Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Photography Mini-Lesson: What is Your Subject?

Turning kids loose with a camera is always a fun adventure. You never know what you’re going to get pictures of—maybe a picture of a person with their head accidentally cut off or a picture of the floor when they didn’t know they were taking a picture, etc. With this mini photo lesson you can help your students slow down and think through what the subjects of their pictures are.

What you’ll need:
  • At least 1 camera your class can share. (Any simple point-and-shoot camera or smart phone will work.) Ideally, it'd be great to have 2 or 3 cameras so that you can split your class into teams, each with a camera to use.
  • A printout of the different examples used in this lesson. (Just click here to download.)


This lesson is broken into five sections––an introduction, three principles, and a conclusion. Each principle is broken into two parts: Group Time is a group lesson when the whole class will learn and discuss together. Team Time is when each photo team (camera in hand) will practice the principle they just learned.

Group Time
After you take a picture, you want to show people what you’ve done, right? You can show your parents, your friends, or your teacher. Well the people that you show your pictures to are your audience. When you want to take a good picture, it’s important that you always keep your audience in mind. You want to think about how they will see your picture and what your picture will communicate to them. Today we’re going to learn three important principles to help you do this.

Principle 1: What are you trying to show your audience?

Group Time
When you’re going to take a picture, the first thing you need to do is decide what you’re going to take a picture of. For example, let’s say I’m going to take a picture of my dog, Ralph. That makes Ralph the “subject” of my picture. So I take my camera, point it at Ralph, and snap the picture. I’m done right? Let’s look at the picture I took. 

You are my audience. Looking at this picture, can you tell that I was trying to take a picture of Ralph? (Have the students share about what they think the picture is really about.)

Ok, so it’s not too clear that Ralph was supposed to be the subject of my picture. This is why our first principle is so important. We need to make sure that our audience can tell what our subject is supposed to be. I clearly didn’t do that with my picture of Ralph. So what are some ways I could’ve done better at showing that Ralph was the subject of my picture? (Have the kids list their ideas. Possible examples: Zoom in closer to Ralph, wait until the girls walk by, or lay down on the grass so that you’re eye level with Ralph.)

Team Time

Now have your class break into teams and practice taking pictures that have a clear subject. Have each member of the team take at least one picture.

Principle 2: Check the background
Group Time
The second principle we’re going to talk about is double-checking your background. Now the “background” is everything behind your subject. You want to always check the background to make sure that there isn’t something distracting in your picture. Let’s look at this example. What’s wrong with this picture? (Have the students share what is wrong.)

Right! He has a plant coming out of his head. If the photographer had been paying attention to the background they would’ve spotted this problem. What could the photographer have done to fix this problem? (Have your students share ideas about how to fix the plant-head problem. Possible examples: Move closer to the subject when taking the picture, move to the right or left when taking the picture, or have the subject move so they don't have anything distracting behind them.)

So you see it’s not only important to clearly show what your subject is, but it’s also important that the background isn’t distracting your audience.

Team Time
Now have your class break into teams and practice taking pictures that (1) have clear subjects, and (2) don’t have distracting backgrounds.

Principle 3: Show your subject from different perspectives
Group Time
So far we’ve learned two important principles to help you (the photographer) communicate your subject to your audience. There is one last principle that we’re going to discuss, and that is making your picture interesting. We don’t want to take plain, boring pictures, right? We want to take cool pictures that are interesting to look at! This principle will help you do that. We make pictures interesting by taking them from different perspectives. This means that you show the subject in a variety of different ways. Example: Take some pictures from close up and far away, some from high up and some from low down. Let’s look at this example:

(Have the students list the different perspectives shown in the example. Talk about where the photographer had to be to take the picture.) So you see, you can have fun and be creative with all the different perspectives you take a picture from. Here is a good rule of thumb to make sure you get several different angles: Always take one picture close up, one from a medium distance, and one from farther away. (Show example)

Team Time
Now have your class break into teams and practice taking pictures that (1) have clear subjects, (2) don’t have distracting backgrounds, and (3) are from the three following perspectives: close up, medium distance, and far away.


Group Time
For the conclusion, have a show-and-tell time. Each team can show the class the pictures they took during team time (especially the one after Principle 3). Have them explain how their pictures show the three different principles. You can do your show-and-tell two different ways: If you would like to have the conclusion on the same day as the lesson, just have each team hold up their cameras and show the pictures on the camera's display. Or, if you don't mind waiting a little to have your conclusion time, you can download the pictures and show them using PowerPoint or your computer's image-viewing software.

I hope this lesson can encourage your students to not only think about their subjects but also enjoy being creative with perspectives and angles. Have fun with your budding photographers!


Monday, April 28, 2014

How to Teach Your Students How to CHECK THEIR WORK

A student walks up with with his finished math test and hands it to me. I glance at the clock. I think, Hmm, 10 minutes ago I gave you this test.

But I say, "Did you check your work?"

"Whoops," he says and takes back the test. He remains standing in front of me, and proceeds to give each page a quick glance, nodding.

10 seconds later, "Okay, I checked it. Here you go."

Oh, thank you, child. Thank you for your thoroughness. Thank you for NOT noticing the simple calculation error you made on number 5, and for forgetting to answer both parts of number 8, and for misreading the question on number 9. 

And by the way, you skipped number 10. But don't worry, I will notice these silly mistakes for you tonight as I grade your test, wondering how much of this content you actually know or not.

After many of these interactions with students, or something similar, I decided to have another crack at teaching my students how to check their work. Simply reminding them to check their work was rarely helpful. Did students really know what I meant? Did I really know what I meant?

After some reflection, I broke the concept of "checking your work" into three levels. I modeled how to do each level, and then I taught students when each "level of checking" was best to use. This idea has worked well in math especially, but can be applied to other subjects too.

Level One Checking
I consider a "level one check" to be the lowest level of checking your work (but better than nothing). After completing your test or assignment, you return to the beginning and check to be sure that you have answered every question. Basically, you are checking to see if you skipped anything. It is quick and takes little thought, but might be the right choice in certain situations, like if you are running out of time.

Level Two Checking
When you check your work at level two, you return to the beginning of your test or assignment and you reread the first question. You then look at your answer and see if it makes sense. If it does, you move on and do the same for the rest of the questions. If it doesn't, you work the problem again to try to find your error. With level two, you really keep your brain turned on. It helps eliminate those "silly" mistakes.

Level Three Checking
Checking your work at level three is like a full attack. This is when you read each question again and rework the problem. You then compare your answer to your first attempt to see if you got the same thing. This takes a lot of time and mental stamina, but might be appropriate for certain sections, like a problem with multi-digit addition or subtraction.

(Click the poster above to get it for free!)
Getting students to care about checking their work isn't easy. It takes a change of mindset that completing the last question is not "the end." It also takes the realization that we all are capable of making absent-minded mistakes. I've found that teaching students how to use these different levels of checking has helped give students more ownership and the ability to make wiser choices when it comes to checking their work. I hope the idea can help your students too!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

If They Don't Use It, They Will Lose It! Keeping Our Kids Learning During the Summer Months

Summer is almost here! I know that my students are getting excited to relax, have fun, and just "be kids." As a teacher, one of my biggest fears is that my students will lose everything that they have learned during the long summer months.

What Can We Do to Prevent Our Students From
Regressing During the Summer Months?

According to the National Summer Learning Association, students lose approximately 2 months of learning when they do not engage in educational activities throughout the summer. It also states that teachers must re-teach for the first 4-6 weeks of school to make up for what children have forgotten over the summer. As sad as this is, it is the reality.
What can we do about it? Although we cannot individually fix this problem, we can do our best to provide our students with opportunities to review the reading, writing, and math fundamentals that they have worked so hard to learn during the school year. My school is offering a "Literacy Academy" that invites all students to come in for extra reading and writing instruction in a more relaxed environment. Our literacy academy will bridge the gap between the regular school year and summer school.
How am I going to help my kinders transition into first grade without significant learning losses? I am going to send home a "Summer Practice" folder which will include math, reading, and writing activities for my students to use throughout the summer. My folder will include printables, a journal, "just for fun" activities, and more. I have had very supportive parents this year who ask for extra practice, so this is what I created to send home with my kinders.

My student's summer packet will be placed in an inexpensive two pocket folder. I will put a cover on the folder to ensure that parents know what it is. Inside the two pocket folder I will place math printables, reading printables, a summer journal, and extra "just for fun" activities.


 In the math section of my kid's summer packet, I will include a variety of Common Core aligned skills.  I have also included flash cards for addition and subtraction. Kindergarten students are expected to know their addition and subtraction facts fluently, so I hope that these will be useful for my parents to help their kiddos practice.
 The reading and writing section of the summer packet will include Common Core aligned reading and writing printables. I have included a variety of skills, but most of the skills that I have included are skills that we learned and practiced 4th quarter.
Writing is so difficult in Kindergarten. It takes us the entire year to finally form complete sentences and paragraphs. Because it is such a great accomplishment,  I definitely do not want my kinders to go an entire summer without practicing their writing skills. To help keep my kids writing,  I included a summer journal and a book for my kids to write about their summer experiences in. I also included a letter for my parents because they often do not know how to help their kids with writing. They are not sure how much assistance to provide, and if they should be spelling words for them etc. I tried to include some tips for writing success with Kindergarten age students.
 The last section gives my students some "just for fun" activities. These are activities that can be completed without paper and pencil. Some of the activities that I included in this section include going on a 2 & 3 dimensional shape hunt, writing numbers with sidewalk chalk as far as they can, and playing an old fashioned game of war to practice greater than and less than.
Although I teach Kindergarten, a summer practice packet could work for just about any grade. The key to success will be informing the parents about the importance of continuous practice, and making the activities exciting so that your kids will want to do them.
If you are interested in sending home a summer practice packet with your kiddos, you can click on the link below to see my practice packet. Enjoy!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Counting Money

Hello it's Allison from Stuckey in Second! Hope you are all having a great SPRING! We are finally starting to have a few beautiful "spring-like" days here in Indiana.

Right now, in second grade, we are working hard on learning the value of coins and how to count money. I wanted to share a few things that we have done in class!

 My kids never do as well with this as I hope they will, so I'm looking for more inspiration. What is the best thing you do to teach your students money? This year,  I started to introduce things and we did a few activities for me to try to gauge where they are when it comes to money.

We read the short coin books that are shown laying across the top of my anchor chart and as we read it, we added these details to our anchor chart together. My plan is to get them to really "know" the coins so that they will remember what each one is worth.

Then to gauge where they are, I gave them this simple task of showing me as many ways as they can of making 25 cents. Most of them did pretty well. I gave them this fun "March" notepad paper to make it more engaging. Plus, the coins kept them pretty engaged.

I'd love to hear more from other 2nd grade teachers. What are your favorite money activities? What are your strategies?
After I posted about Introducing Coins and Counting Money on my own blog,  I asked for feedback and Teacher Gone Digital gave me a great idea for a quick and easy coin counting game that she calls Coin Toss!

We did our introductory Envisions lesson on coins, there was a game included, but I quickly decided that Teacher Gone Digital's game would work much better for me to see exactly what my kids know at this point. So, I explained it to them and we had a blast! My students already know how to play addition top-it (from Everyday Math) and we play that often, so I named the game "Coin Top-It."

Students were put into pairs and each pair got a cup of coins. I had put them in boy/girl pairs (just happened to work out perfectly!)  

They dumped the coins out on the floor between them.


I told them all of the girls were heads and the boys were tails. So, they started sorting their coins however they landed on the floor.

Then, they each counted "their" coins (heads or tails). I had to remind them to not just COUNT the coins, but to actually count up how much money. One could have more COINS, but it could be worth less money. So, the "top-it" part comes into play when they are motivated to count their coins and check each other to determine who "tops" the other/has more money. Then, they just put all of the coins back in the cup and start again. EASY!

I had to work with one student because of the odd number. After working with him for a bit, I started "trading him out" with other partners, so that I could get some quick one-on-one time with students and counting money. Each student that I taught some tricks to, I told them to go back and teach their partner that trick, since I couldn't get to everyone. They loved it!

I showed them how to sort their pile of coins, then start with the quarters, then count up by tens or fives, etc.

This worked out really well and I'm glad we did this instead of the game that was planned today (straight from the book). I love when last minute decisions work out so well. This will definitely be a game that we play many more times!!! Thank you again to Teacher Gone Digital! Check out her blog!

We have been having fun with coins!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

HAPPY about Art

I love finding new art ideas online so I thought I would share this one that I do with my class almost every year (it is great for teacher on call work as well).  

Here is how it works:
1.) Give students half a piece of 8 1/2x11 white card stock and 7 different coloured happy face stickers.
2.) Tell students to put the stickers anywhere on their paper.
3.) Once all the stickers are on the paper tell students that they have to create a scene without moving any of the stickers (I have an example for them). The stickers can be people, animals, or bugs. Really they can be anything with a face. I have had students turn them into suns or flowers.  It is interesting to see their faces when they realize where they put the stickers. Some of them are even upside down :) I tell them the whole page has to be part of the scene and that I want colours (no black and white). To add some humour I also tell them they cannot tell me that their picture is 7 people in a snow storm.
 4.) When students are finished I give them some tape and let them hang their masterpieces anywhere on the door. 

Here are some pictures of what this years crew did.

This activity helps me assess students persistence with work, especially when they put stickers upside down. It is great for seeing who can adapt to unforeseen circumstances. Every year a couple of students cannot handle it and ask to start over because they don't want their stickers where they put them. I always let them start over but I put the stickers on the page for them (none upside down). From this years crew I could quickly see that I needed to focus art lessons on adding details and colouring neatly in one direction. I don't think they were lacking in the creativity department so this is great.

Whenever we complete an art project I have students reflect on their work. Anyways here is a link to the art reflection sheets I have my students complete. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

7 Student Participation Hacks: A Cheat Sheet for Teachers

Summer holidays.

We're all longing for them.

Some of us are mentally there already.

So, how can we overcome inevitable student apathy at this time of year?

Here are some quick hacks to increasing student participation in your lessons...

#1 Make Learning Intentions Clear and Relevant

Students are much more likely to actively participate when the context of learning is relevant.  Reinforce what students will gain from successfully completing your lesson.

For example, when learning about time in First Grade, I encourage students to think about occasions when it is necessary to be able to tell the time.  They inevitably generate a huge list of situations relevant to their lives such as; play dates, church services, birthday parties, watching movies at the cinema, catching a bus or train etc.

#2 Increase Wait Time 

On average, teachers tend to wait only one or two seconds before answering their own questions (Clarke, 2005). This, coupled with rapid answers from fast thinking students, can be very demotivating.

Introduce a "thinking time" visual clue for younger learners (e.g. a sand timer) and make it explicit that answers will not be sought until that period of time is over.

#3 No Hands Up! 

A lot of classrooms have a cluster of students that regularly put their hands up whilst others are happy to sit back and let their classmates do all of the work. Implementing "no hands up" with increased wait time, can dramatically increase student participation since students will be very much aware that they might be expected to contribute.

There are a variety of fun ways you can randomly select students including names on lolly (popsicle) sticks, spin the bottle etc.

#4 Pair/Share

Given the opportunity to share ideas, students are a lot happier to discuss their thinking with the class.  In the early years, time will have to be spent on explaining "partner voices" as well as basic talking and listening skills (e.g. actively listening and looking at your partner when talking).

#5 Encourage Questioning 

Invite expert visitors to your class, or have students "hot seat" (take the role of an expert character) to encourage active talking and listening.  In the early years focus on forming who/what/when/where/why questions.

#6 Plan Collaborative Lessons

Carefully planned collaborative lessons involve allocating responsibilities to individual students and holding them accountable within their grouping.  If you are working in the early years you may wish to begin with simple partner work.

An example could be the creation of a 4 seasons poster.  Each student within a group of 4 would be allocated a season to research.  Students could then share their findings and discuss and create a "jigsaw" style poster (consisting of 4 jigsaw pieces) which showcases each of the 4 seasons.

#7 Introduce Choice

Research has consistently shown that introducing choice increases student engagement levels as well as their ability to think deeply and creatively.

If you wish to assess your students understanding of a chapter of text, you could provide them with a variety of choices to demonstrate their learning, for example; create a slide show explaining the key points, write a newspaper article detailing the "news" revealed in the text or work in a small group to "act out" the main event/idea.


Enjoy these last few months with your classes.  Take heart, summer is almost upon us. Remember that, as an educator, you are all kinds of awesome.

OkinawanGirl is a Scottish primary school teacher who has taught in the UK, Japan and Spain.  She has trained preschool teachers and developed curriculum for students whom speak English as an additional language.  You can help prepare your students for your end of year vocabulary assessments by downloading her free Dolch Sight Word Game available by subscribing to her blog.

- photos from pixabay
- research cited by Shirley Clarke
- quotation image from

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Vocabulary and Sentence Frames in Math

Hi, again! I'm Jessica from What I Have Learned. I hope you all had a great Easter and Spring Break!

Do your students struggle to express their thinking in math? Mine do!

I am so focused on developing my students’ math skills with the Standards for Mathematical Content that I forget that I also need to implement (and assess) the Mathematical Practice Standards. That is until they sneak up on me and I realize I haven’t been effectively teaching them!

So, how do I help my (mostly low income EL) students express their thinking in math? With a lot of vocabulary development, sentence frames, and oral practice. This post will be on vocabulary development and using sentence frames. My next post will be on oral practice.

Vocabulary Development
We all know that developing vocabulary in math is important. Math is like another language. There are so many new terms and concepts that students need to learn.

There are two types of vocabulary words, New Labels (for a known concept) and New Concepts (where the concept is new.  The label may or may not be new.). Each type of vocabulary word is taught differently, depending on your students’ background knowledge and grade level.

New labels are easier to teach and students just need to play with examples of the new label over many different situations. An example of this might be labeling an addition or subtraction problem. First and second grade students know that an addition problem looks like this: 3 + 2 = 5, but they may not know that the labels for the numbers are addend and sum. They only need to learn the new word, not the new concept. Having a matching activity or sorting activity will help with them learn the new labels.

New concepts are much more difficult to teach and require many more experiences and interactions with the concept. They cannot be easily learned through definitions and are abstract. First, there is the label, then there is learning what the label means. Often learning the concept before the label will be easier.  Students need multiple examples over a variety of contexts to really know and understand the new concept.

An example is the concept of decomposing. This is a somewhat new concept with the Common Core and students explaining how they decompose numbers is a critical skill. The concept of decomposing needs to be taught with many interactions and examples of breaking numbers apart and putting them back together. Number Talks are a great resource for teaching students how to decompose numbers. Vocabulary might include: decompose, break apart into ___ and ____. A sentence frame might be There are ___ tens and ____ones. I can break apart the ___ tens in ___ tens and one ten.  (after you have taught the concepts of tens and ones).  The sentence frames will be specific to how you teach decomposing (more on sentence frames later).

I do have a product that works on decomposing and composing two-digit numbers to help students with two-digit addition and subtraction. This was perfect for my second grade students toward the second half of the year after we had done many number talks and examples as a whole class.

Another resource for Kindergarten and First grade students are Part-Part-Whole Dot Flash Cards. These are prefect for Number Talks and decomposing numbers to 20.

As for vocabulary cards and lists, there are a ton of vocabulary lists and cards both free and paid.  Or, you can simply write the words on sentence strips and cut them apart.  The important thing is that students have a written visual of the word, that they practice it orally, and that they know what the word means.

Sentence Frames
The other resource that helps students express their understanding is sentence frames. Sentence Frames give students a framework to use the new vocabulary they’re learning. The example above, There are _____ tens and ____ ones. is a perfect sentence frame when learning about place value or describing how a number can be broken apart.

Sentence Frames are very different from Sentence Stems. Sentence Stems or Sentence Starters start the sentence for the students, but require that students finish the sentence on their own. I use Sentence Starters when I ask a student to answer something in a complete sentence and they’re struggling to start the sentence. The Sentence Starter gives them a kick start, but students are able to complete the sentence on their own.  They have enough background knowledge and language skills to finish the sentence.

Sentence Frames are used when students are unable to express their thinking because the sentence or concepts are too complex and they need additional support beyond Sentence Stems / Starters. Sentence frames have a complete thought and blank spaces for the vocabulary or phrases. Sentence Frames are very specific and work with the vocabulary and concepts you’re teaching students.

When using Sentence Frames, you’ll want to use them heavily at first, for new concepts, and then start releasing students from them and taking away the sentence frames, integrating more sentence stems / starters. This way, students don’t become dependent on the sentence frames and start applying their own semantic skills in working with the content. When to do this varies with each student and each group of students. It totally depends on their background knowledge, grade level, math skills, and level of English.

Here is a product that I use to develop the Mathematical Practice Standards:

These are mainly sentence stems / starters, not sentence frames. They can be used once students have a solid understanding of the concept, but need some help expressing their thinking. Use sentence frames to teach the new concept, first, before using this discussion cards.

I print each Mathematical Practice Standard on separate colored paper, laminate them and stick them on a ring. Students turn to a certain color when I want them to practice a certain standard.

What does this look like in practice? We’ve been working on geometry for the past couple of weeks. Students use the new vocabulary (names of the shapes) to describe the angles and sides of two-dimensional shapes.

The sentence frame:  ________ has ______ sides / angles.  is perfect for students to express their understanding of a shape. New labels might be the name of the shape. New concepts might be the sides and angles and putting those together with the name of the shape to describe it.  A complete thought (multiple sentences) might look like: The shape has ____ sides.  It also has ____ angles.  I know it is a _____.  I would love for my second graders to be so articulate with their descriptions of shapes!

This week, we started multiplication and students use vocabulary such as row, column, array, sum, equal, etc.  The sentence frames that we're using are:  There are ______ rows and ____ columns. The addition problem is _____ plus ______ plus _____ . . . equals _____. (the ellipse is for the repeated addition.  It varies for each model).  Familiar vocabulary for students will be addition, plus, equals.

After we built each array, I had students say the sentences out loud as a group to practice the new language.  Once students understood how to build an array, they built their own versions, wrote the number of rows and columns and the addition equations on their desks.  Then they used the sentence frames to tell their partner about their array.

I put these on my whiteboard and was able to easily erase and write what went in the blanks for each sentence.  I've also used sticky notes to change the content easily.

Although I’m focusing on Oral Practice in my next post, I do want to emphasize that it’s important that students practice the vocabulary and sentence frames before you expect students to use them consistently. Most students will need a lot of practice in a variety of contexts and situations.

So, how do you help students express their understanding of mathematical concepts?