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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Coordinating Conjunctions and Compound Sentences

One of my big goals this year is to make writing as FUN and ENGAGING as I possibly can.  So many students equate writing with boring skill practice and monotonous prompts, and I want to change that!  We are very lucky to have a FABULOUS writing curriculum that we will dive into soon, but for now, I am focusing on some critical grammar skills.  One of them is types of sentences and using coordinating conjunctions.  Being able to use commas and conjunctions really increases a student's ability to write varied, interesting pieces of writing.

We started off by making an anchor chart together.  I made the "shell" of the anchor chart ahead of time so that we could talk through it as a class.  I strongly believe in making anchor charts WITH a class, but I have also found that making these "shells" eliminates any down time while creating them.  I just leave the most important content out.


After we filled it in together, we started practicing the skill using our Super Sentences Flip Books.  We have had so much fun with these to start the school year-- it's amazing how turning a regular worksheet into a flip book can make all the difference in how engaged your students are.



The next day, I wanted a memorable way to review what the students had learned yesterday.  I went on Flocabulary and found this A-MAZING video that teaches students about using coordinating conjunctions to make compound sentences.  
The hook line of the song is, "A simple sentence has a subject and a verb, and forms a complete thought using every word. A compound sentence is two of them combined. A comma, and a conjunction you will find!"  It was like GOLD for my students and soon enough, they were jumping up and down rapping with the video themselves.  We did this three weeks ago, and the song is STILL stuck in my head!
Click to Watch
Click on the image above to see the video for FREE until October 31st.  While you're there, explore the site.  They have a song for just about everything you could imagine, and tons of lesson plans to go with them, too!  Next week, we are starting latitude and longitude, and I can't wait to introduce my students to the concept with their song for that topic!

Would you like to win a year-long subscription to Flocabulary? (The answer is YES! Yes, you would!)  Here's your chance!  Click on the image below and enter your information.  THREE randomly selected entrants will win a full year subscription, and everyone who enters will receive an extended 45-day free trial.  You must enter by October 16.  Good luck!


After we watched the video at least seventeen times (that's only a SLIGHT exaggeration), students got to do a fun hands-on activity to practice building compound sentences using coordinating conjunctions.   

First, they got a large piece of chart paper with different categories.  Then, they had some macaroni noodles for the commas, and sentence strips to write their sentences.  They had to write two simple sentences about the topic that went together, with one sentence on each sentence strip.  Then, they combined them on the chart paper to make a compound sentence.  Here's a look at some of their charts to get a better idea of how they did it. 



They had to cut off the first (capital) letter of the second sentence so that they remembered to make it lowercase.  They used the macaroni to make a comma, and wrote in their FANBOYS.

Pay no mind to the dead flowers here.  This poor table's flowers died over the weekend, and they were determined to revive them!
I loved seeing their sentences, and this made the concept so concrete!

I knew that the rest of our coordinating conjunction practice would be embedded into our writing, but I wanted to do one quick assessment with the kids.  My students this year are absolutely OBSESSED with Kahoot, so I took my Coordinating Conjunctions Task Cards and created a Kahoot with them.  I simply took a screen shot of each card, typed in the answers, and I was done.  It look less than ten minutes to convert a few task cards into a Kahoot game!  I made the game public, so if you would like to play it with your students, click HERE to access the game for free!


If you would like the rest of the task cards in the set, click HERE!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Host a Classroom Book Tasting!

File this under lessons that must be repeated multiple times throughout the year!

I hosted my very first classroom Book Tasting yesterday, and my students were ALL IN!  Book Tastings are a wonderful way to get kids engaged in reading and familiarizing them with a wide variety of genres.  As an extra bonus, they get to practice Read to Self and find good fit books.  At the end of the tasting, they all end up with a list of books that they can't wait to read.  No more, "I don't know what to read!" excuses when we head to the library!

This was BY FAR my favorite lesson that I've done so far this year!


To prepare for my book tasting, I met with our librarian and we selected 8-10 books at my students' reading levels per genre.  We are so lucky to have a HUGE library with a VAST assortment of books! Then, I headed to the Dollar Tree and bought all of their blue and green placemats!  I also grabbed a few snacks for the students to have a "taste" of while they took a "taste" of their books.

As I was planning my Book Tasting, the fabulous Joanne from Head Over Heels for Teaching created an amazing Book Tasting Resource! PERFECT TIMING! The Book Tasting Menus that the students recorded on as well as the genre labels came from the pack!  My extra placements (Dollar Tree only had 20!) also came from her packet!


Here is how I set up my book tasting: 

I set up six different tables.  Each table was for a specific genre.  I placed a placement, a menu, and a plate at each seat.  Then, I put one book on each plate and a few extra books in the middle of the table.  I put the genre sign in the middle. I put on an apron, and I played some cafe music.  I also put little bowls of snacks on the table, but the kids didn't get to taste those.  More on the snacks later!

When the students arrived, I explained that they were now dining at Chef Montero's, and I had prepared a very special dining experience for them.  They, the Distinguished Diners at Chef Montero's, would be getting a taste of all kinds of new books!  I REALLY played it up, acting like I was a chef/server, and they were guests at a nice restaurant.  They even had to use their manners and act like dinner guests! 

They were all seated at a table and grabbed their menus.  I gave them about a minute to look at the book on their plate.  If they truly weren't interested in it AT ALL, they could trade out their book for one of the books in the middle of the table.  Most kids did not trade. 

Then, they began writing in their menus the genre, title, and first impressions of the book.  

After that, they had about 3-4 minutes to "taste" their book.  During this time, they were reading several pages out of their book.  While they were doing this, I walked around and served tiny tastes of several of my very special creations.  I got a little silly during this part, coming up with gourmet names for all of the little treats I served them.  Their favorite treat was the Rainbow Beans (AKA Skittles).  They got a tiny taste of something during each course at a different table. We have a strict "Safe Snack" list, so I served Fruit Snacks (2), Oreos (1), Skittles (2), Pretzel Sticks (a few), and Teddy Grahams (2).  They thought it was hilarious that they were getting such small portions of their snacks, but I reminded them that this was only a tasting! :) They LOVED how into my character I got.


Once they had done their tasting of the book, they filled out the rest of their menu, explaining whether or not they wanted to keep reading and why.  They also rated each book on a scale of 1-10.

Then, they reset their tables nicely, took their menus with them, and took a seat at another genre table. I had six tables, and we made five rotations.  In total, it took us about an hour to do our book tasting.


We had a BLAST doing our book tasting!  They loved it so much that they begged to do another one tomorrow!  I promised them that we would do another one later on this year once they have had time to read some of the new books on their "Must Read" list.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Classroom Snapshots 2016-2017

Just one more post about classroom set up, and then I promise it will be back to my regular content-based blog posts!

Now that all of our seating options are in, here are a few pictures to show our different seating arrangements and to get a feel for the classroom I spend my days in! :)

Here is a picture from the front of my room.  The paper looks extraordinarily bright in this picture and our rug also hadn't arrived when I took this, but it does a good job of showing most of our flexible seating options!

I LOVE our stability balls from WittFitt.  They have little legs on them and they pop up instantly when kids got off of them.  No balls constantly rolling around!


This is a view standing in the front of the room looking at the door.  You can see here the one pod of regular desks that remains.  You can also see that we have to store our recess equipment, which is why there is a hula hoop in those cubbies! :) 


This is easily my favorite part of the room!  I LOVE our green Hokki Stools from WittFitt and so do our students.  They wobble and allow just enough movement!  


This is directly on the opposite side of the Hokki Stool table.  It is our teacher desk turned student seating area with an IKEA bookshelf to store binders.  You can also see some of our storage on the cabinets as well as on the counters.  We use the bins on the counters to store our iPads, lessons, lesson plan books, etc.  It really replaces our teacher desk.



Here is a close up view of how we use the teacher desk as student seating.  On top of the bookshelf, there is a turn-in basket and a paper basket.


Here's a view of the back of the room with our standing desks!  These are definitely a favorite among students!



Just beyond the standing desks is our sitting/kneeling height table.  We have a lot of pillows and cushions for students to sit on.  You can also see the way we store our student supplies (in the supply boxes).  I love my portable dry erase board, too! :)


There's one MAJOR thing missing from the classroom: a class library.  We have had one every year until now.  However, our school has a Designated Power Library, with an open door policy and a HUGE variety of books.  It's absolutely phenomenal and has more books than we could ever supply--just two doors down!  We are trying the year without a library and seeing how it goes! :)

I hope everyone is enjoying their first few weeks back to school.  It's such an exciting time!

Monday, August 15, 2016

First Day of School with Flexible Seating!

Hi there!  This will be a quick post since today was the first day of school, I'm exhausted, and still have plenty to do to get ready for another busy day tomorrow! I have had so many questions about flexible seating and how to get it started on the first day of school that I thought I would pop in while it was fresh in my mind to share how our very first day with flexible seating went.


Here's a look into my room on the morning of the first day of school.  At this point, here were the seating options in the room:


  • 6 Regular Chairs & Desks
  • 6 Regular Chairs at a Trapezoid Table
  • 1 Teacher Chair at the Trapezoid Table
  • 6 cushions at a kneeling/sitting height table 
  • 6 standing desks and stools
  • 6 Stability Balls with legs from WittFitt (Read More about this below!)
  • 6 crate chairs at the Teacher Desk
There are 28 students in the class, and 37 seating options, PLUS a great deal of rug space.  It's AMAZING how much more space you have when you start removing desks! As of this afternoon, our Hokki Stools and group gathering rug also arrived!  I will post more about those soon, but for now, this is purely about how the first day with flexible seating went!

On Sunday night before school started, I started to have a little mini panic attack about how I was going to introduce the concept of flexible/alternative seating to the kids.  I thought about having them all come in and choose a seat, but I had visions of mass chaos and arguments as students chose some of the more interesting seats.  This was NOT the tone I wanted to set on the first day of school. So, at 5 o'clock the night before school started, I decided to make name tag tents for my students. 

You can download the simple name tag template FREE by clicking HERE.  The beautiful borders are from RebeccaB Designs and the font is from Kimberly Gesweinb.

Beginning of the Day
I placed a name tag at each seating option, not including the stability balls.  As we gathered outside the classroom, I told the students (who had no idea what they were walking into) that they 1) Needed to find their seat and 2) Were NOT allowed to touch the balls.  They looked at me a little funny, wondering what on Earth I was talking about, but as soon as they walked in, they realized what I meant, and guess what? Not one child touched the balls.   Hooray!

It was totally seamless.  As they all arrived, I explained to them what flexible seating was,  why we were doing it, and that, while they will eventually have more choice in their seating options, the first few weeks would be controlled testing of their seating options so that they can get a feel for what works best for them.  I told them not to fret if they weren't sitting in the most appealing seat for them-- they'd have a chance to test everything out!  

We are referring to their seat with their name tag as "Home Base."  Home Base is where they will sit during independent activities and/or teacher instruction, unless I have them joining me on the carpet.
During the Day

We did math workshop on day one, and during that time, students were able to utilize the flexible seating options, within limits.  Each of my three groups were assigned to one general area to work in, and they had to stay in that area.  For example, my group working on "Math About Me" was at the front of the room, so they could choose to sit at at the teacher desk or the trap table.  My Tessellation Group was working with me on the carpet near the back of the room, so they could choose to work at the low tables or the standing desks.  The games group was toward the side of the room, so they could sit on the floor, with pillows, or at the regular desks.  They could not intermingle groups. This worked really well!


As the day went on, I put the stability balls off to the side so that they weren't tempting.  In the early afternoon, we finally got around to discussing our flexible seating rules (I'll save that for another post) and the rules for the stability balls. The rest of the seating options were easy to talk about rules and didn't require much explicit instruction.  The stability balls, though, needed explicit directions on what to do and what not to do.  I randomly chose six students to try sitting on the stability balls while we went over the rest of the flexible seating rules.    They did a nice job of keeping their bottoms on the balls, feet on the floor (including the feet of the stability balls), and only doing small bounces and rolls.

We also did the ever popular "Save Fred" activity on day one, during which they left their name tags at their home base, but were allowed to sit anywhere in the room with their partner to work on it. 

End of the Day
I really hemmed and hawed about how to handle the end of the day, but ultimately, I decided to let the students choose where their Home Base would be for tomorrow.  I wanted to do this the afternoon before so that students knew where they would be sitting tomorrow and there wouldn't be any question about it tomorrow when they arrive.  I didn't want students trying to arrive earlier in order to get seats or have arguments in the morning.  I had the students pack up for the day and grab their name tags from their Home Base.  Then, I randomly chose students to select their seats for tomorrow.  They simply put their name tents on the seat of their choice.  The only requirement was that they had to choose a different type of seating tomorrow so that they get a feel for all of the options.  There were no arguments at all!

I am fully aware that we are in the Honeymoon Phase still, but I think I can easily call the first day a success.  I loved looking around the classroom watching the kids at the standing desks rocking their feet on the 'Rock Bars' and watching me intently.  I have high, high hopes for this new model!

I'll be back soon to update as well as to write more about my first week of school lesson plans.  Happy Teaching! 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A Peek into my {In Progress} Classroom Set Up

As I've been working on my classroom, I've shared a few pictures here and there of some spots in my classroom.  It's nowhere NEAR done, but several people have asked for source lists as well as labels. Here they are!  Please know that these documents were originally just intended for use in my classroom, so they haven't been totally optimized for spacing, paper or ink saving purposes, etc. Please enjoy if you can!


I made my Accountable Talk bulletin board in both English and Spanish since I teach in a Spanish Immersion Classroom.  You can download the Accountable Talk letters free HERE and the bilingual speech bubbles free HERE and the English only speech bubbles HERE.  I left a little bit of the black border around each one when I printed them out.


I also made my labels for the book bins this year.  You can download them free HERE.  One trick that I use on ALL of my bins and labels is VELCRO!  You can replace it easily, there is no residue when you remove it, and they NEVER fall off. It's so fast, too!  Here is a link to the kind of Velcro I use.


The bins are from Really Good Stuff, the supply caddies and other pencil holders on top are from Mardel.  The bins on each side of the bookcases are for the pillows on the floor.  They will need to go in the bins every night for vacuuming and cleaning purposes.  The hexagon table in view is at sitting height.  Each student has a bin for their folders and notebooks, and the binders on the bottom shelf are still waiting for their spine labels. :) 


Here is a bigger look at one corner of my room.  It's still very incomplete, as I'm waiting for seating to arrive (we are getting Hokki stools!), need to fill the bookshelf with books, make schedule labels, etc.  I'll save that for another post!  Desk and chair are both from IKEA, and that space will be used for my laptop and document camera as well as another sitting option for students to work independently.  You can read more about the rainbow task card organizer HERE. :) 


Another year long bulletin board that I have done is my IB Bulletin Board.  I teach in an International Baccalaureate school, so we always have these elements posted in the room and refer to them frequently.  You can download the titles HERE, but please note I mounted them on scrapbooking paper to make them match the rest of the room, so they don't have the pretty borders as shown in the pictures. :)


Unfortunately, I can't help much with my beloved Instagram board (which looks much more crinkly in the photo than in person)!  My sweet mom cut the letters out from her Cricut, and I just printed the Instagram logo. I tacked the squares up and plan to rotate them out with pictures and new hashtags throughout the year. If you are Cricut savvy, HERE is the link to the Instagram letters that my mom used.


We have moved to a full flexible seating model this year, so we eliminated the teacher desk.  We are using modified crate seats (my teammate's husband actually custom built these cute chairs, but you can accomplish a similar look with crate seats!), and students can stand on the empty edge of the desk if desired.




I made my Growth Mindset bulletin board this year using scrapbook paper as the background and the labels from THIS TpT shop.  You can download the letters that say, "Change Your Mindset" free HERE.



I still have so much more to do in my classroom, and we go back next Wednesday! Eek!  I'll be sure to post full classroom pictures once it's totally done. :) Happy back to school!




Saturday, July 30, 2016

How and When I Teach Reading Skills in Upper Elementary

I am frequently asked to share a scope and sequence for what order I teach reading skills.  I've always been hesitant to do this because there are so many variables.  There are often a few standards that I haven't specifically included in my scope and sequence because I teach them during social sciences and science (primarily informational text skills!).

I decided, instead, to give you all a broad look into what order I teach the MAIN reading skills focused on in the upper grades. In an effort to make your planning super easy, I have also included links to any blog posts and resources that I have outlining the activities I use while teaching them.  At some point, I have blogged about almost all of these units.  A few are missing, and I'll be sure to blog about them when they come around in our curriculum again!


I have separated these recommended sequence documents into two skill lists: Basic Reading Skills and Comprehension Skills.  I teach all of the basic reading skills first, spending a bit less time on them than the comprehension skills.  In grades 2-3, you'll want to spend even more time on the basic reading skills since you won't have as many details comprehension skills.  I really feel that these basic skills are foundational to all other comprehension skills and should be explicitly taught all the way up to 5th grade.


Click HERE to download a free printable copy of these charts.  
PLEASE NOTE: The downloaded versions also have clickable links to blog posts and resources. 


Around the start of the second quarter of the school year, I can really start focusing on specific comprehension skills, which you see here.


Remember, this is a recommended sequence of teaching that works for me, my school, and my standards.  Since districts have various standards, schedules, and requirements, double check yours to make sure everything is covered!

**Skills with a star can really be taught at any point within these sequences.

You'll notice that I have a task card as a resource for nearly every single unit I teach.  Do my students all read every single task card? No way!  I use them in centers, small groups, with games, during whole group lessons, as warm ups, as homework, etc. and then I use any extras as early finisher work. Knowing that I have multiple sets of skill practice ready and at my fingertips is such a relief when I am planning.  I absolutely use many other resources when teaching these concepts, which you can read about on the various blog posts!

Here are my task cards for each of my comprehension skill units, all set and ready to go!  I wrote about how I store my other task cards (for the basic reading skills) in THIS blog post.


This organizer is from Michaels, and it fits half-page task cards perfectly, and it will go wonderfully with my other task card organizers.

I hope this sequence helps you on your journey of teaching reading!  I am fully aware that it is not completely inclusive of all reading skills that need to be taught, but I hope it's a good starting point for you!

Update: A few people have asked for the labels!  Here they are-- nothing fancy! :) Task Card Drawer Labels

Friday, July 15, 2016

Restating the Question Lesson


Am I the only one who adds this skill to her plans ASAP for the new school year? As. Soon. As. Possible. It's crucial, and it's one of those skills that kids tend to resist a little bit because they don't understand WHY it's so important.

We start with a lesson about how to restate the question. PQA! Put the Question in the Answer.  This can still be tricky for some kids, so we make an anchor chart together that shows them exactly how to do it.

Restate the Question Anchor Chart
First, I explain that they need to identify WHAT it is asking them to find out, and most often, the easiest way to do that is by looking for one of the 5Ws-- Who, What, Where, When, Why, and of course, How.  They underline what the question is asking in RED because they don't need to include those words in their answer.  This prevents students from answering questions awkwardly.  For instance, without taking this step, they might say, "How long it takes to get to the mall is 20 minutes."  When they eliminate that question word, it sounds more natural.  

Then, they underline the keywords that they are going to use in their answer in green.  You can see all of this in answer chart above.

When we first start this skill, I have them use red and green to write their answers.  The green part matches the words that they underlined in the question.  The red part is their answer to whatever question is being asked.  So, for the first question, they underlined "How long," and they write "20 minutes" in red to show their answer.  This really helped my students to see how to format their questions.  Eventually, it becomes natural, but at first, this is a great way to scaffold the skill!

Next, we do some group work to show WHY it's so important to restate the question and to also see some of the incorrect ways that students sometimes write their answers.  

I wrote six different answers to questions on a piece of chart paper.  Each group of students came up with the QUESTION that was being answered.  For this first one, the answers were ALL OVER THE BOARD! The answers had almost none of the question in them, so it was nearly impossible for the students to figure out what question it was answering.  It was fun to read some of the questions the kids came up with because they were all different.  We went through and talked about what made it a "bad" answer.  Then, I gave them the actual questions that were being answered, and they loved it!


Question 1: Why didn't you eat your bacon for breakfast?
Question 2: Why did mom burn the cupcakes?
Question 3: What time does the stadium open for the game?
Question 4: Why are you still sitting on the dock?
Question 5: Why did the family move to California?
Question 6: Why didn't Jack use his blankets?

Then, I gave them the same task, but with excellent answers! (Side note-- you can really do this activity in any order.  There are merits to both ways.)  Almost every question they wrote was identical, because the questions HAD been restated in the answer.  They completely understood WHY it was important to restate the question!


The next day, I had them do the same task with a partner to reinforce the idea.  They each got two GREAT answers and two terrible answers.  They wrote the questions, and then I gave them the sheets with the actual questions and they could compare what they wrote to what the actual question was.  You can download these sheets for free HERE.


Finally, I had the students work through some scaffolded task cards to start applying the skill to reading passages.  The cards on the left (pink) have the key words in the question underlined AND the answer underlined in the passage.  They don't have to think too hard about the answer, but they can focus on writing the answer correctly.  I had them do 8 of these.  Then, I had them do 8 of the blue cards, which don't give them any clues. You can find these task cards at my TpT store HERE.


After this task, it was time to start applying it to their literature-- the whole point of learning the concept.  They all had a solid understanding of how (and WHY) to put the question in the answer.  I hope your students do, too!