Thursday, September 25, 2014

iPad App for Elementary to Middle School and an AMAZING iPAD GIVEAWAY!

At one point in time for a number of years we had a computer lab where students were taken once a week to do various tasks on desktop computers-weekly assessments, research, and publishing of written pieces.   Students were excited to have this opportunity, classroom teachers might have been just as enthusiastic or maybe a little flustered to add one task to their already "crammed to the limits" weekly schedule.

While many schools may still have these "labs," many schools have done away with this idea due to the need for classroom space or because due to budget cuts, no one is able to manage the computer lab.  In my building it was a space issue.  We needed the lab to be turned into a classroom because our student population had grown.  Those of us "techy" teachers panicked a bit thinking of how we would possibly teach the technology standards to our students when we only had two classroom computers...Enter laptop carts and iPads...

Technology use in the classroom setting is more important than ever for our students.  With standardized testing taking place on computers and the many different classroom tasks shifting gears with our students needing to be able to navigate text on a screen versus paper, it is essential that we as educators are providing these essential opportunities for our students.

So, how do you get and keep your students connected?

In my building we had laptop carts.  Each cart contained about 30-mostly-working laptops that we utilized for weekly assessments, research, and publishing our writing.  And over the last few years, iPads have been introduced.  Because I have school-aged children that are utilizing these essential tools on a daily basis at their school, I wanted to find some different apps that I could use with my own kiddos as well as find classroom apps that would meet the needs of my students. A FREE app that I LOVE...

As a language arts teacher who teaches spelling AND a mom that reviews spelling words with a third grader nightly, Vocabulary Spelling City is an AWESOME app to have!

Here is how I utilize this app and how you can prepare to utilize this AMAZING app...
  • Register at
  • Only register for the FREE version, if you want to update later you can, but the FREE version is perfect for spelling and vocabulary work with students.

  • Go to List Management and type in your spelling list for the week-if you utilize Reading Street, Journeys, or Wonders, you can import your list directly from the Publisher Lists.   

  • If you are utilizing this as a parent, you can do the same or for extra practice, students can type in their lists on the site (great extra practice)

  • Students can then click on the Unit to take a test where they are given the word and they type in the correct spelling.
  • Not only does this give them practice listening for the word, but it also gives them practice typing, which I find all my students need practice with.
  • Once you have created or imported your list on are ready to utilize the app.
  • Students will utilize the URL to find all of the lists created by you as their teacher
  • Download the app to iPad.
  • Login to the app.
  • Pull up the list you created using the URL.
  • Begin your fun review.
Once you have completed the above steps on the website-your students can use the link to connect to play the games below.
  1. Missing Letter is a fun game for kids of all ages. Even the youngest learners can practice letter recognition by trying to find the missing letter that completes each spelling or vocabulary word. 
  2. Alphabetize is an activity that can be used to practice putting words in alphabetical order, a vital early literacy skill. Students love to play ABC order activities and games. 
  3. Spelling TeachMe is a great activity to introduce a new word list to students. Each word is read aloud, spelled letter-by-letter and used in a context-rich sentence. 
  4. Sentence Unscramble helps students practice sentence structure as well as using words in context by unscrambling words to form a complete sentence. 
  5. Word Unscramble is a popular word game that is a variation on other word games such as text twists, jumbles and anagrams. 
  6. Read-A-Word is an activity that gives students practice recognizing new words. Can you find the words that you hear? Try Read-A-Word and find out! 
  7. Test-N-Teach gives students the opportunity to learn as they practice. Students do their best to build a monument to good spelling. The better they spell, the better their monument!

Custom word lists may be entered by registered members (registration to save lists is free!) on for use in the games and activities on VocabularySpellingCity’s app.  If you are looking to simplify spelling review time, REGISTER NOW!  You will LOVE this app as well!

No longer will you be draining yourself trying to come up with cool spelling game ideas for your classroom or review ideas for your own children because the fun is right here!  Now that you have an app idea that you need to grab, be sure to enter this giveaway to win your very own iPad mini.  You can use it in your classroom or keep it all to yourself, but be sure to download this app to check out with our students!  Good luck!

"This giveaway is only open to teachers (classroom and homeschool) who are living in the contiguous United States. The winning entry will be verified and proof of eligibility may be required. Please see the complete terms and conditions at the bottom of the giveaway for more information."
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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Novels and Stories that are for the DOGS

While I have blogged about novels and finding the perfect one more than once, I find that throughout the school year it is a challenge.  It is essential that we keep books in our students' hands and their brains active with great literature.  I am one of those teachers that could wander around the library or discount bookstore for hours in search of the best books to motivate my students.

Like everything else, different years bring different students.  Some years bring motivated to read students, while other years I have students that love to disclose that they have never "really" read a book from beginning to end by themselves.  Nothing will send a teacher to the bookshelf faster than a line like that...  While I tend to read about 5-10 novels with my students a year in small groups and through whole group instruction, I struggle to read the same ones over and over.  Again, each year brings different students, what worked with one group is not the perfect text for another.  Some years my students are highly motivated and are willing to tackle any text I present, other years I have to work a bit harder and find a new title and create a new novel unit.  I do love when this happens because I LOVE a challenge.

My favorite upper elementary to middle school authors are without a doubt, Sharon Creech, Gary Paulsen, and Jerry Spinelli.  There are other authors I share with my students, but these authors have really nailed the ability to reach this adolescent group.  If you have not read ANY of their books because you are a newer teacher, have been living under a rock, or have to follow some other reading resource, Google this bunch in order to find a few titles and race to your local library to read them as quickly as possible.

Because our Reading Street series at the 6th grade level has a snippet from Old Yeller as one of the very first texts to share, I find out a great deal about students that have dogs.  FYI-the chapter that is included in Reading Street is not the end, it is where Old Yeller protects Little Arliss from getting attacked by the she bear. I quickly learn that most of my students are pet people and adore their four-legged friends.  This is helpful in connecting my students to more books.  A favorite that I love to share with my students to extend their text-to-text connections with dogs is the novel Love That Dog.  Have you ever read this book?  To be honest, the first time I picked it up and paged through it, I put it right back down.  I read a few pages and I couldn't figure out how or where to utilize it with my students.  Then I attended a workshop where the presenter shared it as a read aloud, and it hit me that this was the perfect book to share with reluctant writers, poets, and dog-lovers.

This novel by Sharon Creech is written in a journal format from Jack's first-person perspective.  He hates poetry and the fact that his teacher is trying to make him write it on a consistent basis.  Finally we learn that the reason he doesn't want to write a poem about his "pet" is because his dog, Sky, was hit and killed by a speeding, blue car.  It is an amazing book about how a boy shares his sadness through his writing and over the course of the year, comes to love poetry.  If you have students that are not fans of poetry, this is a must read.

Here is a unit that I created to go along with this text.  It is the perfect resource to get your students writing and analyzing poetry.  They are responding to Jack in the novel as his teacher, Miss Stretchberry, in journal format and will be analyzing each poem that she shares to enhance their understanding of poetry.  Your dog-loving students will not want to put this text down.
Check it out here...

Some other great dog texts and novels that I have shared with my students are:
This is the story of a dog that was an Iraqi war dog who was befriended by Major Brian Dennis.  Your students will love reading or hearing this story of how far a desperate dog will go to find his TRUE owner.

This is a novel about Gary Paulsen's road to becoming a musher.  Your students will love reading about his adventures through the Minnesota woods with his crazy pack of sled-pulling dogs.

Dog poetry written by "real" poets and dog-loving kid poets. 

If you are like me and have dog-loving students, get these books for your classroom library or into student hands from a local library.  I promise you will have enthusiastic and inspired readers! 

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Reader's Theater in your Upper Elementary to Middle School Classroom For Any Day and All Seasons

Reader's Theater is an AMAZING tool to utilize with students at so many levels.  My daughter's teacher, Mrs. Bell from A Place Called Kindergarten seems to be a guru of primary reader's theater.  She does Theater Thursday with her kindergartners using resources that she has created based on various books, and my daughter couldn't love it more.  Would you believe that older kiddos LOVE it just as much?

A few years ago when we began utilizing Reading Street, I was lucky enough to land the Reader's Theater Anthology.  I don't know about the other grade levels, but 6th grade has some great scripts.  The idea is that each unit has it's own script, so they range from historical fiction, fantasy, realistic fiction, poetry, etc.  At first, I had no idea how to implement it into my week with all of the other instructional components of my day, but I knew fluency was something that we needed to enhance. Our DIBELs scores were not where they needed to be, and in addition to more read to someone time, I needed to make fluency work fun, so on an inconsistent basis, we tackled some if the different scripts.

While it helps to have a group that is willing to perform, what I found was that the enthusiasm of the students when performing is contagious.  Students that might be more reserved as you tackle the first few scripts with your crew, will become more comfortable and engaged the more you incorporate them into your instruction.  While they may have been reluctant, it will soon pass and students will be crossing fingers for the characters with the most lines.

By having this additional fluency practice, I began to see that students were much more animated readers.  No longer were they just racing the clock and reading words as quickly as possible during 6-minute solutions or with weekly progress monitoring, instead they were much more expressive.  I have been truly impressed with how beneficial reader's theater has been for my BIG kiddos.

I soon realized that sharing the same scripts year after year was BORING for me, so I began turning some of the happenings at school into scripts of my own.  I also found that I could include other components that I knew my students needed additional work on...extended response questions, context clue word work, and prompt writing.  My students LOVE these even more, and anytime I have a sub, I leave a script and fun pack for my students to perform and the day is usually issue-free.

If you have an anthology you love, but are looking for some additional high-interest scripts and fun packs that go along with the different seasons, here are a few of my favorites:

For FALL and Halloween
To enhance a study on FABLES
More EVERYDAY fun!
To teach about our American History

I have included a FREEBIE!  With the Harvest Moon arriving in the coming days, this is the perfect reader's theater to share with your students.  It is only 6-characters, so you can have multiple groups working and performing.  Click here to snag it up, and be sure to let me know what you think with some feedback...

I would love to hear about some of the awesome reader's theater resources you have utilized!

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Novel Ideas and Units for the Hard To Reach Middle Schooler...

If you are like me, you are always on the prowl and in search of that BEST novel to share with your readers.  The other trick is that different school years bring completely different readers.  Some years will bring very naive students with more sheltered experiences, while others bring the complete opposite.  Is this true of your students as well?

Recently I was having a conversation with a teacher about novels to read in her classroom.  She teaches inner-city students with very challenging backgrounds and she needs novels that will accommodate and inspire their needs as readers.  I get it!  It can be an absolute challenge to encourage learning to occur, when survival is the focus of your day.  While the majority of my experience has also been in an urban setting with readers in search of novels they can connect with and relate to, every year has not been quite that extreme.

Here are a few novels and units for upper elementary through middle school that we found to support and meet our students' needs:

The Lottery Rose is about a young boy named Georgie who is removed from his mother's home and taken to a boy's home because he is abused by her boyfriend.  It is a story about how he has to heal in order to move on in his life and survive.  This novel will truly change you as a teacher and the mindsets of your students as they grapple with the idea that we often have no idea what another person might be experiencing in their personal life, but is imperative that we are empathetic and understanding as human beings.

Maniac Magee is the story of a boy who's parents die in a fatal train accident.  Shortly after, he is sent to live with his aunt and uncle who do nothing but argue.  This arguing forces him to run and not stop until he finds the best possible place to live.  It is in an unlikely place and with a family who does not look like him, but will definitely provide him with the love he needs to survive.  Your students will love reading about how Jeffrey takes challenges head on, and through struggling, finds what he is looking for.

Missing May is the story about a girl who is adopted/taken in by her Aunt May and Uncle Ob.  Six years later, her Aunt May dies in the garden unexpectedly, leaving Summer and Ob alone and struggling to go on.  This novel shares how sometimes we truly have to grieve the loss of someone in order to move on, and also that sometimes what we think we need isn't meant to be.  This novel is told from Summer's perspective, which gives students the opportunity to take on a novel from the first person narrative view. 

While each of these novels seems to deal with loss, it is common place for many of our youth.  Some have lost a parent, a grandparent, a close relative or friend, and there is peace in knowing they are not alone.  They struggle to read novels that they can't connect with, so it is imperative that we as teachers find them materials that are more relate-able.  I would love to hear about some of the best novels and units you have for your hard to reach students.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Teaching About September 11th: A Daily 5 Resource for Upper Elementary to Middle School

Two years ago I wrote a post on how I was not planning to change my already well-established lesson plans to teach about 9/11, but due to some resource finding and complete change of heart, I did.  While it shifted my plans for the day, I was so grateful to give my students the opportunity to understand a SIGNIFICANT event of our American history.

As educators, we have a job to do!  Sometimes it requires us to take on lessons that we didn't incorporate into our lesson plans when they were due the school week before, but if we don't include them, who will?  Who will step up and teach our students the information that is a part of their history?!  We owe it to those who were lost, those who were left behind, those who fought for our country, and those who continue to fight for our freedoms as Americans.  I feel and at the time felt, it was my job to do that.

This year I created this resource that can be used for the entire week to teach about September 11th, a reader's theater and close reading informational tool kit, that I plan to share with my students.  It is my story about what I experienced as a teacher on September 11, 2001 with a classroom full of 6th graders looking to me for answers.  It includes a 7-page, 13-character script for students to perform, reader response questions, context clue word work, an informational close reading passage with reader response questions, a compare and contrast organizer to compare the two texts, a student interview, research sites to find out more information about 9/11, and an interactive notebook tool to record information.

If you utilize the Daily 5, this incorporates: Read to Self, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Word Work, and Writing-you couldn't ask for more!

If you are looking for an easy to implement resource that will enhance student understanding, while allowing for them to be a part of history, grab it.  Your students will be better informed because of you!

Here is the link to that post...
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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Improving Behavior Management with a Student Incentive Store

With the beginning of the school year comes excitement, anxiety, and a yearning for wanting order as soon as possible.  While classroom and behavior management differs greatly in the various school and classroom settings, it is an essential component to running a successful learning environment with thriving students.
The last 15 years has really allowed me to pinpoint and refine what works best for both me and my students.  My classroom management style is very structured because I find that the students I teach thrive with structure.  They want to know what they are learning, how much time will be spent, and what is happening next. When they don't have guidelines or are unclear on the expectations, they struggle.

One component I added to my classroom about ten years ago was a student incentive store.  Our building had been struggling with a great deal of transition, and our student behavior was a school-wide challenge.  We had just adopted the CHAMPS Program, but as whole group teachers we were still finding behavior management to be a challenge with our students.  Work completion was a struggle and student behavior was impacting instructional time.  

As a 6th grade team we decided we were going take a different approach.  Part of the CHAMPs program is having a student incentive opportunity for students.  While some teachers thought a school-wide incentive store was the way to go, it wasn’t working for our upper elementary students.  They complained that “No one ever gives us Eagle Bucks!” or “The incentives are too babyish!”  So I took charge and created a student incentive store to meet the needs of my sixth graders.  I can’t control what happens in other classrooms or learning environments, but I can control the needs and successes of my students.

I cleared out the back closet in my classroom, bought twenty clear bins, labeled them with currency amounts, bought items that my students would love to work for, looked for donations, and vowed that every Friday would be our Eagle Buck Store Shopping Day!  …and it was a raging success.  My students wanted to earn Eagle Bucks because they wanted to have the opportunity to shop each week, so work ethic and behavior improved.

It has grown into so much more than I could have imagined with students helping to run the store, AMAZING donations from local businesses, and other teachers implementing a store into their grade levels.  While I certainly don’t have all of the answers and can only speak of my experience, if you are looking for a way to motivate your hard to inspire students, or for a tool that can improve behavior management, this is a really fun way to achieve those goals that will cost very little.

Whatever your rationale for implementing this fun element into your classroom or building, here are a few tips and tricks to create your own student incentive store…

What you need to get started:

 Find a space in your classroom, hallway, or school building that:
  •  has shelving
  • is inviting to students
  • can be locked

One grade level in my building used a rolling cart for their store that an aide would organize and roll out each week.  It was the only space that they had in order to implement their own grade level store.  Each Friday it was re-stocked, rolled out, kids shopped, and rolled back until the following week.  Use what works for you!

Materials Needed to Organize Student Incentive Store:    

  • Clear, plastic bins or boxes (lids are not necessary)
  • Hooks
  • Labels

Our entire building used Eagle Bucks.  Our building administrative assistant created the document for each teacher and then each teacher would make copies as needed.  If no one else in your building is using any type of currency for student incentives, make your own.  Use your building mascot and have fun!

Item Ideas for Students to Purchase:
(Think of all of the trinkets that students LOVE to possess, but feel free to give students a survey in order to find out more things that they would love to own…)
  • Pencils, pens, markers, colored pencils
  • Notebooks, folders, loose-leaf paper, mini-notepads
  • Extra classroom planners
  • Stickers
  • Tattoos
  • Bead packs for jewelry-making
  • Craft supplies/kits
  • Picture frames
  • Baseball/football/basketball cards
  • Playing cards
  • Silly Putty, Slinkies
  • Sunglasses
  • Seasonal items
  • Bags of crackers, Goldfish, fruit snacks

My favorite places to find trinkets are: Michaels, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Target Dollar Spot, Walgreens, Wal-Mart.  Each of these stores tends to mark down seasonal good at some point and you can scoop things up for CHEAP!

Getting students to buy into the idea can be the biggest challenge, especially if you have had a scenario like we had where the store was unsuccessful.  Here are a few things I did with my sixth graders to encourage them.
Make it a BIG deal!
If you want your students to be enthusiastic about their student incentive store your have to:
  •  Make it a big deal!  Shopping day should be a scheduled day and an EXCITING day!
  • Keep it well stocked.
  •  Include items they WANT!
  •  Make sure you establish a routine so they know when they will get to shop EVERY week.

Students will quickly lose interest and not care about the store if it does not have items they care to earn and if the day they are expecting to shop never seems to happen.  This is something you have to be consistent with because your students will come to look forward to it each week.  If I were going to be at a workshop or out on a Friday, I would surprise the students and have it on Thursday.  Another possibility was telling them it would be Monday and that their appropriate behavior with the sub was contingent on them getting to shop.

Earning Currency and a Shopping Day

Currency can be both hard and easy to earn for our students, which might sound crazy!  I would give out Eagle Bucks for:
  •  going above and beyond on an assignment or task
  •  helping others
  •  demonstrating good citizenship
  • random acts of kindness
  •  using strategies for reading

The list is endless as to how students can earn, I just made sure to be consistent with passing it out to students so they knew they had the opportunity to earn them at any time during their school day.

I created this FREEBIE to help others create a student incentive store with ease.  Click the image to download this resource and get started motivating your students right away!

I would love to hear all about your incentive store success or any questions you may have about how to get started.