderful, and sometimes, especially when we're thinking or planning, it's okay to be a little messy.  {Secretly, this is my own hang-up too, but shhhh!}

Examples of a drawing & illustration!

My perfectly imperfect chart...
Check out the sketch, the wavy line, and the fabulous thinking! I love that he wrote "Good Job"  and gave himself a star after I conferenced with him about his progress!  :) What a sweetheart!!!!  I wish the picture came out clearer and didn't cut off words!

This is absolutely random, but I wanted to share my cover sheets.  They are just laminated construction paper.  They're nothing fancy, but they work like a charm, and I have re-used the same set constantly for four years now! They're a little worn!

We started our economy unit!  The posters are part of my Economy bundle on TpT! :)

A visual brainstorm.  Once again, this is to illustrate that thinking can be somewhat messy, but it's okay!  Note that my third graders mentioned that we need money to pay for warranties, mortgages, insurance, taxes, money for repairs & video games!

This is the over-arching essential question for the week for Social Studies and Boom Town!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Okay friends... I learned an important lesson today.  When it comes down to it, no matter what, no matter what you teach or what program you use, you have to be true to your own teaching style.  I'm slowly learning that you don't have to have a full-on Reader's Workshop to use the strategies successfully.  The sad thing is that I knew that, but I was seriously too busy having a pity party for myself to really let it sink in.  I was essentially mourning the "death" of my old lessons, and as a result, I hadn't thought about how this experience would challenge me to mesh the two together.  Starting over has been totally terrifying in so many ways, but today I had a serious reality check.  I'm starting to look at the reading series through rose-colored glasses... and I'm starting to look for opportunities to teach the content with a new spin.  Wish me luck!  :)

The kiddos helped me generate a list of their prior knowledge about realism and fantasy, then they went on a book search to find examples.  Of course, they're color-coded!  The kids turned and talked before they shared out whole-group! 

Monday, September 5, 2011


One of my old co-workers, Beth, is seriously one of the most gifted teachers I have ever met!  She was my unofficial mentor for years, and I loved talking shop with her!  She's definitely one of those teachers that makes you go "Ooooooo.... Ahhhhhh"!  Well, last year, one of her Daily 5 posters caught my eye, and I fell in LOVE!  She took pictures of her students doing the cross-checking hand motions, glued them onto chart paper and wrote out the steps.  It was brilliant!  So, of course, I took the idea and gave it my own computer-generated spin.  I took pictures of four students sitting next to each other modeling each step of the cross-checking process, added them to my word-processing software, typed out the steps with cute fonts, and then hit print!  I plan on taking photos of a few kiddos in my new class when we get to that mini-lesson to make a new poster for this school-year.  Here's an example of what it looked like... minus my adorable kiddos' faces of course.  :) If you'd like to download a copy, you can snag one at HERE.  {Disclaimer: This resource is an unofficial adaptations of an idea from the Daily 5 by Gail Boushey & Joan Moser. This freebie is not endorsed by the 2 Sisters:  I have permission to share as a freebie with credit.}

I'd also like to give a shout out to Ms. Jasztal (who I used to blog with on her old domain... and who was a Scholastic Advisor), Nicole from First Grade Owls, Abby from Third Grade Bookworm, Courtney from Swimming into Second, Rachel from Views from Room 205, Mrs. McCumbee from Mrs. McCumbee's Class, MeiLing from Plug-n-Plan, and Mrs. McKown from Little Literacy Learners for recognizing my little 'ole blog in their Top Tens.  Make sure you pop over to their blogs and show them some love... they are wonderful teachers!  I honestly couldn't even begin to whittle down a Top Ten, so if you're interested in the blogs I follow, you can check out my Blog Roll or look at my Google profile to browse hundreds of teaching blogs.  :)  Happy Browsing!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Economy 101: Kid-Friendly Supplemental Resources

     Oh-my-goodness! I have been working feverishly on my new economics unit since 7:00 last night.  Since my hubster has been out of town for a college football game, I decided to make use of my free time by creating supplemental resources to use with my Social Studies curriculum and Unit 1 in Reading Street, which also focuses on economics.  I don't think I have blinked for at least ten hours, and my fingers are seriously starting to cramp.  I'm tellin' ya, I love when my creative juices start flowing, but sometimes I don't know when to call it quits... especially when I'm trying to fit it in while Mr. Wonderful is gone.  Ladies, I have officially ran out of steam... and apparently ideas.  So, 48 pages later, I am happy to say that I am finished.  For now.  I have uploaded the new bundle to TpT, so feel free to check out the preview file!  I threw in my classroom jobs printable since it also reinforces the idea of economics, so this actually contains 40 NEW pages.  I can't wait to launch this unit next week!   Check it out to learn more about Play-Doh-nomics, Market Day, how to start your own classroom business, and more!