Monday, August 17, 2015

"What do you LOVE about your child?" Getting to Know Your Students Through Parents

Today is our last official day of summer, it is incredibly hard to believe that 77 days have come and gone and tomorrow we tackle another school year. As a teacher-mom I always wonder what will walk through that classroom door.  I would love to chat with my students' parents, grandparents, or caretakers over a cup of hot coffee to get the nitty gritty, but I know that is not possible.  So my favorite thing to do is make phone calls home after the first day or two of the school year to find out what I can about my students.  In addition, I always want families to know that I truly care about their child and can't wait for what we have in store.
This year I send three children off to new adventures-a 4th grader, a 1st grader, and a two year-old pre-preschooler.  I am already so thankful for my children's teachers and all they will do to teach my kiddos this year.  I know they will teach them, care about them, and do everything in their power to make each day the best school day possible.

So how do you get the info you want to learn about your students?  What questions do you ask kids and families in order to learn as much as you can to make the school year the best for everyone?  Do you give a parent interest inventory or parent questionnaire?  Do you make phone calls?  I would love to hear your "getting to know your students strategy."  Here is mine...I just ask, "What do you love about your child?" or "What is your favorite thing about your child?"  Simple, but I promise the responses to these questions will make you see that kiddo in a whole new light...

Here is what I would offer the teacher that asked me that question about my three...

I LOVE Brennan's enthusiasm for fun!  Having fun makes him genuinely happy!  Brennan is not very excited about school!  Once he realizes how much fun fourth grade is and that he can trust his new teachers, life will be grand.  This may take a few days, but he will come around.  He is smart, but he would much rather be taking part in sports, riding his scooter, playing with his friends, and listening to music.  All four at once would be ideal!   Don't let him be a minimalist, because he can do so much more than he cares to showcase, he just needs a prod now and then.  He is a rule follower and will be listening carefully to EVERYTHING you say.  He is a bit of an old soul and will be that boy laughing in the back of the room because he is the one who "got" that witty joke you just shared that went over everyone else's head.  If you have ever read the poem, "Love That Boy" by Walter Dean Myers, it sums my boy up perfectly.

I LOVE Lilah's smile!  She has a smile that lights up her whole face.  She loves her friends and likes to do special jobs.  Lilah can't wait to be in school!  She is a people pleaser and has a love for learning.  She can be very sensitive and will cry!  A hug or quick snuggle will make everything better.  She LOVES art and could make books all day long.  She often needs a bit of a nudge and some kind words of encouragement before she believes she can do anything!  She has a loose tooth that may come out any day now.  She will want to help you with any teacher task that needs completing.  She will adore you a bit more each day and she will walk to school excited to have your smiling face greet her.

I LOVE Landon's love for life!  There is pure joy that oozes out of him when he sees something he wants to explore.  Landon has been by my side since March 7, 2013.  He is a busy boy who seems older than his two year-old body because he has been trying to keep up with his big brother and sister.  He LOVES TRUCKS and anything that has to do with TRUCKS!  If you can make trucks CRASH, that is even better.  He loves to listen to books, color, and share with friends.  He is going to love his time with you.  I know the first few days are going to have some tears, so thanks in advance for the extra snuggles I know you will give to him. He doesn't know it, but he is an expert at physical comedy and will have you giggling at his resemblance to Chris Farley.  I just hope he strives for more than "living in a van down by the river."

When you are considering how to best get to know your students, check in with those parents!  I promise they will LOVE sharing those favorite things!  Best wishes with your school year!

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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Oh, Snap, It's Almost September!

I am finding it particularly hard to believe that I am already preparing for September.  While school has not started in our household, it is right around the corner-Tuesday, August 19th, in fact!  We are trading our swimsuits and pool bags for school clothes and backpacks.  Where have the last 10 weeks gone?  While jam-packed with fun, it has flown by!

In order to keep up with all that the fast-paced school year brings, I am teaming up with my teacher friends and and sharing some teaching resources for September.  While this month tends to be loaded up with establishing routines and assessing student ability levels, it is also a time when we take time to remember a HUGE event from our American history-September 11th.

I struggled to find a resource to share what that day was like four years into my teaching career, so I created a reader's theater and reading literature toolkit in order to help my students best understand the events of that day and the impact it had on Americans.  Your students will LOVE performing this reader's theater script and then having the opportunity to compare it to a nonfiction selection.  The discussion that this resource generates it priceless.

Included in this 23-page toolkit:
  • clear directions for easy implementation
  • CCSS covering both ELA: RL& RI and History:R.H.4-8.4
  • 7-page, 12-character reader's theater script
  • reader response questions
  • context clue word work
  • an informational text with reader response questions for Close Reading and compare and contrast work
  • a Venn diagram for compare and contrast between the two texts
  • interview questions
  • research sites for student research
  • research bubbles, an interactive tool for recording research 
Click either image to grab this 23-page resource for $2...

Best of luck navigating the start of school, the month of September, and everything in between. Check out these other great September resources...

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Friday, August 14, 2015

Do This! Not That...Back to School Blog Hop

I am teaming up with my Lesson Delicatessen friends to bring you our DO THIS! NOT THAT Back to School Blog Hop!  As teachers we are always reflecting on what works, what bombed, and what needs some tweaking!  I am all about self-reflection.  Read on if you want to find out about a blunder I have made for awhile as a 6th grade teacher...grab a great FREEBIE, and find more valuable ideas and goodies from my buddies as you head through the hop!  The last stop lets you enter to win a $100 TPT Gift Card!

I had the opportunity to go to Las Vegas this summer and meet 1,100 other teachers that are passionate about their work in the classroom, blogging, and creating the best classroom resources.  It was an AMAZING adventure and I was so fortunate to share the experience with my children's kindergarten teacher, Jonelle Bell from A Place Called Kindergarten.  I adore this lady and am so grateful to have had this experience together!

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I attended blogger meet-ups and had the chance to learn a great deal in different conference sessions.  What I wasn't prepared for was introducing myself repeatedly and sharing "All About Me."  I was separated from Jonelle due to teaching different grade levels, and it was a bit overwhelming to branch out and talk to so many others I truly wanted to "Get to Know."  I wanted to meet everyone, but the environment was busy, loud, and a bit intimidating, at times.

What I realized is that so is EVERY SINGLE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL!  For so many of my students it is busy, loud, and overstimulating.   Add to it a first day activity that I thought was fun for the students, but has potential to be truly uncomfortable for many.  You know the one, students have to get up out of their seat and ask everyone in the class a question, then get all of their peers to sign next to said questions on their paper?!  For a number of years I decided to implement this Class Signature Scavenger Hunt on the first day of school without realizing how it is loud, it is busy, and it is overwhelming to new and introverted students. DON'T DO THAT! I, too, plan to take a break from these intense hunts and I plan to...

DO THIS...(and grab this FREEBIE)
The purpose of this Getting to Know You! Chit Chat Cards resource is to allow students to have the chance to share about themselves and listen to a peer while providing them with a focal point to begin their conversation in order to generate even more thoughtful discussion.  These question cards give students the chance to engage in conversation with a peer or small group without overwhelming them and sending them all over the classroom.   

Simply PRINT, LAMINATE, CUT, and EXPLAIN!  Have students share their thoughts with a partner or in a small group.  These cards will encourage positive peer interactions from that very first day of the school year, while making students feel more comfortable with one another.  That is our ultimate goal, right?! 

Enter my ELA Made Easy Upper Elementary Bundle Giveaway (a $90 value) below.
Then, head to my friend Amy's blog, Teaching Ideas 4 U, and snag another great tip and FREEBIE!  Best of luck as you and your students tackle the 2015-2016 school year!

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Back to School Book Favorites: The Recess Queen and a Chit Chat Card FREEBIE

What back to school books do you love to share with students on those first days of school?  I have a bunch that I have adored reading aloud to my my own children and my enthusiastic 6th graders over the years, but the picture book The Recess Queen by Alexis O'Neill has quickly become one of my newest favorites and one I can't wait to share with my 6th graders.

The Recess Queen is a fun, rhyming story with perfect illustrations that truly showcase the impacts of bullying and how bullies truly have the ability to negatively impact those around them.  Quick summary-"Mean Jean" wants to be included in recess activities, but has no idea how to go about playing thoughtfully with her peers, and she bullies them.  So a new girl, Katie Sue, arrives at school, not knowing Jean's reputation, and asks Jean to jump rope.  Jean's bullying ways change immediately, and she realizes how nice it is to have someone to play with at recess.  It is a light-hearted look at a serious topic that is overwhelming students in our schools today.  I promise, even 6th graders will love it! 

This book opens up the opportunity to discuss with our students, "How can we be less like a Mean Jean and more like a Katie Sue?"  To encourage even more discussion with this text I have created these FREEBIE chit chat cards to get students thinking, reflecting, and chatting.
•Print and laminate Chit Chat Cards. You will need a few sets for student work/chit chat.
•Read the picture book The Recess Queen.
•Pass out the Chit Chat Cards.
•Partner students and allow them time to read through and discuss the Chit Chat cards.
•Have them discuss as few or as many as time allows.
•Bring group back together for a whole class discussion

Your students will love this book and the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas about this thoughtful book.

Best of luck combating bullying in your classroom and school setting!  I hope this resource gets your students talking, thinking, and reflecting on ways to make bullying a thing of the past.
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Check out these other great Back to School favorite reads...

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Student Conversation about Text in the Classroom Using Chit Chat Cards

I have to admit that as a 6th grade language arts teacher, I LOVE a quiet classroom.  I do not like CHAOS, I do not like LOUD, and while I am in complete confession mode, I can't stand when things are not organized and out of place!  I know, I am one of those teachers!  In my classroom I prefer students in a structured routine, under control, and highly productive.  If I am speaking your language, read on... 

What I also realize is that I have to offer my students opportunities to engage with one another, which can get a little louder than normal.  In addition, I have to allow them the chance to shift around the room to work with others, which can get things out of place, and it is ALL GOOD.

In considering the needs of my students and my own personality, I came up with an idea to allow students more time to engage in thoughtful discussion with one another, but in a productive and meaningful way.  My idea also comes with the added perk of having one less thing to GRADE...Chit Chat Cards.

I have taught 6th graders for 15 years, and one thing I can tell you for sure is that they LOVE to CHIT CHAT with one another. Because our day is so fast-paced and so much needs to be crammed into class time, and minimal time is set aside for student discussion, I came up with the idea for CHIT CHAT CARDS.        

Instead of writing down all of their thoughts or recording their responses, they have cards that keep them focused, on-topic, yet able to listen, speak, and discuss. As teachers we don’t need one more thing to PHYSICALLY GRADE! These CHIT CHAT CARDS can be used as a formative assessment after reading any fiction or nonfiction selection and can be used during partner time, small group, whole class discussion, or for reading conferences. Genius, right?! Use them how you see fit, but use them. These CHIT CHAT CARDS are also a perfect tool for reading intervention. I promise your students will love the time they have to interact, share, and discuss text.

  • Print and laminate Chit Chat Cards. You will need a few sets for whole class work.
  • Have students read any fiction or nonfiction selection.
  • Pass out the Chit Chat Cards.
  • Partner students and allow them time to read through and discuss the Chit Chat cards.
  • Have them discuss as few or as many as time allows.
  • Bring group back together for a whole class discussion.
  • Allow students to listen, share, and discuss their thoughts.

My plan is to print a class set, laminate, attach to a ring for easy, accessible use, and distribute for student discussion upon the completion of a text.  With this fun classroom resource my students are focused, engaged, and interacting, in a structured, controlled, and productive way while enhancing their understanding of reading literature, informational text, and speaking/listening standards.

Grab the BUNDLE here...

Happy Productive Chatting!

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Best Books for 6th Grade: A Summer Blog Party and FREEBIE

This week I am linking up with my friends at The Reading Crew to share some of our favorite books to fire up readers at various grade levels.  As a 6th grade teacher, I want to tell you all about my choices of...

First, I truly adore this grade!  I find students at this level are kind of all over the map when it comes to reading.  Some "<3" reading and never want to put their books down, some read because they "HAVE to", and others love to share their "HATRED" for reading! I think I was destined to become a 6th grade reading teacher because I detested reading as a 6th grader!  While I am confessing, I hated playing the piano, too!  I don't remember who helped me resolve my hatred of all things reading, but I can tell you that having a special job stamping check-out books in the school library and finding The Babysitter's Club series, transformed me as a reader!  So-I take it personally if my students have not left me at the end of the school year and found "THE BEST BOOK EVER! 

So-onto my list...I must admit that I am a realistic and historical fiction nut!  I love knowing that stories have or can actually transpire, so my list is full of these genres.  I am actually really honest about books with my students because it helps them understand that even though I am a reading teacher, I can struggle with books, too.  I often share that except for the Hunger Games series and Among the Hidden, science fiction can be a challenge for me to stick with.  Dare I say that I was not a big fan of Harry Potter after the first two novels?!

I have compiled a list of 10 of my favorite books to share with students at this 6th grade level...If you click on the title, you will see that I have created novel units for each of these texts due to my strong LOVE for these books! You will also find a FREEBIE character analysis resource to share with your kiddos...

Best Book #1:  Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Best Book #2:  Crash by Jerry Spinelli

Best Book #3:  Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

Best Book #4:  Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Best Book #5 and #6:  Stargirl and Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Best Book #7:  Woodsong by Gary Paulsen

Best Book #8: Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Best Book #9:  Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

Best Book #10:  The Lottery Rose by Irene Hunt

I would love to hear more of the texts you LOVE to utilize with your 6th graders...I am always on the hunt for "Best Books"!  Now, race to your library and GRAB these AMAZING works!  Your students will thank you!  Happy Summer Reading! Check out these other perfect book ideas to FIRE UP your readers...

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Daily 5: Tried and True Resources for Grades 4-6

Have you read this book?  

I can promise that it will transform the way you teach in your ELA classroom. The premise of this must-read resource is "students select from five authentic reading and writing choices, working independently toward personalized goals, while the teacher meets individual needs through whole-group and small-group instruction, as well as one-on-one conferring."
The Daily 5 choices include:

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Read to Self is a time where my students focus on their own independent reading of a text and incorporates novel units, close reading passages and poetry.  While we utilize novel units, close reads, and poetry for whole group instruction as well, students need to be able to read independently and engage with text that is at their reading level for age-appropriate periods of time. I have created as many novel units as I can create in order to engage my students in their Read to Self time.

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Read to Someone is a favorite time of my students because they have the chance to interact with a text and a peer.  They can share ideas, insights, and discuss the text they are working to navigate through.  I LOVE walking around the classroom during Read to Someone and listening to the thoughtful commentary taking place between my kiddos.  I will have students partner read novels and other close reads. 

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Listen to Reading is essential for my 6th graders.  I utilize reader's theater scripts, picture books that I share, and novel read alouds for Listen to Reading.  While many of my students are on-grade level readers, hearing fluent reading and listening to text being read aloud enhances their listening comprehension and imagery skills.  I LOVE when we are getting ready to switch classes and my students are bummed and wanting me to "just read one more page!"

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Word Work incorporates both spelling and vocabulary in my classroom setting.  Word Work begins our class with morning or bell ringer work and is a focus in various texts we read.  Students need continued work with vocabulary-using context clues, identifying synonyms, antonyms, prefixes, suffixes, and roots  in order to tackle more difficult texts and comprehend what they are reading.  For Word Work I target instruction with Word of the Day, Context Clue Task Cards, and BOGGLE.

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Writing is always taking place within my 6th grade classroom.  There is always a piece in progress, a response getting evidence gathered, or a prompt being considered.  It is necessary for students to be able to respond to text, respond to prompts, and share their ideas and insights on paper.  I utilize end of book projects, writing units, and journaling in order to cover all of the elements of writing my students must grasp before moving on to the next grade. 

I am certain that you are incorporating each of these components into your daily ELA work with students...the tricky aspect is allowing students to have the opportunity to choose what they want to work on during a given amount of time, which is a Daily 5 concept to promote independence and choices. This aspect continues to be a work in progress for me, as well.  That is my work for this summer-strategizing the best way to help my students work to become more independent with their Daily 5 choices where I feel as though they are working and not wasting the time that is given...I, like my students, am a work in progress...
While I am still working to implement all of the components using the choice method with my students, what I have nailed down and want to share are the resources I have created to coincide with my work with the Daily 5 in my classroom.  I want to make sure students are getting all 5-components and are finding success through their growth as readers, writers, and listeners.  You can click on the cover image and grab the preview...

Within this 20-resource bundle, I have included each of the tools and how I utilize them with my 6th grade students to enhance their work with the Daily 5.  Take a peek at how I have organized this Daily 5 Bundle of Resources for Grades 4-6...

I would love to hear how you help your students make the best choices while working to instill choice and independence through your classroom Daily 5...Keep me posted and share any insights you have below!  I am all ears!
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