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.

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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 St. Nicholas Night arriving in a few 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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