Saturday, May 30, 2015

Spring Poetry Picture Books

Happy Weekend!  I'm Pamela from Hedgehog Reader, and I'm so happy to be guest blogging again here on Who's Who and Who's New!

With Memorial Day come and gone, it sort of feels like summer already, doesn't it?

But the reality is that we have several weeks left of spring, and I am sticking to that until June 21 - living here in Phoenix, I like to prolong the cooler mindset of spring as long as I can!

Springtime's sensory bonanza provides a palette of colorful language, experiences, and details that our students can pull into their own writing.  And what better way to mentor our young writers through the process than with picture books that feature seasonal poetry?

I've collected nine wonderful titles to share with you today, along with a few instructional tie-ins and activity ideas along the way.

Sun Above and Blooms Below: A Springtime of Opposites by Felicia Sanzari Chemesky and illustrated by Susan Swan

While this book is written in verse - qualifying it for our spring poetry category - it has a bonus:  Every page features at least one pair of opposites.  (Cameo credits to some adorable hatching chicks, another springtime theme that I recently shared a few books and activities for.)  Idea - Create a class book of other thematically-curated opposites in verse!

Did You Hear Wind Sing Your Name?:  An Oneida Song of Spring by Sandra De Coteau Orie and illustrated by Christopher Canyon

Richly written and illustrated in imagery and symbolism that reflects Oneida tradition, this book is described by the author as "a song."  Idea - Discuss various places poetry is found in our daily lives - poems, songs, raps, jumprope rhymes, hand-clapping games, advertising slogans, etc.

Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More!:  Poems for Two Voices by Carole Gerber and illustrated by Eugene Yeltsin

My students have always enjoyed the playful interaction required to read a "poem for two voices."  They're also a lot of fun to write with a buddy!   Idea - Challenge students to work in pairs to write and perform their own poems for two voices.

Spring Rain Winter Snow by Edward J. Rielly and illustrated by Angelina Buonaiuto

Haiku is such a natural fit to describe seasons; after all, haiku by definition is poetry to describe our relationship with nature.  Idea - One project my kids have always loved is to paint a nature scene in watercolor, add their own related haiku in permanent marker, and finish it on a student-made scroll.  I will try to write a post about this later; they turn out so beautiful and make a wonderful display.

Hi, Koo!:  A Year of Seasons by Jon J. Muth

Here is more seasonal haiku fun with a healthy dose of friendship tossed in for good measure.  (The author was awarded Caldecott honors for his Zen Shorts.)  Idea - Muth deviates from the traditional haiku format, leading to valuable classroom discussion of poetry form and "rules."

Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems by Francisco Alarcon and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez

I have a particular fondness for books that provide text immediately accessible in both English and another language.  Children naturally seek to break the code of languages other than their own home language - and quite often the home language is something other than English.  Bilingual books tap into the diversity of language and into our students' natural curiosity about it.  As the title hints, this book features a lot of fun examples of anthropomorphic figurative language.  Idea - Examine as a class how this type of figurative language contributes to the imagery of the poem.  Why does some anthropomorphism work?  (It works when the behavior seems almost believable for that particular non-human thing.)  Why would some not work?  (It doesn't work when the behavior is not even close to being believable by any stretch of the imagination.)  Students work in pairs to brainstorm a list of human behaviors that might be displayed by a non-human thing.  After they select their favorite from their list, they join into a collaborative small-group discussion about why their particular favorite works.

Outside Your Window:  A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Mark Hearld

This gorgeously illustrated book features poetry about nature in our own everyday environment.  Idea - Take a playground field trip with clipboards in hand.  Students note examples of nature on the playground (or other nearby locale), and choose from their list to write a Nature Outside Our Window poem.  This makes a great classroom book!

A Stick is an Excellent Thing:  Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by LeUyen Pham

The title says it all!  This fun volume of poetry extolls the value of timeless outdoor pastimes - many of them likely brand-new to some of our students.   Idea - What fun to set up Celebrating Outdoor Play stations that feature jacks, catch, hopscotch, and other activities featured in the book so that students can rotate through and experience these playtime staples for themselves!

Red Sings from Treetops:  A Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

This 2010 Caldecott Honor book features a beautifully sensory exploration of color in nature through the seasons.  Idea - Use a web graphic organizer to brainstorm examples of color in nature.  After completing one as a class, students can work on their own or in small groups to generate more ideas.

I hope this list provides you with a new title or two to add to your favorites list - if you have more book or activity ideas, please share them in the comments section!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

5 End of the Year Sanity Savers!

The end of the year is a very stressful time for teachers - our to do lists are a mile long. However, now is the time to start thinking ahead to next year as well (when your report cards are done, that is).  Today I am sharing a few things to do right now to make life when you return to the classroom just that much easier.  

Before I start, my best piece of advice to save your sanity in the days leading up to the end of the year is to ENLIST YOUR STUDENTS FOR HELP. I teach first grade and they are always eager to help out. Obviously there is a limit to their helpfulness, but if you teach older children then the possibilities are endless.  

Here are 5 things I have learned to do over the years to make my life just a little easier at start up in the fall: 

I learned the hard way that this is a must-do if you plan on replicating a particular bulletin board, or in my case, the word wall. I never seem to leave enough space for the words when setting up my word wall in the fall. I have such a hard time judging without the visual of the words. Enter my iphone and voila you can now look the picture you took and use it to easily get your letter headers placed with the right amount of space to add your words. Take pictures of any bulletin board/display/anchor chart that you think you might want to remember or refer to again for the next year. I am a very visual person and have many such photos on my phone. 

Do I really need this? Take time to purge! Sort out that filing cabinet. If you didn't use the papers in that file this year and you are staying at the same grade, recycle them or give them away! If you are like me then that will not be a priority when you return in the fall. I am totally guilty of an overflowing filing cabinet – take a look at my picture. I inherited files from the teacher whose room I moved into 15 years ago and they are still in there! Perhaps I have a problem!    Anyone with me??

Students love doing this job. First I have them find all the damaged books and move them into the book hospital bin. At that point it is up to me to decide if the book requires tape or if it has seen better days and is ready for the recycling. I have a number of books that will be recycled this year as they are so well loved even tape won’t help. Next, my students make sure all books are in the proper labeled basket, either guided reading level or thematic. It is astonishing how poorly sorted the book collection becomes. Very quickly those helpers start to police the other students as books are being returned. If your students are anything like mine we are bound to find a D level book in the E or F basket. I love starting out the year with my books all sorted and organized. It’s one less thing to worry about in the fall! CAUTION: I did not take time to straighten up my bins for the pictures.  This is real life at the end of the year! 

This will be a true sanity saver because systems that didn’t work probably drove you insane throughout the year! Now is the time while the year is winding down to honestly evaluate your organizational systems. Did they work for you and/or your students? Did students use the systems you put in place properly? If the answer is no, then why is that the case? How can you change things so it works for next year’s class? I have a drawer organization system I use to put all my copies etc. in for the week. I love it, but I don't use it faithfully, especially when I get very busy. I will continue to use this system though, despite my inconsistency, because it does work better than anything I have tried before. With my students I started using reading boxes a few years ago to help my students organize their read to self books. This is a system I love but I am finding the kids are really hard on the boxes this year: take a look at those tattered boxes. I think at the end of last year I only had 2 destroyed and this year it is almost half the class. This is a great system but I need to do more teaching about caring for their book boxes next year. 

These are some of my other organization hacks I implemented that I LOVE and will use again next year. Be warned, all the labels are looking very well used.  

What were some of your highlights from the year? What were some of your student’s? Have your students brainstorm about some of the things they liked best about the year. If it has stuck with them then it is probably a “keeper” activity. Take a moment and jot down some of your highlights as well. This can be pretty hard to do even at the end of the year so imagine how impossible it will be in the fall. This is also a good time to do some planning, if only in your head, about things for next year. I often plan to do this and forget, so I am hoping that the act of simply writing about it here on the blog will spur me to take the time to do this with my students. 

I hope you found some helpful pointers or simply were just reminded of things that you already do and need to do as the year winds down. I am on the final month countdown and will be thinking about these things in the coming weeks. 

Lastly, how about saving your sanity right now? As the weeks wind down it is more difficult to keep students engaged in their learning. I like to continue with a predicable routine until close to the end for my own sanity.   This Summer themed Spin and Graph center which is available in my store right now is perfect for this time of the year. Simply print and provide a paper clip for spinning and you have a center ready to go.  It's an engaging and relevant review task and a sanity saver all in one!  

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Put a New Twist on Your End-Of-Year Activities

Hello!  It's Nicole from Learning Lab!
I cannot believe that another school year is winding down!  It seems like each school year goes by more and more quickly!  With summer right around the corner, I wanted to share a few end-of-year activities that I have done in my classroom.

I think almost everybody does some type of memory activity with their class.  I have found that many of my kids are bored with the usual memory books and activities.  A few years ago, I thought of a way to put a new twist on the old end-of-year activities.  
The traditional memory books involve students creating an artifact for themselves.  By the time they have been in school for a few years, the excitement for creating memory books has faded.  How about having the students use their memories to create a book for your next class?  Kind of like a guide to your classroom.  An Official Guide to ___ Grade!  

My students LOVED this idea!  They spent more time and put forth more effort that I have ever seen kids put into their own memory books.  Give a kid a real audience and they will perform!  I added additional covers so this activity is able to be used for grades K-6 and differentiated some pages for varying levels.  
Here is a Flipagram of the pages in the 5th grade book that I will be using with my kiddos this year.
You will get a kick out of what your students will write on the "Meet the Teacher" page.  It is amazing, and sometimes hysterical, what they have picked up about your personality and how you run your classroom. 

A few times, I have needed just one more writing piece to get me through the end of the year.  How about a friendly letter to your next class?  Again, when you give a kid a real audience, they will perform!  My classes have never worked so hard to get a writing piece done.  The details were great and the handwriting was on point!  

If you need a graphic organizer to get your class started, this is what I use with my kiddos.
In addition to these new twists on old end-of-year activities, I changed my end-of-year gifts for my students.  In the past, I gave them new notebooks and pencils for them to journal throughout the summer.  When I talked to previous students and their families, a lot of them did not get around to writing in their journals.  The number one reason was, "I didn't know what to write about."  

This year, I created summer writing journals with writing prompts!  Now they won't have an excuse!  I also left some pages blank, just in case they find something else they want to write about.  

I hope you are enjoying the last few weeks of the school year (or your first few weeks of summer if you're already done).  Remember, this is the last time you will be with this exact group of kiddos.  Soak it all in and enjoy it for what it's worth!

For more ideas, I would love to see you over on my Instagram.  You can find me by searching for @Learning_Lab.  It's my favorite place to share school ideas, my new TpT products, and photos of some really cute kids!

See you again soon!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Creative Writing + Science = Meaningful Learning!

Happy Monday! I'm Krista from The Knitted Apple and I'm thrilled to be back with another blog post on Who's Who!

Today I want to share an idea for integrating two subjects students love- Science and Creative Writing! At first, it may seem the two are not the best match, but I've found they are a perfect fit when used to assess understanding of a science concept students have studied.

What makes these subjects a perfect match when used as an assessment? One simple reason- science and writing projects are much more engaging for students than a traditional test! They get EXCITED each time a new project is introduced.  Students collaborate with others, apply knowledge learned, and show creativity!

To plan an integrated science and writing project, think about the concept you are assessing. For example, when studying forms of energy  I wanted to students to be able to identify the forms of energy and how each is used.  I also wanted them to apply their knowledge of specific forms of energy to create something original.  In this case, it was a robot!  I developed a rubric, making sure this information was included.  I then added expectations for the writing piece, including points for correct sentence structure, capitalization, and punctuation.

When you are ready to introduce the project to your class, I recommend the following tips:
  • Review the concept being assessed by revisiting anchor charts or discussing the main points.
  • Show excitement when introducing the project.  Students will build on your enthusiasm!
  • Explain the expectations for the project.  I recommend using a rubric and displaying it while students are working. 
  • Make sure you have allotted time in your schedule. Most of my projects take at least two class periods to complete, as they include both a planning page (rough draft) and project page (final draft).
  • Group students together in pairs or small groups to edit and revise after completing the rough draft.
  • After revising, allow an extended time for students to complete the final project page.  Provide colored pencils, markers, and crayons to make the designs come to life!
The most important tip of all- make sure students have an opportunity to share their designs and writing.  Other students will learn by hearing how the presenter applied the concept studied.   You will be amazed at the creativity of the students.  Just provide the expectations and framework for the project, and let them do the rest!

One of my favorite science and writing projects is available free from my TpT store! If your students have studied Forms of Energy this year my Robot Project would be a great review. To grab a copy, just click the image below! 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

How to Rein in your Inner Control Freak in the Classroom

One of the problems I’ve faced year after year as a teacher is an inner battle with my desire to be in charge. All the time. The fact is that I am a control freak. I pretend I’m not and I’ll usually deny it but I doubt I’ve fooled anyone. I’m bossy and I like to be in charge. Especially in my classroom.  

I remember well the first time I heard the words ‘gradual release of responsibility’. I could feel the cold hands of fear grip and begin to squeeze my horrified inner control freak (let’s try ICF for short). Let the students take charge? In my kingdom (I mean, classroom)? Unlikely!

I know, I know, I’ve read the books. I’ve done the study. I really do want to help children to become confident, self-directed learners. What teacher doesn’t want to see their students blossom into critical and creative thinkers who take responsibility for their own learning? I know I do. I just don’t see why they can’t become independent while I tell them what to do?

Despite my best intentions, my classroom is less of a democracy and much more of a benevolent dictatorship. And to be honest I quite like it that way.  I understand best practice – it’s my ICF that doesn’t.

So after years of battling my desire to be in charge, I’ve learned a few things I’d like to share. I’m sure my ICF is motivated by the fear that allowing kids more say in the learning process will result in a loss of control and pandemonium all round. But when I’ve actually dipped my toes into the world of releasing responsibility, I’ve found the opposite to be true. My most successful tips are:

Capitalize on what your students find interesting – holidays, special days, etc.
  • ·      ask them what they want to learn about
  • ·      listen
  • ·      incorporate their ideas if possible

In some learning contexts, let the kids choose
  • ·      where they will sit
  • ·      topics to research
  • ·      work partners
  • ·      how they wish to demonstrate their understanding

Please don’t be misled. This doesn’t happen all day, every day in my classroom. My ICF wouldn’t cope with that at all. I have learned, however, that when the learning tasks offer choice and are challenging and engaging, the classroom dynamic is great. Even my ICF appreciates that I get to spend more time teaching, guiding and facilitating and less time doing crowd control.

Here are some free critical and creative task cards that keep the kids engaged and my ICF in check at the same time! I hope they work as well for you as they have for my ICF and I.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Let's Talk About Class Books!

Hey everyone!  It's Aimee from Primarily Speaking.
I'm so excited to be back here blogging on Who's Who and Who's New!

Let's talk about class books!  I love class books, and so do my students.  These books are always, hands-down, the most popular books during the students' free choice reading time. 

I like to use class books to help my students develop and continue to practice good work habits.  Translation: they are a great way to encourage your students to work neatly.  Before we make a book, we always talk about who will be reading the book.  We talk about the other books we have read (printed books that have clear and easy to read text) to help clarify the importance of making sure their contribution to the class book is user friendly.  Knowing that their peers will be looking at the books often, reminds the students to slow down and turn in a quality piece of work.  This also encourages them to take ownership of their learning and to take pride in their work.

Next year, I plan to start my year by making class books.  It's the perfect way to give my students practice with the quality of work expectations I will set forth the first week of school. 

Class books also encourage students to read!  My students always love to read what their peers have written and illustrated.  I watch them read these books and laugh and smile.  I watch them get "Sally's" attention to let her know that they are reading her page.  In this sense, the books also help to build a sense of community within the classroom!

They are also a great way to showcase learning.  We recently wrapped up a mini unit on collective nouns.  As part of our study, we made a class book.  Each student illustrated a collective noun phrase (a bunch of grapes, a gaggle of geese and so on).  It's been a hit ever since it hit the shelves, so to speak.

We have also made class books that showcase our knowledge and understanding of multiple meaning words and using polite manners.

Since these books are so popular, I want them to be easily accessible.  So, I store them in a bin like this.

So, what to do with those books at the end of the year?  Well, you could raffle them off to your students during the last week of school.  Or, if you have a classroom economy, your students could buy them with their classroom dollars.  Or, you could save them for the following year for your new batch of students to enjoy.  Even though their classmates may not have made the books, your new students will still enjoy reading content that was created by other kids.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Reflecting on this Year's Learning

Hi there, it's Roisin from Little Learner Toolbox, and I am very happy to be here on 'Who's Who and Who's New'! It’s that time of year when the final countdown has begun, with students starting to get into the summer mood, while teachers are in the midst of juggling the learning in their classroom with the many end of year demands. All in all the end of year can be a busy time. With everything moving towards the end of year, this can also be a great time to take time to reflect upon the year with your class.  Providing students with the opportunity to reflect upon how they have grown through the year, the challenges they may have faced, the goals they achieved and the strategies they developed through the year, is a great way to bring the year to a conclusion and celebrate with your class.

One fun way to do this is by encouraging you students to write a letter, create an information booklet or design a poster for the new incoming class. This is something that many classes already do, but taking time to really think about the year with your class is a great opportunity to encourage conversation and reflection. There are so many possibilities for this activity including: 1) write individual letters to be placed on the desks of the new students at the beginning of the new school year, 2) bind individual letters together to make a handy reference booklet for the incoming class or 3) students could create posters to decorate the classroom for the start of the school year, full of information for the incoming class. Providing students with the opportunity for writing for the incoming class, is a fun way to engage your students. Next year’s students will enjoy it too!

“We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” (John Dewey)

 While the final product will be for the incoming class, so much of the learning and conversation will happen along the way. By giving your students the opportunity to reflect upon the year, you give them the chance to consolidate their ideas, reflect upon their experiences and share their ideas with their classmates. 

To start with, introduce the idea to your whole class and ask them to remember back to what it was like at the start of the year. Ask students about how they felt and where there any big questions or concerns that they had? If so that would be good information to include for the new class. What sort of information and tips would be useful for incoming students to know; what to do, not to do, fieldtrips, handy information to know? Are there any fun projects or activities for the students to look forward to? 

Ideas to brainstorm with your class could include:
Class / Grades routines that you had during the year
Favorite projects that you did or fun facts that you learned during the year
Books that you read as a class
Favorite field trips
Helpful tips for the year
Useful strategies that you learned
What your new teacher is like

Another nice thing to do with students before they write their letter is to encourage them to think of some of their own personal achievements and highlights from the year:
One thing I really enjoyed was…..
One thing I learned was…..
One thing I am proud of is…..

Finally when your students begin to plan for writing their letters or designing their posters, encourage them to think about their achievements they have listed, and what they learned and enjoyed throughout the year. What do they think that the incoming students would like to know? What would they have liked to have known coming into the class? The final posters or letters will be a wonderful collection of student memories and achievements, and a great welcome to the new class at the start of next year!

For more end of year activities check out:  

End of Year Memory Book

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Summer Skills Slip

Hi, Queen of the Jungle here.  I'm so glad to be a guest blogger once again.  I can't believe it is almost the end of the year for us here in our school district.  In many districts across the country, this may be their last week of school.  What a whirlwind this year had been.

Since we are heading into the summer, we know that many times our students experience a loss of skills during the break.  I like to call this the Summer Skills Slip.  They are busy enjoying vacation with family and friends and don't want to think about math or reading.  Our hope as teachers is that we can get them to do some things over the summer that will help kids retain some of the skills they learn during the year.

At home, parents can do some fun activities that help support these skills.  In fact, they can be done with items they find all around the house.  There are many activities that support language arts, math and even science skills.  To  help reinforce math skills how about sharing the following activity with parents?

Paper Plate Pantry Math

Tape up paper plates next to the pantry or on the pantry door.  On each paper plate, post a set of problem solving questions that your child must solve.

For Example the picture above has the following plates:  

Plate #1 - Pick two cans of vegetables.  Which can weighs more?  How much more does it weigh than the other can?  

Paper Plate #2 – Find three of your favorite items.  Look at their calories.  Put them in order of greatest to least calories.

Paper Plate #3 – Pick one box of cereal.  How much sugar is in two servings of cereal? If you ate the cereal each morning for one week, how much fiber would you get?  

Add other paper plates with questions you create about your pantry items. Change it up each week to keep it fresh and fun.

This activity and many more can be found in the product: Lazy Days of Summer Activities, Games and Puzzle PacketThis packet can help students engage their brains during the summer as they spend time with their family and friends.  The packet has easy and engaging activities, games, puzzles and ideas that parents can use to help their child continue to learn and grow throughout the summer.

Packet Includes:

Cover Page with Parent Letter
Math Interactive Activities and Games
Hundreds Chart
Language Arts Interactive Activities and Games
Summer Reading Suggestions and Ideas
Reading Logs for June, July, August
Travel Games for Riding in the Car/Plane/Train/etc.
Summer Writing Journal Ideas
My Summer Vacation Writing Prompt Page
Vacation Maze (two versions-easy and more difficult)
Fun in the Sun Crossword (two versions-easy and more difficult)
Summer Word Search (two versions-easy and more difficult)

If you are interested in this packet, click the link below:

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