Tuesday, March 26, 2013

2 Picture Books for Writing Lessons


I could not be any happier to be on break this week! 
There is a serious case of  Spring fever bouncing in my brain. My plan is to enjoy the heck out it.  Having free time is such a welcome novelty when you are a teacher.  Sadly, we had a snowstorm yesterday.  Who asked for snow on Spring Break?  Whoever you are. . . STOP IT RIGHT NOW!  It turned out to be more annoying snow than accumulating snow.  But, what to do on a Spring Break Snow Day?  Head to Barnes & Noble!
As you can see from the sign, they too have Spring fever!  I headed over to the children's section to see what was new in picture books.  I saw many familiar favorites, but there were two in particular that caught my eye.  Both books seem perfect for writing lessons.

The first book is Exclamation Point by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld.  Before I tell you more, let me just say I find it ironic that two people who write a book about punctuation choose to have their proper noun names in all lowercase letters on the cover. Thankfully, all the writing in the book follows the rules.
Exclamation Point is a dual purpose book.  It obviously teaches end marks, but it is also a great book about being yourself.  This little exclamation point tries to be a period and a question, but in the end it must be itself - a loud, proud exclamation point!  And, it is only once it decides to be itself that it is happy and admired by the other end marks.  What a great lesson to pass on to our friends.

I like the book as a good way to introduce sentence types and end marks.  For those friends who continually leave off those end marks in their writing, it would make a fun mini-lesson on how important it is to include them.  Below is a snapshot from the book.  Every time a certain end mark speaks, their sentence ends in their end mark.  Another cute point about the book is that its pages are ruled like primary writing paper.  Something our friends are very familiar with.
I might love this book simply because I am notorious for overuse of the exclamation point.  I'm also very guilty of using more than once even though I teach my friend that just one does the job!!!!!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

The other book I found and loved is One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo.  Since my pocketbook limited my purchase to just one book, I had to make a choice between the two.  This is the book that won my heart and my cash. :-)  I must have been living under a rock where this book is concerned because not only is it a 2013 Caldecott Honor book, it was on the New York Times best seller list of children's picture books back in February of 2012.  Where was I when all this was going on?
I love so much about this book!  First, I love that the author, Toni Buzzeo, is a former English teacher and school media specialist.  I also love that  David Small, is the illustrator of this book, but we also know him well from his many, many other illustrated books.  The GardenerThe Library, and So, You Want to be President? are some of my favorites.

One Cool Friend is a fun and surprising story of a little boy, Elliot, and his father who visit the aquarium.  While there Elliot asks his father, "May I please have a penguin?"  Thinking he would like a stuffed souvenir  the father hands him $20.  Little does he know that Elliot means a real penguin.  The story is wonderful.  I promise it will engage your friends of all ages.  There is even a surprise ending that tells us Elliot and his dad have a lot in common. :-)

So, where is the writing connection?  It comes in how the David Small chose to illustrate the dialog.  Take a look at a couple of pages.
Notice how the dialog is bubbled.  Perfect for teaching how to punctuate dialog.  Notice that the second line shows connected dialog. In the picture below, what Elliot is thinking is bubbled differently from actual dialog.
A great way to show the use of internal dialog to your friends. Notice the tags in both pages are different.  In one the father "announced" while Elliot "said."  You could easily use this to teach how to use different tags for dialog, even having your friends change the ones in the book.  This would be a good book to use with a document camera so your friends can get the full effect.

Right before I was going to publish this post, I thought to do a quick search and see what was out there on it.  I found something wonderful!  Toni Buzzeo has a six-trait writing guide available for free for  ALL of her picture books.  I guess once a teacher, always a teacher!  You can go directly to the download via THIS LINK, or you can get there through Toni Buzzeo's web site.  As I looked over her writing guide, I found that her idea for a convention lesson is exactly what I wrote about, the dialog bubbles!  However, her guide gives you a bunch of other good lesson ideas to use with the book.

I would say One Cool Friend is a must buy.  If your pocketbook allows two, don't forget Exclamation Mark.  Both books would serve you well as teaching tools, but both are also just great books to read and enjoy.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Refrigerator Papers

In my last post on personalized sticky notes for reading, I mentioned that I had purchased something fun and motivating from Vistaprint.  Here is the little item I ordered.  Again, the picture is a bit fuzzy because it is from a screen shot of my order.

It's a self-inking stamp for refrigerator papers!

What's a refrigerator paper?  It's a goofy thing I came up with many years ago that has been so well-received by my friends and their parents. 

Very simply, a refrigerator paper is a paper that shows me a friend's best effort.  It doesn't have to be an A paper, it doesn't even have to be a paper that was graded.  It is simply some assignment on which I noticed my friend had really done their best.  It could be that a student showed some real improvement or showed some great thinking.  It could be anything that I feel deserves a little recognition.

When I explain it to my friends, I tell them a refrigerator paper is work that is so good it deserves a spot right on the refrigerator for all to see.  I tell them it is so good, they need to make a long distance call to their great great grandma in Kalamazoo and tell her they got a  refrigerator paper.  It's a paper so good, they need to bring the dog over to the refrigerator and show the dog how great it is!  It's a paper so good, they need to get a flashlight and set up a spotlight on that refrigerator paper!  It's so good that if your family orders a pizza you might want to tell the delivery man about it! And, if their parents want to take out an ad in the local paper congratulating them on a refrigerator paper, that would be just fine!

Obviously I get really silly and over the top with my explanation, but that just builds the fun of getting the paper.  When I find a paper like this, I would simply write in big letters across the top, "REFRIGERATOR PAPER!!!" Honestly, when they get a refrigerator paper they get so excited.  I have had parents comment on how much they like it many times.  Their kids can't wait to tell them when they get one.  It's especially nice for the older crowd that thinks they are too cool to have a school paper on the refrigerator.  If I simply write the words refrigerator paper on the top, the cool factor goes right out the window.  They can't wait to put that thing on the fridge and take pride in their work.

From a teacher's point of view, I like refrigerator papers for many reasons.  Everyone, even your most needy student, can get a refrigerator paper.  If the paper is graded and they have done well, obviously I am going to make it a refrigerator paper.  But, it is not really about the grade. It's about the effort. For my friends who tend to struggle and not get very many high grades, it is a nice way to compliment something done well on an ungraded assignment.  Those parents especially like it because they don't often get to make a fuss over great work. 

It also allows me to compliment every student a few times throughout the year in an easy way.  I keep a class list in the back of my grade book.  When I give someone a refrigerator paper, I put a check next to their name.  I can see at a glance who might need a turn at getting one, so I then keep my eyes out for it.

Now, not every assignment will have refrigerator papers.  If you start doing this, I promise every time you return papers your friends will ask you if there were any refrigerator papers.  Lots of times I say, "There's lots of great work here, but I didn't look for refrigerator papers this time."  You want it to be something special, so if you do it too often the magic is lost. When I do it, I try to limit it to just 3 or 4 papers.  I also don't give it to every paper that gets 100.  In fact, I've had friends complain that they got a 100 just like Sally, but Sally got a refrigerator paper and they didn't.  I simply reiterate that it's not all about the grade.  In the same assignment I can have a variety of grades be refrigerator papers.

The other thing I like is that this is a no cost motivator.  Well, it was until I decided to order the stamp. :-)  But, it has worked for me for years by just writing it across the top of the paper using the same old pen I graded the paper with.  Nothing fancy needed.

So, that's my weird and fun little motivator. I am sure some of you out there are rolling your eyes and think it is ridiculous, but it works for me!  I've been doing it for years.  It's simple, takes no time to do, and gets great results.

So, what do you think?  Could this work for you?
What oddball things do you do to motivate your students?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Personalized Sticky Notes for Reading

I've been working with my small group friends on comprehension skills.  I know, who hasn't been doing that! :-)  One of the areas they needed a great deal of help with was monitoring their thinking as they read.  They would often just read through without any real understanding of what was happening in the text.  Or, they read on thinking they get it, yet when we discuss their reading they have significant misconceptions or have totally missed the important points of the text.  They simply did not self-monitor as they read. 

To help with this in their independent reading, we have been working on Stop! Think! Jot!  It is literally what it says.  Stop after reading a certain amount.  Think about what you are reading.  Do I understand what is going on?  Jot down a thought about it.

To begin, we worked on Stop! Think! Jot! as a tool to "check-in" with our mind to make sure we understand the text.  The "think" prompt was simply; Do I understand what is going on in this part?  Can I retell it in one or two sentences?  Those one or two sentences would be the Jot! part.  To help with this, I placed sticky notes in strategic spots in their independent reading books.  When they hit a sticky note, they had to jot down that one or two sentence retelling.  Having to put it in writing really stopped many of my friends in their tracks at first.  I would see them start to write, stop, put their pencil down, and go back to reread.  This shows me that they really didn't have full comprehension of their reading the first time. Most of my friends have improved tremendously with monitoring their understanding of the text.  Most now do it without the prompting of a sticky note.

We then moved on to making connections, asking questions, making predictions, or just noting our thoughts about the book, interesting words, etc.  In guided reading, I select the sections we read and where we stop to think and discuss.  However, when my friends are doing independent reading, they still need some guidance on when it is time to stop and think.  Even at this point in the school year. (insert sigh here) They are getting better, but  I still have a select few who will read through the text without ever stopping to think about the text.  I know that they are mentally stopping to "check-in" and make sure they understand, but then they just keep going.

Much like I did in the beginning of the year when we worked on monitoring comprehension, I strategically placed sticky notes in their independent reading books reminding them to jot down a thought.  I ended up writing a lot of sticky note reminders!  Now, I know there are tutorial and templates on how to print on sticky notes.  That link will take you to a great post on the blog Ladybug's Teacher Files that shows you just how to do it and includes templates.  I think that's great, but I have this fear of jamming my printer.  And honestly, I just don't want to print my own sticky notes. If you want to, great!  It just wasn't for me,  I needed a better way.

I ordered these personalized sticky notes from Vistaprint.  Vistaprint allows you to personalize just about anything for very reasonable prices.  The pic is a little fuzzy because I took it off a screen shot of my order form.
I created a sticky note that reminds my friends of exactly what they need to do and provides a spot to write the page number.  This is great for when we "write long" from a sticky.  I ordered ten pads of 50 notes each for $22.49.  Not a bad price for 500 personalized sticky notes.  They should last me a while as I only need them for a select few friends, don't overload their books with them, and use the printed notes to graduate them into doing it using their own blank sticky notes when they find a "sticky worthy" spot in their book.

This might be a good time to point out that while I do place these sticky notes in their books, it's important to just do a few.  My main goal is that they read with understanding.  If I overload their book with sticky notes it becomes more of a writing assignment.  It also steals some of the joy of reading. 

When I worked with my enrichment students, they would actually Stop! Think! Jot! to death.  I have  had some of my lower ability students do this as well.  Their books would look like a peacock in full plumage with sticky notes bursting out.  For them, one of the big lessons I would always do revolved around the idea that when everything is important, nothing is important. However, some of my friends this year still need the prompting that sticky notes placed by the teacher provides.

I love that Vistaprint allows you to personalize so many different things.  In the past, I have ordered thank you cards for my classroom, punch cards for rewards, and more.  In fact, with my sticky note order I also got something fun and motivating for my friends that I will share in another post.  By the way, Vistaprint is in no way sponsoring this post. They don't even know I exist other than to bill me and send me the goodies I order! :-)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Beanie Baby Centers

I was browsing around Goodwill a few weeks ago when I came across a table full of these.
A table full of Beanie Babies that were in super condition.  I think they must have been purchased by someone who collected them back when they were all the rage as opposed to a child because they really were in new condition. There were tons of them for just a dollar each.  On top of that, it was 50% off day, so I couldn't help but scoop a bunch up for just fifty cents each.  I immediately knew what I wanted to do with them and  went out and purchased a bunch of pencil bags from the dollar store.
I wanted to make some Beanie Baby center activities.  Tell me a stuffed animal is not a perfect way to trick engage your friends into doing a little work?  As I don't really have need for the centers this year, I've been sitting on this project for a few weeks.  However, I did work on a few and thought I would share.

This one is centered on creative writing.  It asks my friends to write a narrative telling about Rizzo Rooster's exciting and adventurous day.  The great thing about the Beanie Babies is that you can use them for any activity.  I think Rizzo would also be great for a description activity.  He is not your ordinary rooster!

Here's Rizzo tucked away in the pencil case.  I do think the fact that my friends can have that stuffed animal sit on their desk as they work will be motivating and fun.  And, possibly a distraction?  Maybe at first, but I predict overall it will work well in capturing the interest of my friends and motivate them to do the work.

Here's another.  This one includes two easier books I already had on the topic of penguins.  It asks my friends to identify some interesting facts and make a teaching poster.   If you have younger kids, have them read aloud to the stuffed animal.  Makes for great fluency practice.  My 5th graders, especially at this point in the year, think they are a bit too "cool" to read to a stuffed animal.  Insert eye roll here!
These books were a bit larger than the pencil cases I purchased, but they would fit in an over-sized pencil bag.  I just need to run out and grab a few.  Of course, a Ziplock bag would work just as well.

One more.  This one is a word making activity.  And, yes! I noticed the missing words in the second paragraph only after I uploaded this picture. I promise I will be fixing that before my friends get their hands on this it. :-)  Can you spot what I left out?

Those Beanie Babies are the perfect size for the pencil cases.  I also plan to laminate the task cards for durability.  Just place the Beanie Baby in the pencil case along with your task card, and your center is ready to go.  A basket full of these  is sure to grab their interest. I also love that you can change the task cards to do just about anything.  As I was working on the snake activity, I contemplated doing a math measurement center where they had to unroll the snake and measure it followed up with some other measuring tasks.

If you have some of those Beanie Babies stashed in a box somewhere, you might consider creating some centers with them.  If not, try the dollar store.  In the first picture, I did pick up the lady bug and skunk at the dollar store.  They probably won't be as durable as the Beanie Babies, but they are cute!

Update! (3/16/13)  I have been thinking about this project since I posted it and was thinking how it could be differentiated for your friends and/or provide some choice.  I'm a big believer in task choice, When your friends have a chance to pick what they can do, they usually are more engaged.  For choice, you can simply put more than one task card in each pencil case.  Students can then pick the task they would like to complete.  If you were looking to differentiate for different abilities, you could glue the task card on three different colored index cards.  Students can be assigned a color for center work, and when they take the center they complete the activity on their colored card. Just a thought!

Before I go, let me just apologize for the picture quality.  I can't seem to find my camera anywhere.  I think there is a black hole somewhere in my house because I've also recently lost my watch and eye glasses.  So, until I find my camera, we're going to have to suffer through with my iPhone pictures.  Sorry!

I should also mention that I'm still working on the blog design.  I am hopeful to really make some progress over our upcoming Spring Break.

By the way, if you have any ideas for centers for the other animals in that first picture, feel free to share!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

I'm in Purge Mode!

See this giant plastic portfolio? 
It is one of two that hold my literacy/writing posters.  In addition to one more literacy portfolio, I have five more for math, science, social studies, decoration, and a big ol' miscellaneous mess of stuff.  I've been stuffing posters into these portfolios for years.  The time has come to finally purge some of the posters that I just don't need anymore.

I began with one of my literacy portfolios today.  I took out each poster and started creating piles; writing, grammar, reading, etc.  These are just a few of the many piles.  You can't see the stacks I had on other desks and the floor. It was amazing how much was stuffed in that portfolio!

There was even a pile of posters I had made with my friends over the years. I seem to have saved (and even laminated) some my favorites.  Great, except that I tend to just remake them with my new friends every year instead of pulling out these.  Since they are some of my favorites, I snapped a picture of each and plan to make a section for them in my anchor chart binder  instead of hanging on to these hard copies.

Upon starting this task, my goal wasn't to just organize what I had but to purge what I no longer wanted or needed.  Teachers tend to save everything.  After all, you never know when you might need it! I'm no different.  However, in looking at my piles of posters, I knew there were many I hadn't used in several years and it was time to purge.  I began by following some simple rules and asking a few questions. . .

Is this an effective teaching tool?
I don't know about you, but put me in a teacher's store and I get giddy!   My love of teacher's stores is only rivaled by my love of office supply stores! But, those teacher stores have a special place in my heart.  I love the borders, the posters, and all the doodads you find there.Since I seem to fall into this glaze-eyed euphoria every time I go in, I've been know to buy a poster of two because they are just so darn cute.  Those are just  the fun, decorative posters and signs.  

But, what about those we purchase to teach or reinforce content?  I've bought many, many posters simply because the content fits what I am teaching.  Oh, teaching a unit on persuasive writing?  Wow, this persuasive writing poster shows different ways to structure the argument!  I'm buying it! And, laminating it! And, hanging it up right away!  STOP!  This is where we really need to think.  That poster may say what you want it to say, but is it an effective teaching tool for your friends?    Below is one of those posters that I had to take second look at.  Is this poster an effective teaching tool?  In my opinion, no.  It is not.

Take a look at the same poster from just five feet away.  Not so effective. Too much information, too tiny a print, and too hard to see.  Do you really think the child who sits in the middle of the classroom sees anything beyond some colored blocks?
Everything that hangs in your room should have a specific purpose.  Think about what the poster is for. Are you using it to be a reference tool for all to use?  Is it for the whole class to use from their seats?  Then it needs to be fairly uncluttered and have larger print.  Is it to hang next to a center station where your friends can get a closer look?  Then, maybe a smaller poster with more print is appropriate.  Is it kid friendly?  I think this is actually one of the most important questions to ask.  Step back and look at it through the eyes and age of your students.  I think when you do you will be surprised at how many "teaching" posters are actually not so kid friendly.  They may look cute, but are often overloaded with content or so decorative the purpose is lost.   Ask yourself if the content presented in a way that is visually uncluttered yet appealing and easily understandable to your friends.  For an effective teaching tool, you have to be able to answer yes.

Can I re-purpose it?
I'm embarrassed to say I did hang that part of speech poster in my classroom for a few years early on in my teaching.  Looking at it now, I know it didn't do much for anyone.  There is still life for this poster, though.  I cut it up into the different boxes and am planning to make some grammar based center activities with them.  Each one becomes a great reference card, easily hand-held or kept on a desk, to use with the activity.  Then, it becomes an effective teaching tool.

I also had a laminated poster which showed two cause/effect graphic organizers, and I just never used it.  This poster was also re-purposed when I cut the two organizers out and put them in a folder along with an article from Scholastic News.  It become another center activity that allows my friends to use a dry erase marker and a colorful graphic organizer to identify cause and effect. Sure, I could have just put a photocopy of the organizers in the folder.  But, we all know how much our friends love those dry erase markers.  Just that simply, re-purposing these organizers in this way upped the interest level for this activity.

Could someone else use this?
Give It Away!  As I was sorting, I made a pile of posters that were still in good shape, but I knew I wouldn't be using.  Posters I might have hung in my room years ago are not necessarily posters I would find useful in my room today.  Over the years, our teaching style evolves. Just as our students grow as learners, we grow as teachers.  Materials that might have fit my teaching style before just don't cut it now.  

However, that doesn't mean it won't be a perfect fit for another teacher. I had these great genre posters for many years.  They are still in great condition, not faded, and visually engaging.  While they aren't good for my classroom, they are perfect for our school  library.  I quickly gathered them up and took them down to our media specialist.

It's also nice to make materials like this available to those new teachers with limited supplies and funds. There may also be teacher new to the grade level that are in need of materials.  With that in mind, I created a pile of posters that I put in the teacher's lounge with a sign encouraging anyone to take anything they might want.  

When in Doubt, Throw it Out!
No, really!  I mean it!  THROW IT OUT!   In going through my pile, I kept an eye out for any poster that was faded, torn, stained, littered with stapler holes, or just too raggedy looking.  It wasn't easy because some were loved posters that I didn't want to get rid of.  However, did I want to hang something in my room that looked raggedy?  No!  I took a picture of a couple of posters that I plan to either repurchase or make myself, and then tossed the rest.  It may not be the most economical answer, but I know me.  I would only see the messy parts every time I looked at the poster and it would irritate me to no end.  A little nuts, I know! 

Finally, remember that curriculum changes as do the grades and populations we teach. If you've changed grade levels over the years, you probably also have materials you haven't used in a while.   I know I had posters from the content areas that cover subjects I haven't taught in years.  I could hang on to them forever just in case I teach it again sometime.  But, to be honest I just don't have the storage space or really want to store all that extra stuff.  So, all those rules above still apply!  Do I need it?  Is it too raggedy to keep?  Is it an effective teaching tool? If I do teach this again, would this be something I would want to hang up?   It just may be that the give away pile or the recycle bin are options to seriously consider.

As for me, one portfolio purged and only six more to go!  
How often do you purge materials in your classroom?