Monday, March 30, 2015

Shared Research

So, I tend to be one of those teachers that gives the kids a blank piece of paper to record information on instead of a copied recording sheet. Or we staples pages together for a observation journal rather than a pre-made booklet.
Normally for two reasons.
1. The copies. The struggle is real. 
2. I'm always a little worried about stifling any creativity or brilliant ideas if I try to keep our thinking in the box, or really, within the guidelines suggested on a piece of paper. 

If you love worksheets and cute and pretty plant observation journals, there is NOTHING wrong with those (I'm actually thinking of making a one this year! ;) )
If you don't let recording sheets darken your door, that is totally fine!  
Here's the deal. Neither sides of the coin are wrong, because I think we need to allow both in our classroom at times. As kids inquire, the teacher needs to decide how we will guide them in the inquiry process. Will we provide lots of scaffolding? Will it stay really open ended? A lot of it depends on what we are wanting them to learn. Sometimes the topic of inquiry might be more open-ended, but our goal is to help them know how to find the answers to their inquiries.

I'm definitely rethinking how I have done some note taking, plant observing, recording our work papers. I want kids to have choice in what they write down based on what they think is important, but they also need some support, especially in the primary grades. 

This quarter, our IB unit involves a lot of observing, note taking,  and recording. And we are having to do some shared research as well. So I want to provide lots of opportunities to my kiddos that have to do with our unit and sometimes to just practice how to research and record our findings.

That is how these Country Fact Books were born.
Its the right mixture of support for what to research, yet still open ended enough to allow room for all the interesting facts we might discover.

When I teach my kids how to start researching something, I tell them that I like to type my question into google (hey, I'm sure that is what you do too!) One boy commented that on the iPad you can also tell it your question! ;) When we use informational text, we tend to look more at the index, glossary, and table of contents to see if we can find the information we need in that book. (You can read about one of our other shared research projects here)

The country books are perfect to help guide what direction you want to go with your research and give the kids structure, while still leaving plenty of room for them to make their own interesting discoveries to add to their books! Its the best of both worlds! :)
Kids can add a word, phrase, or a sentence based what the teacher desires or depending on their ability level.

Don't forget to keep track of your sources! Even if they just write down part of the website, I think it is important that they start learning to cite their sources!

Right now I have Japan and India posted, BUT more will be added soon! 

{click on the pictures for more information!}

If you are interested in collecting all of them once they are completed, go ahead and buy the bundle!
All the books will be added here and you will save 60%!
Click on the picture to check it out!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Five For Friday: Hello Spring Break!

I am finally on Spring Break! Today is a swap day for teachers and since I went in some over the summer, I don't have go in for the workday today! 
Here is what my week looked like!

I took the boys to Starbucks on Monday. Thanks to the Monday Member rewards and my free drink reward, we enjoyed a cheap and fun starbucks date while Will was at practice! :)

Around Spring Break time, I always get the craft bug and so  I decided to try knitting again. I already made one (mistake filled) dish cloth and have started my second one! I feel like a little mini lesson is going to come of this about the importance of not giving up and being okay with making mistakes! ;)

Our grade level had the kids do an "egg hunt" this week. All the eggs had review questions on them and the kids spent about 30 minutes going through and finding all the eggs and answering the questions! It was a great activity to keep them busy!

I was so tired coming home from school yesterday. This week wore me out! The boys enjoyed a little technology time while I took a nap on the couch! haha! This spring break is all about getting lots of rest! :)


Our church's easter eggstravaganza is tomorrow and I am helping out with the egg hunt! Do you think 3000 will be enough? ;) we filled up seven huge bins! Its raining today but hopefully tomorrow the weather will be nice again!

Linking up with Doodle Bugs Teaching Five For Friday! It's always fun to see what other teachers are up to! :)

Monday, March 23, 2015

2015 Focus: Keeping Kids Accountable

*I've been sharing since January about my goal to build a better independent reading time! You can check out all of the previous posts {here}

Even when things are going well, and kids seem engage, I think most teachers still wonder, "Are they really doing what they are supposed to?" I think we wonder that for a good reason, because there is always the kid or two that is not staying on track AND we want to make sure that the kids know that we are holding them accountable. 

I have thought about reading logs and reading response sheets etc, but at this point, I want to make sure my first graders are READING. I don't want the reading log or response sheets to overtake our reading time. I don't want them to get frustrated with trying to record a book that it takes away from the joys of reading. So how to hold them accountable?

About once a week I do some "kid watching" instead of conferencing. Every 4-5 minutes I mark up what I noticed the kids doing. You can easily create your own code and form to do some noticing about your kid's reading habits.

After one particular kid watching time, I had noticed that there was a lot of non-reading going on. While I do have some kids that still do some picture reading, I was seeing a lot of major page flipping, and reading books way to fast. I had seen a similar heading on pinterest, so at the end of our read to self time, we made this anchor chart together about Fake Reading vs. Real Reading. 

The kids were able to come up with good descriptors of both and it has been a good reminder about what our reading time should look like. 

On a side note, I love the debriefing time we have at the end of our independent reading. It is usually me just pointing out something good I noticed in the readers that day, but it really encourages the kids when I highlight them. They sit up a little taller. My mini lessons needs some work though, and debriefing could be more student led... maybe the next focus in our independent reading time? ;)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Five for Friday: Keeping Them Engaged!

The days are winding down to Spring Break and the kids definitely know spring is in the air! That means we work extra hard (even though we are exhausted too!) to keep learning fun and exciting! Here are some of the randomness that has been going on to keep us moving forward.

This is from the The Literacy Teacher's Playbook, Grades 3-6: Four Steps for Turning Assessment Data into Goal-Directed Instruction. I have loved using this to kid watch during our Read to Self time! Thankfully the kiddos always stay engaged in their reading! :) Love it!

 Like my facebook page to get updates on free iPad apps! It's hard to find good apps for kids that are educational and free of ads, but when I find some fun/interesting ones for free I will share the info through my facebook page! 

Have you heard about Kahoot? Or am I the last one? ;) I heard about it on Wednesday and by Thursday we did it in class together! Tons of fun! check out my post here!

I have been handing these out to a couple kids every day. When I catch them doing something good I write a note about it to their parents on the back. There are a couple kids who need the extra encouragement and it has made a huge difference!
You can find the cards here. I print them four to a page. You can print them in color or in black and white on colored card stock!

Origami has become our other positive reward! I pulled it out one day when we came back from lunch pretty worked up. But, since it was so novel, they calmed down as they listened and followed along to make a cup, then the next day a dog puppet. Thursday afternoon during dismissal, we made the sonobe unit  to make the one with 12 pieces. Each kid made a piece and when I put it together they all were pointing out the one we made. We decided to keep making pieces until everyone can have one! Aren't they the sweetest! Not only is it fun, but they are learning how to listen to directions and building better spacial awareness, and starting to work on those first grade geometry standards (partitioning!) Plus, origami has always been one of my favorite past times! So we are all having a good time!

This year is really flying by! I can't believe we are nearing the end of March!
Linking up with Doodle Bug Teachings' Five for Friday! Be sure to see what other teachers are up to these days!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Do you Kahoot??

I had seen Kahoot on pinterest and maybe in a blog or two. It has been on my "check that out sometime" list, but I had never gotten around to it. Yesterday our technology specialist brought it to our attention and I decided to set up an account last night.

Best. thing. ever! 

Seriously, it is a perfect tool for formative assessments. Basically, the kids see the question on the smartboard and they answer the question on their device. You can use any kind of tablet, computer, etc to have the kids answer the question.

Sign up for an account at It took me less than 20 minutes to make a quiz or you can search through the thousands of kahoots already created. If you need help creating a quiz, there are lots of youtube tutorials out there, and they guide you step by step so it is really easy! I used some clip art and asked kids to choose the correct vowel team spelling of each picture.

So today I tried it out with the kids. We did it in a whole group with partners working together on the iPads. This morning, I opened up the website they use to answer the question ( on the iPads and saved it to the home screen. Now it is like an app on the iPad and they can easily click on the link to get to the site.

Then they type in a game pin and their usernames. We did initials since they were doing it with a partner. It took the first question or two for them to figure out how to answer on their devices, and a couple turns after that to realize if they took their time they would have a better chance of answering correctly. ;) It shows them immediately if they got the correct answer and then there is a graph that shows how many kids got the answer correct. At the end you can also download the data to google drive! 

We played the game twice to really get the hang of it, but the second time they were already typing in the game pin and their nicknames without needing any help! 

I told the kids we would do a new quiz together every day before spring break... if we were making great choices. ;) They were so excited! And now I have an engaging way to review all our third quarter learning before we go off for spring break. 

I'm looking forward to having this be a station activity sometimes too. This is a great tool to add some novelty and excitement into your daily routines! 

Have you used Kahoot before? What are some quizzes you have made?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

It's Your LUCKY Day!

Be sure to head over my TPT store today and tomorrow for 20% off all the products in my store!

Click on any of the pictures to go directly to my store! :)

This packet it full of all the resources you need to help your kids start using their reading strategies to decode unknown words! Includes a parent letter too!

Are your kids decoding well, but needing to work on comprehension? These posters and response sheets are just the thing (Don't forget to check out my free bookmarks too!)

These Vowel team and R-Controlled Vowel word building cards are a huge hit in my room! 
Both included recording sheets too!

This time of year, it can be really tricky to keep kids motivated to make good choices. 
But they love getting notes to show their parents and parents love the positive communication too!
These notes are perfect to send home to reward the great choices kids are making!

Those are just a couple fun activities that might help you as you work extra hard to keep kids motivated and engaged this spring!
Be sure to head over to my store to check out more resources!

Happy St. Patricks Day!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Finding Good Apps for kids

iPads are a great tool in the classroom, but they need to be used effectively or I think the kids see it just as a toy and not a tool!
There are lots of ways to use iPads in the classroom, in all subject areas. I wrote about how I organize them and use them here. We are not 1-to-1 so we use them mostly during workshop time, but I love reading about how teachers with more iPads use them in their classroom too!

Anyways, it can sometimes be difficult to find good apps for kids that are FREE and don't have ads. When I find out about one I love, I am going to start posting a link at my facebook page. Be sure to like my page to stay up with great apps that have gone free! There is a free app posted there now! ;)

Go check it out! :)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Finding our voice with Mo Willems

Our Mo Willems author study started as a part of our unit on How We Express Ourselves. It quickly BECAME the unit, because once we got started with him, it took us a month and a half for us to finally move on! 

As the kids performed their reader's theater scripts today, I realized the greatest thing about Mo Willems' books is that every child feels successful reading an Elephant and Piggie book. In the last month and a half I have seen some of my struggling readers start to bloom. I heard it in their sweet voices today.

We had done a mini unit with Mo Willems at the beginning of the year so my kids were familiar with him and his books. We had used the Pigeon, Elephant, and Piggie to help towards the beginning of our writer's workshop so we could think about punctuation and speech bubbles.

So, in the beginning of February, when I put out a bunch of Elephant and Piggie books in the Read to Someone area, the kids were excited to start reading them. I told them to pick a character and read that character's part. Over the next couple of weeks we looked at the punctuation, the size of the print and quickly the kids began to adjust their voices and expression to match the characters. The facial expressions Mo Willems gives to his characters helped even more. 

My Mo Willems' tub of books quickly disappeared into the kids bag of books and they devoured them during independent reading time. These books have certainly seen better days! ;) 

Then I gave them the blank books during writing time and told the kids to write their own Elephant and Piggie books. I have never seen kids become so engrossed in their writing time. They were writing when they came to school in the mornings, during indoor recess, and dismissal time. Such creative stories and detailed expressions in their drawings. Even my kids who normally finish a book in a day with a bare bones were putting effort into their work and taking time to write a story. 

oh the rage! ;)

Then during Read to Someone time, I introduced Reader's Theater. I took four Elephant and Piggie books and typed them up into a script. The kids took a lot of their expression cues from the faces of Elephant and Piggie. I kind of wanted to see if they could continue to use the punctuation to add expression to their reading. I helped them the first day or two get used to how the scripts worked and then let them practice. Today we finished our character hats and most of the groups presented. 
I have to say, my heart did swell with pride in watching my kids read. Even though I had to still help some kids get through some words, I was so amazed at how well some of them read their parts and the expression they used.

As I read aloud some of his other books too, the kids began to notice similarities between his texts, how the font size and color gave me clues for how to read. We searched for the pigeon in every book. We compared a biography of Mo Willems to Ezra Jack Keats and talked about how the authors were similar and different. We watched some interviews with Mo Willems. Watch this one. I love the ending. Mo Willems tells us that we should read so maybe we will read one of his books, and want to write a story using his characters that he will want to read. My kids loved that thought!

In a time of the school year when I feel like we sometimes hit a wall, Mo Willems helped my kiddos find their voice in reading and in their writing. Each Elephant and Piggie story had a touch of the kids in it. The things they were thinking about came through in the stories. I could hear their voices come through loud and clear in their word choice. Now, during independent reading, the kids pay attention to the punctuation and as their reading voices fill the room, you can hear the expression. Even if it is not a Mo Willems book. ;)

So, I you are stuck in a rut, or feeling like you have reached a dead end. Read some Mo Willems and see where it will take you! ;)

Teachers love Mo Willems too!