Sunday, July 13, 2014

Tips to Begin the Year: Music, Procedures, and LESSON IDEAS

Ready for another school year?  Here are a few tips and tricks to get started....

Do you play music in your classroom?  Music is an essential in so many aspects of my life, but especially in my work with students!  I have blogged about it before, but here are some ideas for your classroom playlist for the year...
Brain Break Songs for the Classroom-each song on this list has only lyrics that are appropriate for the classroom!  These are a few of my old and new favorites. 

A Sky Full of Stars by Coldplay
Find You by Zedd
Sweet Disposition by Temper Trap
Pompeii by Bastille
Rude by Magic
Wake Me Up by Avicii
Team by Lorde
Tennis Court by Lorde
It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday (yes, the old Boys 2 Men song) by Jason Mraz
Girls Chase Boys by Ingrid Michaelson
Be OK by Ingrid Michaelson
Count On Me by Mat Kearney
Raging Fire by Phillip Phillips
Gone, Gone, Gone by Phillip Phillips
Stop This Train by John Mayer
Never Know by Jack Johnson
Umbrella by Marie Digby
Wishing Heart by Lisa Loeb

Silent Working Music-I found this gem on Rhapsody, but I have added the link on Amazon in case you want to make the purchase. I am obsessed with finding the perfect music while my students are working.  I find that if they know the words, some can still work, but others get distracted from the singing.  This is all instrumental, which is ideal for those that just like to have a little background noise to enhance concentration.  Also, I find that playing music in the background while I am working with small groups tends to keep the noise level down if students are also working in partners or small groups.

Procedures:  Here is a peek at how I give parents and students an idea of what to expect on our 6th grade team.  I find that the first day is LOADED with procedures that help the students learn all about how the classroom is run and what it is like to be a 6th grader.  It is a fun day, but also when where routines are established and students realize how they will function in this exciting grade.  This is an "Ins and Outs" tool that I was inspired by my son's kindergarten teacher to create to share a ton of information.  In addition, we do an interest inventory that gets students up and socializing.  CHAMPs is utilized in our building, but by 6th grade except for going over a few small differences, the students are already familiar, so there is no need to go over every component of that behavior management plan.

Lesson Ideas:  I like to get the year off to a consistent start, so by the second day we are doing legitimate work that would be completed any other day of the school year.  Here are a few tools I have created and utilized with my students in order to engage them from the first week of school.

We begin our writing notebooks right away in the first week of the year.  The second day is ideal so that the students can get an understanding that we will be writing on a consistent basis.  I begin with the first journal prompt of the week in order to gauge where my students currently are as thinkers and writers.  The prompt is posted, the students copy the prompt, I give some basic directions, and the students begin writing.  It is after this first writing that those willing-share what they have written.  I also collect the journals, which are composition notebooks or 1/2 inch binders with filler paper, and respond to their work.  I will seek out a few students that I will check with first, but I will take a picture of their response and post it so that others can see a sample of my expectations as a 6th grade writer. 

Ashley organizing her binder and getting ready to write.

Writing is an essential component in our students' work with common core.  Because I struggled to find an editing tool that I could use with my students in just minutes a day to improve their writing, I created this to use as a morning starter.  Simply post the sentence on your SMART board, have students copy the sentence into their writer's notebook, edit te sentence with editing marks, copy correctly fixing all errors, and finally go over as a whole group.  I even have students volunteer to come up to the board to facilitate the corrections.  The rest of the class participates as they are called upon by the student facilitator.

I utilize reader's theater scripts with my students on a consistent basis because they are the PERFECT tool to enhance fluency, work on comprehension, and my students LOVE to perform.  This is the perfect tried and true script to share with students in those first days of the year.  It is a high-interest read that will engage your students, as well as begin your work with common core. With comprehension questions, context clue word work, a summary organizer, and clear directions for implementation, your students won't even realize they are "doing work."

Students in action performing the script.
I would love any tips and tricks you find useful for getting ready for your school year!

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

The "Blink and you Might Miss'em" Moments of the Week

This past week has been a busy one in our household.  I find that there are not many weeks that are real slow going with three kiddos that are always raring to go.  The funny thing is, the only things we really had scheduled were a much-needed visit with my friend, Maria and her sweet girls, swimming lessons, and an overnight trip to visit Grandma Beers in Columbus!  

No camps, no practices, no games, just a week to enjoy the fun of summer.  But just like that, "Blink and you Might Miss'em" things happened.  I am grateful that I didn't do much blinking this week, or I might have missed them.

Here is the first...because there were no practices, I was able to take my daughter, Lilah, to swimming lessons this week.  Just her and me.  Here is what happened...

In our house this is a BIG deal!  She can officially swim.  As a mom of three kiddos, that is a bit of a relief because she is safe in the pool, and importantly for her, she can play and have fun with her swimming friends.  I was convinced for a while that she might just spend the rest of her life in the strapped-in safety of a puddle jumper, frolicking in the knee-deep water, fearful of getting her face wet.  Not that it bothered me, but knowing how to swim is a bit of a rite of passage.   There are water parks, swim parties, and other events that I know she will want to take part in in her future.  Being fearful of water can be tricky for one that wants to participate in those things!  I am thrilled that I was able to sit on the side of the pool and watch her feel confident enough to tackle this life skill this week!  Way to go, Little Lady!

Here is my other "Blink and you Might Miss'em" moment of the week...

This may just look like a kiddo in a stroller, which it is!!! However, I looked down from my run this morning to see that those sweet little feet that love to go on runs with me each day can now touch the foot rest!  When did this happen?! Those feet were just barely hanging off of the end of the seat a few short months ago, and now they can rest comfortably in the stroller like a BIG KID?!  I seriously blinked and this 16 month old is well, getting BIG! 

As a teacher-coach-mom I know that these moments happen all of the time!  It occurs with students grasping something that they hadn't the day before, in sports when a kid can master a skill they couldn't master the last practice, and with our own children each and every day just because they are growing a day older!  So just a little reminder, that I have to remind myself of often...some days can be long, full of stuff, and exhausting at times, but some days or weeks you just need to put on the brakes and be a little extra aware because if we blink, we might overlook moments we are certain we don't want to miss!  

Happy Summer!  Hope you are catching some of those AWESOME moments, too!

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Do you have reading pals? Interactive Notebooks for Reading Pals...Summer Stock Up on this perfect tool!

Each year my sixth graders are teamed up with the first graders as a way to connect our diverse groups of learners.  The idea began about six years ago when I realized that many of my sixth graders needed practice to enhance fluency, and my first grade teaching pal, Mrs. Eshman, had students that really needed practice listening to reading.  We decided it was the perfect match!  We brought the students to the cafeteria with books in hand, paired them up, and prepared for them to sit together and read.

My 6th graders have always loved reading with their reading buddies.  It is a treat each week to see a special little person that looks just as forward to spending time with them.   For the first few weeks it is a novelty and everyone seems to be on their best behavior, but as the first weeks of school turn into months, focus eases up and merely reading is no longer an activity that keeps everyone’s attention. 
Over the last few years I have found that the reading time seems to go very quickly and my sixth graders are trying to find the best way to fill up the rest of their time.  The little ones can get off task easily, which can be a challenge for my sixth graders to manage.  In addition, my sixth graders that are supposed to be the role models can have issues of their own at times.  Despite teacher re-direction, the time wasn’t being utilized the way we had envisioned.

After one week of far too much re-focusing of our students, we began planning and coordinating what was read from that point on.  It was ideal.  The sixth graders were armed with more than a book, and wanted to take ownership over not just reading, but also helping their first grade pal develop a skill.

Teachers are busy and have minimal time for extras, and so this interactive notebook was born.  Instead of having to plan each week for reading pals, this is the tool that will allow your older and younger students to thrive when working together.  The work is done for you!  Simply print, grab student book boxes/baskets, cut, glue, and go!  Your students will be more than excited to work together and there is enough fun to keep your reading pals engaged.  There is nothing like seeing the older students guiding the younger learners.

Check out this tool in action and grab this sampler...any summer time you had scheduled to plan for reading pals is no longer needed.  Grab this sampler and get back to some fun in the sun!

Here is a pic of one of the activities that helps the old pal and younger pal get to know each other.  It leads into the perfect tool to enhance understanding of compare and contrast and Venn diagrams.

Here is the entire Reading Pals Interactive Notebook Tool Kit for Grades 1-6.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Relaxed yet? Time to get ready for another school year!!!

The year is barely over, but for some reason your brain is already bypassing summer and heading into the planning of next school year.  Why in the world does this happen EVERY STINKIN'YEAR?!?!  

...because we are teachers and that is how we operate, the year ends and all we can do is think about: what we will do to make our students learn the content better, how we will make that tricky lesson go smoother, and what new tool we will find to organize and make life easier.  Tell me I am not the only one!

While I am just embarking on the nutty task of helping my own kiddos prevent the "summer slide" my mind is already focusing on what is to come in my future.  I will be home one more school year with my littlest, and then I plan to head back to the classroom where I will put all of my lessons back to good use.  I think my son will be relieved that he no longer has to put up with being my lesson/activity guinea pig.  While I will be excited to get back to the classroom, I have loved this time with my kiddos, and refining all of my classroom tools has been an awesome perk!

So while I know your brain is going one billion miles an hour in preparation for next year, take a break and check this out...I have teamed up with Educents with some instant downloads for you! It includes a full years worth of activities for your 4th, 5th, and 6th classroom!  So exciting because it's stuff for now, in a few months from now, and all the way through the end of the school year!  Check it out below!  

The three products I have included will surely be loved by your students!  Take a peek...

This 32-page novel unit is an essential tool for on-level third graders, but works perfect for intervention in upper elementary.

I utilized my Boxcar Children novel unit with my intervention students-6th grade students reading between 4th-5th grade.  It was the perfect tool to focus on the mystery genre and keep them encouraged about the reading process.   This crew needed both fluency and comprehension work, so we read aloud, answered the reader response questions independently, checked our answers as a group, then read the next chapter independently.  It was the perfect way to navigate through this text.

I was inspired to create this close reading informational text bundle when my son began quizzing me over his NFL and MLB cards.  He is a fact kid.  This fun pack includes 9-one page informational text passages with text-dependent questions, graphic organizers to support informational text, and answer keys.  Some of my students tend to struggle with nonfiction and this was a way that I could really reach my struggling male readers.  They want to talk about athletes all day and this is the tool that allows them to do just that, but also work on their reading comprehension.

Journaling is an essential within my classroom.  It is a practice we focus on once a week.  I have also found that after state testing, students can get uninspired to write.  They feel as though their work for the year is complete.  I created this tool as a means of keeping my students motivated to write through the end of the year by thinking about the summer fun that lies ahead.  
Here is a sample prompt:

Students will keep working when they are inspired, so make sure they have those inspirational tools!  Here are a few pics of my students engaged and journaling in their writer's notebooks....

So here are the details...for a limited time it is $15.99 from Educents which is about 79% off - if purchased separately would be $74!  21 instant downloads with 38 different products sold separately! And almost 600 pages of materials you can use all year... it's hard to go wrong!

If you want to take a little break from your all of the planning in your mind, grab this bundle!

You can also take peek at some of the other products included in the bundle at any of the links below!

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

The kids are home ALL what do I do? and sister reading pals...

As teachers we are used to having structure.  Our day is organized just so from the moment we wake up until the instant our heads fall to the pillow-usually due to exhaustion!  I don't know about you, but I thrive with structure and so do my kids.  So these first few days out of school can be tricky, to say the least.

My kiddos ended their school year gradually.  My daughter finished up first allowing for us to have a week to transition back to the three of us (my littlest, my daughter, and me.)  Then my son, Brennan, finished his second grade year last Thursday, giving us a bit of time to adjust into everyone being home.

Friday was a breeze!  The kids were happy to see one another and spend time playing, but then Monday afternoon hit and I knew from that very moment, a routine needed to be put into place.  I wouldn't make it through summer without one.

Here is ours:

5:45-6:30AM-I wake up and run! 
6:45AM-kiddos begin to trickle onto the couch for some cartoons
8-9:00AM-get dressed
9:00-11:30AM-oldest has basketball/baseball/football camp-we head to the park/library
11:30AM-pick-up and lunch
12:30-1:30PM-playtime without hurting one another
1:30-3:30-naptime for littlest and reading/math time for 5 and 8 year olds
4:00PM-more outside time
5:00-6:00PM-dinner outside, if possible
6:00-8:30PM-baseball games/baseball practice/swim lessons/outside time
8:30-9:00PM-bathtime/showers/shows/books and littlest goes to bed
9:00-9:30PM-shows for big kids and then bed


Certainly things change with adventures to places, days with no camp, and when we hang out with friends, but this is a pretty good schedule for my family.

Here are a few things we have tackled in our few short days altogether:
bookmark-making, Perler Beads, Pipsqueaks with the littlest, and a tea party!



I know summer has just started and there are a bazillion other things we will tackle!  The fun has just begun!

As a teacher-mom, I try to inspire my kiddos at home as much as at school!  Therefore, reading is BIG in our house!  As a reading teacher I am sure to keep books everywhere...baskets here, bookshelves there, book buckets over there! My oldest has taken on the task of reading a great deal to his almost kindergarten sister and one year old brother.  It makes my heart melt.  So much so, I have had him take on some reading buddy stuff and he has created an interactive notebook to work on with his sister.

This is a tool that is used with our reading pals at school, but is perfect for sharing about authors, illustrators, main characters, etc.  Here is the start...she is going to be a whiz when kindergarten starts!

I will keep you posted as it fills up with brother sister reading pal fun!  Who knew such authentic reading could take place on vacation!  Happy Summer!

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Surviving the End of Year CHAOS!!! Here is a tip...Contest OVER!

It always fascinates me how the first day of school and the end of the year have been placed on the calendar for MONTHS, yet it always seems to catch me off guard and come faster than I ever could have imagined!  Does it feel that way to you, too?

I am a planner, organizer, and a bit OC when it comes to having things in working order, but no matter how hard I try, I struggle to avoid even a little bit of chaos during these exciting times.  There always tends to be one last... bit of data to enter, report card to complete, gift to buy, meeting to attend, task that needs tending to, etc! Tell me I am not alone in this end of year cycle that I swear won't happen the next.

My one tip to surviving the chaos is this...always have one extra engaging lesson/activity/learning tool for students to work on that is copied, in an easy-to-access spot with any and all materials ready to go...because you never know when one of these LASTS may pop up! 

Just like my students, I am pumped for that last day of the year.  Being a 6th grade teacher and student, we get to look forward to the 6th Grade Graduation, which takes place every year at 9:30AM.  Problem is, the students arrive at 8:15AM and all of their materials have been taken home the previous day.  While a movie could work, this is the last time these students will be interacting in this specific setting!  I try to make it memorable!  This is the perfect time to put finishing touches on that Moments and Memories Reflection Journal by allowing students to autograph, add tidbits about the year, etc!  Have it ready to go! Grab this now for some peace of mind...

Thanks for joining our end of the school year blog hop today. Twenty teacher bloggers got together to celebrate the end of the school year with you by donating a product to the Surviving the Chaos blog hop bundle. 

Thanks for joining our end of the school year blog hop. We had a great turn out of hoppers. The prize pack part of the hop is now closed. Stay tuned for blog excitement in mid July.  

Please keep hoping along to read our tried, tested and true survival tips.

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