Friday, October 17, 2014

Five for FRIDAY Linky

I have not done this in a while, but as this is my most favorite time of year, I thought it would be the perfect time to is a peek at my week!  Hope you are as excited for Friday as I am!

This past weekend we headed to this great place called Shaw Farm.  It is the ideal place to take a family in Cincinnati.  Fall makes me obsessed with all things on a farm.  My littlest is obsessed with tractors and my oldest wanted to pick out their own pumpkins. This place has a 3-acre corn maze that my oldest and I will be heading back to take on.  It is about a 3-mile challenge that is is ready to tackle.  I can't wait! 
To go along with my loving all things pumpkin, here is a close reading freebie you might like to snag. This 7-page pack includes word work and close reading tools to help your students understand pumpkin harvesting.  A timely resource!
I don't know what homework time looks like at your house, but I captured this pic of my three kiddos getting down to business after school.  My littlest is obsessed with coloring, so he is happy to hang with them for a little while, until the Twistables start flying and he decides to start standing in chairs.  It was a moment that made me smile, so I snapped it. 

 I finally finished this unit this week.  If you are looking for an amazing novel to teach your kids about writing memoirs...this is an awesome book.  Gary Paulsen is an amazing storyteller and will have your kids engaged from the first chapter.  This novel unit is the perfect tool to go right along with it!
Tonight is our homecoming parade for our town!  My kiddos are very excited to wear their uniforms to school, walk in the parade throwing candy, and attend the varsity game.  My son gets to be a part of the player tunnel and my daughter gets to cheer with the varsity cheerleaders for the first quarter.  Life for them is good!

Hope you had a great week!

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Harvest of FREEBIES Blog Hop

Thanks for hopping over...

Fall is absolutely my favorite time of year!  I love the cool, crisp mornings that heat up in the afternoons, the fun of all of the Halloween festivities, the anticipation of my children's costume choices, and everything PUMPKIN!  I know many others who share this same sentiment about fall as well.  With this love of fall, the harvest season, we have decided to create a blog hop to share a "Harvest of Freebies" for you to take back to your classroom.  I have created TWO freebies for you to utilize with your upper elementary to middle school students...

The first, Pumpkin Harvesting, is an informational close reading text with word work and reader response questions.  I utilize close reading passages with my students that are struggling with comprehension and having challenges going back into a reading selection to cite evidence to determine correct responses.  While we work on these skills throughout the year, I am always in need of high-interest passages that I can use for whole class, small group, or independent practice.

This Pumpkin Harvesting Close Reading FREEBIE will help your students:
  1. better understand/reinforce CLOSE READING strategies
  2. identify how to harvest pumpkins
  3. determine the meaning of unknown words using context clues
  4. cite evidence from the one-page text to support responses. 
 Click the image to grab FREEBIE #1:

One of the favorite things my family loves most about fall is a small festival we go to each year.  It is called the Harvest Moon Festival.  The festival is at one of our favorite family parks and it has fun for everyone.  We paint pumpkins and trick-or-treat bags, watch puppet shows, make S'mores, and eat too much Kettle corn.  Rather than just wonder about why it is called the Harvest Moon Festival, I decided to do a little research about it this year.  As a reading teacher, I chose to turn the fun of this festival and my research, into a reader's theater FREEBIE to share a little bit about its meaning as well as create a resource that an upper elementary or middle school teacher can utilize as a Daily 5 resource.

I love utilizing reader's theater scripts in my classroom to excite my students about different topics.  They are also the perfect tool to enhance fluency and comprehension.  My students LOVE to perform and are so enthusiastic every time they have the opportunity tackle a script.  This 9-page resource allows for students to engage in a high-interest passage while they: read to someone, listen to reading, focus on word work, read to self to check for understanding, and focus on writing. 

This Harvest Moon FREEBIE includes:
-clear directions for seamless implementation
-CCSS covered
-a 2-page, 6-character script so multiple groups can perform
-context clue word work
-reader response questions
-a post-reading journal prompt to enhance student writing

Click the image to grab FREEBIE #2

Use these tools in collaboration with one another to enhance student work with fictional and informational text.

Be sure to click the pumpkin to collect another freebie!

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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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