Friday, September 30, 2011

It's All in the DaFont!

I tend to create a lot of work pages, posters, reference sheets and more for my friends.  When I do, I like to use a font that sort of kicks it up a notch.  I've even been known to throw some wacky font in my planbook to match the activity, a sure sign I need to get a life!  I thought I would share with you my go to place for amazing, FREE fonts.  It's a site called  I love it like I love chocolate! 
If you need a font, they have it.  It's especially great for teachers.  It's where I got the different fonts I used on the cover of my anchor chart binder.  I wish I could show you some of the fonts I have downloaded, but Blogger won't let me.  However, these are some that I use a lot:

Janda Scrapgirl
smiley monster
doctor soos bold
mr and mrs popsicle
action jackson
print clearly

There are tons of them, and you can pick how you search for them.  You can pick by style, theme, holiday, etc.  I just downloaded a font called Autumn Gifts.  I want to make a fall subway art poster for my dining room later, and this will be a great font for it. 

I have a PC with Windows.  This is how installing the font works for me. Once you find the font you want:
  1. Click "download"
  2. When the next screen pops up, click on "Open"
  3. Another screen will pop up with the file in it.  Sometimes there is more than one file for the font.  Click the one that says "True type font file."
  4. Then, click "Install"  It only takes a second and then you can close all the windows that opened.  At this point, it should be listed in your fonts.
If you get a chance, visit  It's fun just to browse around.  If you find a great font, please come back and share it's name and how you might use it!  I can't tell you how many times seeing a certain font has inspired an idea rather than having an idea and then searching for the font.  There are so many, it's hard to keep up with all they offer!  By the way, this is completely personal recommendation. knows nothing of me or my little blog. :-)

*I'm taking the weekend off from blogging, so I will see you all on Monday.  Have a great weekend!  And, thanks so much for stopping by.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Borrowed Charts

Woo Hoo!!!!!!!!!!!! It's a four day weekend!!!!!!! 
Our district gave us Thursday and Friday off for Rosh Hashanah.  So, Happy New Year to those of you that celebrate!!!  For me, it's just a lovely four day weekend.  I'm determined to have two of those four days be NO SCHOOL WORK days.  I do need to rework my planbook, make my lesson plans/prep for next week, and grade some papers.  Hoping to get that all done today and tomorrow leaving Saturday and Sunday free.  We are supposed to have some lovely fall weather this weekend here in NJ, and I'm planning to enjoy it!  I see a trip to the orchards and some pumpkins and apple cider in my future.

Thanks so much to everyone for all the great feedback on the anchor chart binder idea I posted.  When I finish this post, I'm going to go back and add a little P.S. to answer a couple of requests and questions that I got about it.

On to today's post. . .

I am taking no credit for the two anchor charts I am posting today.  The first is almost exactly copied from another anchor chart I saw online.  The other is an exact copy of an anchor chart I saw online.  Here's the problem.  I found them online over a year ago and now have no idea where.  If they are your charts, please let me know.  I'm happy to give credit where credit is due.

Making Text Connections

Making connections is something we all probably teach and have a chart about.  I think I did tweak this chart a bit from the original I saw.   I am planning to tweak again to add more to text-to-text connections.  In my class, we define text-to-text connections as connecting to not just a book, but connecting your book to another book, magazine, movie, or television show.  Basically, connecting the text to another type of media.  In fact, my techy little friends have made text connections to podcasts, blogs, and I even had a friend make a completely appropriate connection to a reading app he has on his Ipod.  So, I'm thinking I really need to revise this soon to reflect 21st century learning.  These kids can make me feel so old sometimes!

Stop, Think, Jot!

Now this chart, I remember for a fact copying it exactly as I saw it.  I loved it that much!  It has been a great chart for introducing the use of sticky notes during their reading.  I wish I could remember where I saw it originally, because I would love to credit and thank the author.  It's pretty self-explanatory, which is great because my friends get it. And, we all love the smiley faces.  I'm planning to do another post soon about how we use the sticky notes in our reading.  I've found a great way to use them to monitor the level of thinking my friends are doing and as a way to generate a grade.  Our report card still requires A through F letter grades, so I always need quantitative grades.   10/2/11 UPDATE!  I found the link for this anchor chart/poster.  It is from a Scholastic blog post by Danielle Mahoney.  Visit her blog by clicking HERE!  She also has a link for bookmarks that go with this idea.  Her blog is well worth reading.  Thanks so much Danielle!

Those are the two charts I thought I would share today.  As I said, these charts are not my idea, but nuggets of goodness I found on the web. :-)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A MacGyver-like Storage Solution

Give me a Ziploc bag, some masking tape, and a hole puncher
and I can get all MacGyver on ya! 

Well, not really. I mean, I can't diffuse a bomb. Plus, I don't wear a mullet. But, what I can do is create a storage pouch that will work well for you if your friends use binders.  My students use two binders.  One is for science and social studies and the other for reading and writing.  Over the years, my friends have needed to store extra materials in their binder such as vocabulary flash cards, sticky notes, pencils, and even the book they are reading or need to take home.   So, where to put all this?  I've tried pencil cases, but they usually aren't large enough or they are just too expensive.  This is where the Ziploc bags come in.  We use them to make storage bags for our binders.

Here's what it looks like in the binder.  This is the science and social studies binder of one of my friends.  Inside his baggie are his vocabulary flash cards for social studies.

It's quick, cheap, and they last.  All you need is a hole puncher, masking tape, and a box of gallon size Ziploc bags.  I ask the kids to bring in three bags as part of their school supplies.  I prefer the ones with the slide lock on top, but as you can see in this picture, the press and seal kind also work well.  The only thing that I would suggest is getting a good brand.  The store brand tend to be thin and tear.  I've never had that problem with a name brand.  The name brands also stay closed without a problem.

So, here's what to do.  Tape the front and back of the left side of the baggie and hole punch it.  That's it!  It's simple and quick.  The tape allows you to easily hole punch the baggie, and it keeps them from tearing around the holes.  I like the baggies because they are large enough to hold almost anything. And, did I mention a CHEAP solution?

In our reading/writing binder, they usually keep the book they are reading, a pack of sticky notes, and something to write with in the baggie .  I think this type of storage system would also be great if you were doing any type of word work that had little pieces your friends have to use.  In our science/social studies binder, we store our vocabulary flash cards in them.  One other nice thing about this is that there's no time lost looking for things.  Everyone keeps their flashcards in the same spot.

There you go, it's the quick tip of the day!  Hope it's useful for you.  If you have any other ideas on how to use these, please feel free to share.

By the way, I'm assuming you know who MacGyver is or else I sound like a nut!  If you aren't familiar with him, then you don't know your 80's tv! Click HERE to find out more about our resourceful friend.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Too Many Anchor Charts!

Have you ever looked around your classroom and wondered where in the world you were going to hang another anchor chart?  I have! There's only so much space in the classroom.  Let me first say, I don't believe a classroom should be papered with anchor charts.  When you have too many up, they sort of lose their meaning.  Your little friends stop really seeing them.  They just blend after a while.  This is why I like to keep them up for a while and then rotate them out.  I also keep my anchor charts posted in the same spot in my room so my friends' little eyes always know where to look for that information.

The problem is the skills we teach on those anchor charts can never be put away.  They're skills we want out friends to keep using all year long, and sometimes they do need a reminder.  That's where my anchor chart binder comes in handy.
This binder stores a picture of most of the anchor charts we make.  Before I tell you how I set it up, let me tell you why I love it.
  1. It keeps my anchor charts available all year long.
  2. It's handy for my friends.  They know where it is and know how to use it.
  3. It's a great reminder for me for the next year.  I am a believer in making 90% of my charts with the class.  I may set up the title and clip art or graphic I want on it, but the content is generated with my friends.  Of course, I know what must make the chart, but you would be surprised at the different things that come up each year with different classes that we end up adding.
  4. It's a great resource to use with my small group and individual student meetings to target specific needs.
Here's how it's set up.  There are three sections in this binder.  The first is reading, the second writing, and the third is miscellaneous.  I try to keep only true instructional or reference type anchor charts in the reading and writing sections with any other literacy charts in the misc. section.

It starts out with an index in the front, behind the divider tab.  The anchor chart index lists the date I gave out the chart, the title of the chart, and the page number. The charts are in clear plastic sleeves, so I just put a small sticker on the bottom corner with the page number.

Now, this might seem like a lot of work, but it really isn't.  I always have my small point and shoot camera in my pocketbook.  About once a week after school, I take a quick look around my room and shoot some pictures.  If I have time in school, I download them and send them to our school printer.  If not, I do it at home.  It really is just that simple.  Here are some pictures of the reading anchor charts I have posted about before in the binder.

I only print out one color picture, but I make a few black and white copies which I stick in the sleeve behind the color picture.  This is when the binder comes in handy when I'm meeting with my friends.  If a friend is having trouble with a particular skill or strategy, as the year goes on I can usually find the appropriate chart in this binder, give a quick refresher lesson, and then send them off with a copy of it for their personal reference.

That's how I keep track of my anchor charts.  I don't really have room to store tons of charts, and as I wrote earlier , I like to create them with my students.  This has been a great way to manage the charts.  If you have another method that's working for you, I would love to hear about it.  :-)

Wow! Your response to my little binder has been amazing!  Thanks so much!  I love that so many of you found this idea helpful.  A few people have asked it I could share the cover page.  I wish I could but I didn't save it.  It would be so easy to make your own, though.  I just typed the title in a word doc.  Then, I just played with changing the fonts and font sizes to make it look the way it does.  For the picture, I just Googled images with key words like confused, questions, etc. until I found a picture I liked.  Then, I copied and pasted it in.  The orange is just magic marker I used to color in the letters. Finally, since it is just a word doc printed on regular paper, I put a piece of orange construction paper behind it.  It really is easy to do.  The great thing is you can design it to look anyway you want yours to look.  I did save the anchor chart index page that goes in the front of each section, so I'm happy to share that.  Here is the link for it: Anchor Chart Index Page.  So, have some fun making your binder!

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Before I begin. . .  what a long week it was!  Sorry for the lack of posts this week.  I have been swimming in work and haven't had a moment to post anything.  In the past week, I have created and/or significantly revised 48 different literacy center activities, eight activities in six different literacy areas.  That means thinking of what I need them to be, then typing them up, putting them in folders, and listing all the extra materials and copies I need to gather in school to complete the centers. Of course, the type A in me also had to search Google for 48 different clip art images to make each one fun.  Creating these center activities also meant making and gluing 48 center names on 48 folders.  So, that's what I have been doing with my nights this week in addition to the regular classroom planning and grading. This job can be so consuming at times!  If you teach you know exactly what I'm talking about!

I'm posting today about an instructional technique I used in class this week with great success.  During the week, I will also be posting a few quick posts on some anchor charts my friends and I have created along with a couple of organizing tips.  But, on to today's topic. . .

Have you tried TEXTMAPPING? 

Here's some background info from The Textmapping Project explaining exactly what it is:
 (If you click on the the link above, it will take you to their site, which has a wealth of information.)

Overview of Textmapping

Bullet point Textmapping is a graphic organizer technique that can be used to teach reading comprehension and writing skills, study skills, and course content. It is practiced on scrolls , which are an alternative environment to books. Textmapping and scrolls can be used strategically, but they are not strategies. They are enabling technologies - simple, basic tools which can be used for reading and classroom instruction. The same strategies that can be taught in books can be taught more clearly and explicitly by using scrolls  and mapping .
  • Textmapping involves long paper scrolls, colored markers, and a spatially-descriptive form of marking called mapping.
  • It has seven key instructional benefits
  • It is easy to learn and easy to implement in the classroom.
  • Implementation costs are very low.
  • It has been used with mainstream, ESL, and special needs classes at all levels, from elementary through college.
Bullet point Textmapping enables teachers to clearly and explicitly model reading comprehension, writing and study skills in the course of regular classroom instruction.
Bullet point Textmapping shines a light on the pre-reading process. It focuses more attention on, and spends more time with, the text itself - lingering on the page, delaying abstraction, forcing readers to engage in a more careful in-context comprehension of both the big picture and the details, and enabling teachers to explicitly and systematically model comprehension processes.
Bullet point It is low-tech, easy to learn, easy to teach, requires no special equipment, and can be adapted easily and inexpensively for use in the classroom. All you need is access to a copier, tape or glue-stick, and colored pencils, markers, or crayons.

Here's what it looked like in my classroom:

This was a literacy lesson in my reading class.  My objective was to teach features of non-fiction text.  I like to do a quick lesson on this at the beginning of the year because they do encounter this from day one.  If I waited until we do our non-fiction unit, a lot of learning would be lost.  For this lesson, I copied the next lesson we would be covering in our social studies class. 

I paired my friends, they taped together their scrolls, and we went to work.  I posted this on my Pro Board, and worked through it with them.

My friends really enjoyed this lesson.  First of all, it had them out of their seats and using highlighters!  More to the point, I liked the lesson for several reasons:
  • I found having the entire lesson visible at the same time, rather than just two open book pages, allowed them to see and make connections across the lesson that they wouldn't usually make. 
  • Highlighting and discussing the different text features really drew their attention to the set-up of non-fiction texts, particularly our social studies textbook since that is what we used.
  • I totally killed two birds with one stone with this lesson.  The section of text I copied was the social studies lesson I was to read and teach the next day.  Because my friends had so much interaction with the text during mapping, I was able to skip the lesson part and jump right to the assessment which they did very well on.  Their comprehension was spot-on.
So, if you haven't tried text mapping, I would suggest visiting the site for The Textmapping Project and reading more about it.  I think you will like it.

By the way, they write it as one word: textmapping.  I'm thinking it should be two words: text mapping.  So, just to be fair I think I mixed it up in this post! Totally on purpose, of course! ;-P

Thursday, September 15, 2011

And Behind This Curtain. . .

While looking around my room today, my eyes settled on the green curtain on my bookshelf.  I thought that it might be a good tip to share.  I have a long row of shelves below the windows in my rooms.  Two of them I use for storage of my teacher books and supplies.  While setting up my room, I thought it looked a bit messy.  I was going to get some fabric and a tension rod to make a curtain, but then thought of something I have used in the past.  Here's how my shelf looks now:

And, here is what is behind the green curtain:

I think we can all agree the green curtain is much nicer to look at.  In addition to hiding my mess, it provides a nice pop of color that matches the bulletin board near it.  That green curtain is actually a plastic table skirt from the party store. They are amazing for the classroom.  They're just the right length for any table or book shelf you have as they are banquet table height.  You just cut off the length you need and apply.  I'm planning to cut up the middle of the one above so it's easier to get to the books. 

These banquet table skirts come with a self-adhesive sticky strip behind the ruffled top.  It's the part that would stick to the edge of the table.  In the package below, it shows where the sticky strip is.

These hold up really well, and one package can cover a lot of shelving or skirt a couple of classroom tables.  It's great for hiding storage items you may have under a table.  Also, they come in a ton of different colors, so you can compliment your room nicely.  In my area, one package is $6.99. 

I don't think this tip is groundbreaking news, but I know sometimes I see the most simple idea in someone's classroom and think, "How did I not know about that?"  Maybe this is one of those kind of ideas for someone else.   :-)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fiction or Non-Fiction?

Just a quick post today. . .

This was a bit of a combo lesson I did earlier this year.  We first brainstormed the differences between fiction and non-fiction. My friends did pretty well, but it was a bit surprising to see what they missed.  I think in all, the last bullet in each column was one they hadn't really thought about before.

We had talked about genres briefly a few days prior, so I added it on to our lesson.  My friends brought favorite books from home.  We identified the genre, wrote it on a sticky and then put the book title under it.  The sticky was then put on our anchor chart in the correct column.  What was nice is that it was a nice book share.  They got some great ideas for books they want to read in the future from classmates recommendations.  Not surprisingly, none of them had a non-fiction book.  I pulled some non-fiction books from our class library and we determined the different genres from those.

I did end with a handout that streamlined the different genres in an easy to read chart.  This went into their reading binder for reference as needed.  They seem pretty solid on genres now.  Hopefully!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


We did our lesson on schema today.  It always amazes me how my friends take to this lesson.  When I talk about opening that mental file cabinet and pulling out the file labeled . . . , they get it.  I love that today one of my friends looked at me and exclaimed, "Wow!  Our brain is really amazing!"  It sure is!

Some familiar topics were discussed where I asked them to tap into their schema, and we discussed how it helps us to better understand and make meaning of our reading.  I then had them "activate their schema" on the topic of rain forests.  They took some time to jot down everything they knew on the topic.  We then shared.  This was really great because we noted how our schema grows and changes as we have more life experiences.  Sharing what they knew was helping to build their schema. Here's a sample of a page from one of my friend's reader's notebook.

I then read The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry.  If you don't know this book, you will want to check it out.  It's a classic and has the most amazing illustrations.  Essentially, a man begins to cut down a kapok tree in the rain forest, but stops to take a nap.  While he naps, all the different animals of the rain forest come to him and whisper in his ear the many reasons why he shouldn't cut down the tree.

As I read aloud, I modeled how my schema, the schema we shared, helps me to understand and make meaning of the story.  The love the book and they really get this lesson.  I then sent them off for their independent reading with the focus of tapping into their schema.  At the end of the period, in their reflection log, I asked them to tell me how their schema helped them with their reading today.  It was a good lesson.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11th

September 11th.  One of those days in our history when we can all answer the question, "Where were you?"  I can tell you exactly.  I was teaching.  I had first period prep which began at 9:05.  The horrors of the day were twenty minutes old.  I had walked into our front office and a secretary told us what had happened.  I remember not being able to understand what she was saying.  It just didn't make sense.  What she was saying seemed impossible.

Our principal set up a television on the back of our auditorium stage.  A place the students couldn't access.  We spent our prep period in front of the television.  The newscast replayed the first plane going into the tower.  It was awful.  I remember the very audible gasp of the six of us who were watching.  A gasp involuntarily given in unison.  As if our bodies reacted when our minds just couldn't.  It was all too horrible.
Yet we watched as long as we could.  You couldn't not watch.  And then our prep was over.  We had to go back to class.  We were told not to say anything to the children.  It was now 9:50 when I picked up my friends from special.

What made that day all the more horrible was that our school, my home, is just an hour outside of New York.  Our community is made up of many, many people who commute to New York on a daily basis for work.  Most of our students have been in New York several times and are familiar with the city. Being so close to New York is a wonderful thing.  It takes a minute to hop on the train and spend the day shopping, going to museums, seeing a Broadway show, visit friends and family that live in the city.  On this day, living so close to New York was not a wonderful thing. 

Slowly it began.  The calls from the front office.  Please send this friend down for early dismissal.  A minute later, another call for another student.  Then another and another.  Parents had come to the school in droves, wanting to have their children with them on this horrible day.  My friends started to get curious.  Why were so many of our classmates going home?  I remember joking that there must be a lot of doctors appointments that day.  What else could I say?  I was not allowed to say anything about what was actually happening and to be honest, they didn't need to know at that point. We ended up sending the remaining students home at the end of the day having said nothing.  I don't know if that was or wasn't the right thing to do.

On this day, I remember teachers frantically calling spouses and family members who lived or worked in the city.  You just wanted to know that your loved ones were okay.  It was one of the only days in my teaching career where teaching was not the priority.  We tried to keep things as normal as possible for the children, but how can that really be when there were fighter jets buzzing by our school making the windows rattle?  Our town is on a flight path for Newark airport, so there are always planes overhead.  On this day, there were no planes in the sky, only the military jets buzzing by.  We must have held it together pretty well though, because at day's end the children were not yet aware that it was a life changing day.

I went home, and like people around the world, watched the news late into the night.  The next morning, we found out that one of our school employees had a missing husband.  Two of our students were missing a father.  In the days to come, we would find that these men had passed away in this horrible tragedy.  Our community and the surrounding communities lost many, many people to this horrific event.  It seemed as if there were funeral after funeral for days. The obituary column in our local paper was no longer a column.  It became a section unto itself. It was a soul deep sadness that we lived in.

Ten years later.  I am with my friends this past Friday.  My friends who were either not yet born or at the most were only months old on September 11, 2001.  We had been instructed to complete a lesson about this day.  My friends had many questions.  I did my best to answer them honestly.  I did my best to help them understand how we have learned so much from that horrible day and to reassure them that the lessons we learned have helped keep us safe these last ten years.  I did my best to help them understand that they will see so much on television this weekend, and it's okay to feel a bit anxious, curious, nervous, confused. . . And I told them to talk about it.  Talk to their parents.  They will help them understand.  And most of all, I did my best to help them understand that they are safe.  In my heart I believe that, 100%n true or not, is what they needed to hear.  At ten and elven, they should not live in fear.  They should feel safe, that the adults around them are there to help them and keep them safe.  So, that is the message I tried to help them know.

Today, I think of all those that we lost. I thank all those that responded, that helped.  And, I pray that as a country, as a world, as a people, we find peace and understanding for each other and our differences.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

As Ready As I'll Ever Be!

I am so tired! Getting your room in order is hard work.   I'm planning to enjoy these last couple of days of summer.  School starts for me on Tuesday.  Thursday and Friday were teacher meeting days, but the kids are coming Tuesday.  I think I'm ready.  Of course, there are about five million more things I wish I had time to do, but the show must go on!  Here's a quick glimpse into my room.  If you want a better view, just click on the picture and a larger version should pop up.
This is the small bulletin board that hangs outside my classroom.  Welcome!

Just a quick view across the room.  There's no real theme other than

Here is the view looking into my room.  My class library is along the back wall.  One of my favorite things in this picture are the dots on my windows.  They serve no purpose other than to be bright and make me smile.  Below is a picture of the class library and the reading bulletin board above it.


Here is an up close view of our class calendar.  The posters around it are all fun quotes I found on Pinterest.  In fact, this is where I put the colored pencil flower vase I made, which was also Pinterest inspired.

This is the area where I meet with my small groups or individual students.  Please ignore the mess behind it.  I still need to get my files out and organize the shelves you see there.  Behind this area, on the white board is my six-trait board.  I used the term "Voices" to help remind the kids.  Below is an up-close picture of it.

So, that's kind of it for now.  There are still things to do and some things to still figure out how I want to do!  But for now, I'm pretty much ready for Tuesday when my 24 friends arrive.  As I "live" in this room and tweak, I will probably come back and do a couple of what-works-for-me-and-what-was-a-fail posts related to the set-up.

Quick Tip!
Did you notice the tennis balls on all the chairs?  I really think this is a sanity saver, at least for me!  Because I have baskets on the bottom of my chairs, they become fairly heavy once my friends load them up.  This means when you move the chairs, they make an incredibly loud scraping noise.  Now, multiply that by 24 friends who are constantly in and out of their chairs and you can imagine the noise.  Not to mention, my classroom is on the second floor.  When my friends all get up at the same time, in the class below us it suddenly sounds like a pack of screaming elephants has invaded the second floor. 
The answer:  TENNIS BALLS!
I purchased a lot of regular tennis balls on Ebay.  Just do a search for tennis balls lot.  You will need a lot!  I have 24 desks, but I also put them on the chairs around my meeting tables and any other stray chair or stand I found.  The balls themselves aren't too expensive, but just watch the shipping.  Some sellers are very reasonable, and others are drinking some serious crazy juice!

Once you get them, you will have to cut a slit into each ball.  It's time consuming, but well worth it.  Be sure to have a very sharp serrated knife with a pointed end to first pierce the ball.  Then, you just saw a quick cut.  Don't cut it too big or it will fall off the chair leg.  It should be a bit of a squeeze to put it on.  And, wear safety gloves in case the knife slips.  I purchased a pair of suede working gloves in the dollar store and more than once they saved me.

Finally, most teacher stores do sell precut tennis balls in sets of four.  Last year, I ran short a few tennis balls.  Rather than buy a big lot on Ebay, I just ran out and purchased a couple of packs of the precut balls.  They were a total waste of money.  They were a bit pricey, and they didn't last more than about five months.  They just weren't as durable as the regular tennis balls.  I can get about four years from a set of regular tennis balls.  After four years, they do need replacing.  But, five months was just ridiculous!  So, while the regular tennis balls are more work, they are well worth the effort.  Plus, the kids get a kick out of them when they first see them!