Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rub-A-Dub-Dub, Math in a Tub!

Our district uses the Everyday Math  program. I think it is sometimes also referred to as Chicago Math.  I like it.  It is more rigorous than our previous math series, but there are some gaps in the program that would stop me from saying I love it. Just a personal opinion.  Nevertheless, it is a program that requires my friends to have a variety of materials available to them everyday, no pun intended!

There are 24 friends in my class this year, sitting at four tables of six.  I have set up one tub for each table which are stored in a cubby in the front of the room.
Each table has a "Math Captain" who is responsible for getting the tubs and debs at the start of each period.  Tubs being the blue bins and debs is our shorthand for the dry erase boards that sit under each tub.  It's a silly thing, but it is so much easier to say, "Use your deb" rather than saying, "Use your dry erase board." And, yes, I know I should be writing it D.E.B.

So, what is in the tubs? 
  • First, we have a cup with red and blue pens and pencils.  This group needed a restock on pencils.  All three are used in the program, and I have learned to pick my battles.  My friends are required to have their own blue and red pen and pencils, but you know how that goes.  There's always someone who doesn't have something.  Rather than make it an issue, I keep extras in each tub.  It's easier for me to just provide extras than harangue them about not having what they are supposed to.
  • Next, there are some eraser cloths for their dry erase boards.  Over the years, I have learned that this is a much more cost effective and functional eraser than the regular black block erasers.  These last forever and when they get a bit grungy I just bring them home and throw them in the washer.  They come out clean and work like new.
  • Everyday Math comes with special decks of number cards that my friends use often.  Usually, if they are working in teams they will need more than one set.  Even if they are only using on set per a pair, they sit three pairs at a table.  This means I have three identical sets of cards out that can't be mixed up.  Can you see the problem?   It would be impossible to expect ten and eleven year olds to not get them mixed up occasionally.  To prevent the mix-up, I took all my cards home and marked each set with a different color or color symbol.  I also purchased soap cases at the dollar store to keep each set in.  I marked the case with the symbol that is on the deck of cards in the case.
I have three decks of cards in each tub.  The trick is to make sure the colors are not similar at each table so that my friends can easily identify which deck a lost or mixed-up card belongs in.  When I ran out of colors, we went to check marks of different colors.  It really has helped to keep the decks organized. 

  • Everyday Math also come with a blue template for each friend.  There is one for each friend in the tub.  My district does not like us to send these home, but that's a little hard when some of the homework or test review materials require the use of the template.  My students each have a number, so I numbered each template in the corner.  This way, each students is responsible for their template.  So, yeah, I do send them home on occasion.
The templates are pretty cool.  They have a half and full circle protractor, a percent circle, a metric ruler, a standard ruler, all the geometric shapes and pattern blocks, and can act as a compass.  If we ever switch programs, I'm planning to hold on to these!
  •  The last couple of things I keep in the tubs are a calculator for each student and two baggies with different colored cubes.  The cubes come in handy for some of the math games played in the program.
So that's how I keep my friends organized and ready to go for Math.  At the beginning of the period, the Math Captain get the tubs and debs for their table, and at the end of the period is responsible for gathering all the materials and returning them to the cubby.  Every month we change captains.

How do you organize for math?  Do you use tubs?  If so, what's in your tub?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Do you know the game Blurt!?  It is a great vocabulary game.  I'm going to tell you a bit about the game, then I'm going to tell you how I modified it to play with specific vocabulary and how to play without having the actual game.

Blurt! is a vocabulary game where your friends are given a definition.  The first person to call out the correct vocabulary word gets to move their playing piece that many spaces on the board.  The first person to go around the board once wins.  This is the game I have.  I picked it up at Goodwill over the summer for $1.99 thinking it would be a fun center activity for my friends.

I went online to see if the game was available, and it seems Amazon has a new edition of the game available.
Both editions come with a junior version for your younger friends and a more advanced version for your upper elementary friends. 

To play the regular version, you roll the dice and the reader reads the clue on that number. 1, 2, and 3 definitions are supposed to be easier than 4, 5, and 6.  However, I think it just depends on your schema.  Your friends then blurt out what they think the word is until someone gets it correct.  Here are a few of the cards from the older version of the game.  Sorry about the gaps between pictures, can't seem to get rid of them.

On the back of the cards are blue definitions.  This is for playing the junior version.  

The junior version is different in that the teacher reads the definition and your friends have to write the correct word rather than blurt it out loud.  If they get the correct word and it is spelled correctly, they move four spaces.  If they get the correct word but it's spelled incorrectly, they move three spaces.  Wrong word doesn't move.  To be honest, I've played it this way with my older friends and it works.

This is what the cards look like in the newer version.  I think one side is regular version and the other is junior version as in the older game, but it looks like there are three levels of difficulty now rather than two.

I can tell you that after playing the game for just a few minutes in class, I could easily tell who had a large vocabulary and who didn't.  It was also very interesting to hear the words they blurted out.  I don't think they realized how many synonyms they knew for different words.

So, you know I can't leave well enough alone. I had to figure out how to modify this game for my friends.

Instead of using the cards provided, I took the vocabulary words we have used to date and made our own cards.  Actually, I have Word documents with vocabulary for different subjects saved.  I just printed those out and cut them into strips, and we used those.  I put half in a jar for 1, 2, 3 and the other half in a jar for 4, 5, and 6.  This allowed my friends to review, even preview, some vocab they need them to know.

I've also taken the concept of the game to teach word choice.  We randomly picked a card and wrote down all the words my friends blurted out.  As I noted earlier, they are really surprised at the number of synonyms they know for words.  We then talked about which were stronger for writing and which words fit certain situations better.  I did it for about four words.  Just the fact that they got to yell out words got them immediately engaged.  There are also more options in the directions for things like Challenges and Takeovers, but I'm just sort of giving you the basics here.

Then, I started to think about how to play if you didn't have the game board or just didn't want to drag it out.  The game board is essentially a square of squares.  Yeah, that makes sense!  Check out the picture.
You could easily just use a paper with squares or another game board you may have.  Or, you could play without a board.  Just roll a die and whoever gets the word correct gets that many points.  Set a point goal and whoever reaches it wins.  If you use your own vocab words, you wouldn't need the game at all.

However, I do recommend this game.  It is a lot of fun.  I even had two parents contact me earlier this month asking where I got it because two of my friends asked to get it for Christmas.  If that's not an endorsement, I don't know what is!  I would issue one warning.  I originally bought the game thinking it would be good for a center activity.  Not so much.  Blurt! can get a little loud.  It seems to inspire some very enthusiastic play!  However, if you have them write the word as in the junior version, it will work as a center activity just fine.

By the way, the Blurt! people have no idea I'm reviewing this game.  It is just my thoughts on a fun and educational game.  I wanted to post about it because I'm always looking for educational games that are worth playing.  Many times educational equals boring, and my friends hate the game.  In this case, educational equals fun and they love it!   So, what do you think of Blurt!?

Update 2/16/14:  I came across another blogger, Jen at Hello Mrs. Sykes, that wrote a great blog post about Blurt! Check out her awesome blog for her take on the game. :-)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Some School Gift Giving

I hope everyone had a very merry yesterday.  As promised, I'm back to blogging today.  It's so nice to have the time off to be able to do this in the middle of the day.  I usually blog at night, posting before I go to bed.  When do you find time to blog?

I thought today I would share what I gave my friends for the holidays.  I'm very lucky to have very generous parents over the years.  My friends usually contribute to a very nice class gift and then some will still bring in an additional small gift.  One of the perks of being in an elementary school!  I don't take it for granted, and always appreciate it.  In return, I like to give my friends something as well.  What kid doesn't like getting a surprise gift?  What adult for that matter?

This year, I put together a small gift bag.  I stuck with a snowman theme as it fit everyone.

What's inside the bag?  Well, let's take a look!
  • We had some Snowman Soup packets. 

All you need is a packet of hot chocolate mix, 3 Kisses, a candy cane, and a handful of mini-marshmallows.  Put it all in a packet and slap the Snowman Soup poem on the bag.  I was inspired to make these after I saw them on the blog  However, she makes her own cocoa mix.  That so wasn't happening here!  I used good old instant mix packets, and all those ingredients above turn into Snowman Soup!

I wish I could post these pictures next to each other, but Blogger is being a punk today!  Sometimes it will let me, then other days it doesn't!

  • Next, we had snowman cupcakes.  These were inspired by a picture I found on Pinterest from the blog  I didn't follow her recipe and tweaked the decorations a bit, but I think they came out pretty close to hers.
These didn't actually go in the gift bag.  I had planned to put them in.  You can put the cupcake in a clear plastic cup and then put the cup in one of those little baggies I used for the Snowman Soup.  It would have worked but I made the cupcakes a bit too big, so they didnt' fit in the cups I had. 

Luckily, I have a gazillion of those plastic muffin holders.  I had ordered a case on Ebay. They were really cheap, and are really a great thing to have on hand.   Each friend got a container to put their muffin in and any other goodies they wanted to take home. It works perfectly because they can snap the lid and nothing gets smooshed or falls out.  I actually use these plastic containers for all kinds of school stuff.  It's great for holding paint, sorting items, and of course storing cupcakes! 

  • This is my favorite thing to put in their bag.  It's a homemade book certificate for a Scholastic book.
Now, Scholastic does offer a coupon that you can buy.  I just find it easier to make my own.  The coupon is good for a book from any upcoming Scholastic order, up to $4.  It actually doesn't cost me anything because I use my points to order the books.  I usually use the points to order books for our class library, but this works too.  Either way, I'm getting books in my friends' hands!  I wrote up a little note, put a coupon form at the bottom, and printed it on some snowy theme paper I had.  Don't ask me why I took two pictures of the top and bottom instead of just one of the whole thing.  I have no idea!

Can I tell you how long it is taking me to write this post? 
 Blogger keeps freezing on me!  Arghhhhh!!!!

  • Finally, I threw a few other items in the bag, and we were done.  I added some candy canes, a highlighter, a holiday pencil and a holiday eraser.  I also threw in the last of the lollipops from my lollipop tree.  It was starting to look a little sad after most of the lollipops were gone.

So, that is what I gave my friends this year.  It was a bit labor intensive, but it was fun to do.  With the exception of the cupcakes, everything else can be made well in advance.  The bags were a big hit with my friends, and I'm happy to report that while they loved the cupcakes, the book coupon was the favorite!

I also made a quick homemade treat for my grade level colleagues.  I got a recipe for Cinnamon Toast White Chocolate Pretzels from the blog  The link will take you right to the recipe. This is an amazing blog that has something for everyone.  I have made her recipe for these pretzels for two years now, and they are always a huge hit.  They really are quick and easy to make. Also, did I mention that they are addictive?  You really just can't stop eating them!  You can leave them plain or add sprinkles.  I added some Christmas sprinkles in honor of the holidays.
Over the summer, I had purchased a case of half-gallon Ball jars.  They were the perfect containers for the pretzels.  I just printed up a label for the top and threw some ribbons around each jar.

These were another big hit.  In fact, I always have people asking me to make these.  Really.  Go Make These Now! Thanks again to Leigh Anne at Your Home Based Mom!

Well, that was my school gift giving this year.  It was a lot of fun to do.  I really think the saying, "Tis better to give than receive" is true.  It always makes me happy to see the smile on a person's face when you've done something to make their day just a little nicer.

By the way, based on Blogger's behavior today, it would so not be getting a treat bag!  Now it won't let me preview the post before publishing!  Oh well, if you see an error, know I tried to catch it!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Running Out of Time to Be Festive!

Hi All!  It's Christmas Eve, and I am soooooooo not ready!  It's been a week without any posting for me. Really sorry about that.  It just sort of happened.  This last week of school has been one of the busiest I've had in years.  I kept meaning to get to a post, but there was paper grading, lesson plan making, cookie baking, Christmas shopping, decorating, and merry making to be had.  I promise to be back on Monday with some new posts.  Here is some of what I have in the works for next week:
  • A great vocabulary game that can be played across many grade levels
  • The holiday gift bag I put together for my friends this year.  I now, a little late but it might give you an idea or two for next year.
  • A "Response" post to all the great comments that have been coming in on some of my older posts.
  • Organizing for Math
I had originally planned these post for this past week, but time just got away from me.  Having next week off should give me plenty of time to get my act together. 

As for today, we celebrate Christmas Eve in a big way, so I still have a ton to do today before we leave for a relative's home.  Then, tomorrow I am having all the family over for Christmas dinner.  I still have gifts to wrap and potatoes to peel!

So, I'm going to wish everyone a Merry Christmas! 
And if you aren't a Christmas person, have a happy and healthy!!!! 
I will see you all after Christmas on the 26th.

Had to leave you with some Elf!  Love that movie!

Friday, December 16, 2011


I have a couple important questions to ask and would seriously appreciate your feedback.

1.  Reader's Workshop:  If you use a reader's workshop model for instruction in your district, how was the curriculum presented to you?  Did you get the direct instruction only and were asked to come up with your own lessons?  Were you given completed lessons to follow?  Were you allowed to deviate from the lessons to make them your own?  I'm wondering what you were given, in hand, from your district as far as a reading curriculum based on a workshop approach.

2.  Words Their Way:  Does anyone use this in their upper elementary classroom?  I sort of love it, but I'm wondering how other upper elementary teachers work it.

Please, please, please take a minute to respond if you can.  Or, if you have a blog and have posted on either of these topics, please comment with the link.  I will be tremendously thankful.
Thank you!!!!!!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

You're a Heart Breaker!

Anybody else singing the Pat Benatar song besides me?  I know, I'm dating myself!

Anyway, Heart Breakers is the name of the review game I play with my friends.  All you need are some cutout hearts and a pocket chart.  I have these pretty heart cutouts.

I got them at Lakeshore Learning Center, but I'm not linking to them because I don't see them on their web site anymore.  Almost every teacher store has heart shaped cutouts, but if you can't find them near you I did find some here.

To prep for Heart Breakers, you take some of the hearts and write assorted point values on the back. You can make the points as large and crazy as you want or keep them simple.  As you can see, I go for large and crazy!  You can even have fun points like "take all the points from another team."

Here is where Heart Breakers gets its name.  A few of the cards are heart breakers. 
I think you can see why.

Next, mix up all the cards and put them, red side out, in a pocket chart so that the points are hidden.  Be sure to place them randomly so the heart breaker cards are mixed around.  Of course, I forgot to take a picture of them in the pocket chart, but you can imagine what it looks like.  Sometimes, if my pocket charts aren't up, I will just scatter them on my meeting carpet.  It's okay because I have lots of helpers to pick them up when we are done!

To play Heart Breakers, you can put your friends in teams.  Each team is asked a review question.  They get a minute to confer, come to a consensus, and then give their answer.  This part is important so that the answer is a team answer and no one child is blamed if it's not right.   If they get the question correct, they get to take a heart.  It's that easy.  The teams keep track of their score, adding them up as they go.  Or, if you get a heart breaker heart, subtracting points!

My friends love to play this game.  I like it because it is quick and easy to set up.  Once you have the cards written, you have them forever.  It's a review game that works for any subject.  I generally have my friends keep their notebook on their desk so if they hear a question they don't know the answer to they write it down and know it's one to study up on.  Another plus is the math.  There is some serious addition, subtraction, and sometimes division going on during this game. 

That's Heart Breakers! 
Try it.  I promise your friends will love it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Who Needs Oprah?!!

Every December, I get together with a group of girlfriends for a "My Favorite Things" Party.  It's a form of Oprah's favorite things without the Oprah.  We set a limit of $25 and bring a basket of our favorite things.  Then, we number each bag.  One by one we pick a number, and that's the basket you get.  As you open your gift bag/basket, the maker of the basket explains each item and tells why it's their favorite thing.  Let me tell ya, you find out a lot about your friends at this kind of party!

So, having just been to the party a couple of weeks ago, I got to thinking about what some of my favorite things are in my classroom.  What are the things that make me smile, make life a little bit easier, or just fit a need perfectly?  I went around my classroom yesterday and took some pictures of my favorite things.  You won't find any raindrops and roses here, but a bunch of stuff I like.  I don't claim they will change your life, but they make me happy!

If possible, I've linked to where I purchased the items.
So, without further ado, here are a few of my favorite (school) things!

Collapsing Baskets

I love these baskets.  They are from the dollar store, which is a good thing considering how many I have bought over the years!  What I love about them is that they are collapsible.  The ones I'm not using stack neatly on a shelf saving so much space.  For a dollar, they are pretty sturdy.   And, they come in bright primary colors.  Sadly, I only ever see them right before school starts.  I'm sort of addicted because I always buy more even if I don't need them.

Giant Fun Paperclips
These are another dollar store find.  These clips are huge.  Here's a picture with a pencil for some perspective.
These are great for marking your place in those big teacher's guides they give us.  I also use them in workbooks to keep my place.  The tops are made of some sort of soft-ish rubber.  That's the part that sticks right out of the top of the book.  My favorite is the one that says, "World's Best Grandpa" because it always makes my friends laugh.  I just tell them,"Yes, I am the worlds greatest grandpa!"

Subject Binder Clips
I saw these in Lakeshore Learning and bought both sets.  These aren't all that come in the sets.  One set is all school subjects while the other set is task oriented stuff like make copies.  I don't see them on the Lakeshore site, but you really don't need to buy these.  They are super easy to make.  In the past, I've made them to hold my state testing materials.  I made them hot pink so I could easily see it when it was in a file folder.  Just print out what you want them to say on three small slips of paper and tape it on.  

My Stolen Music Stand!
Okay, I admit it.  This is a sort of stolen item.  I asked the custodian if there were any spare music stands in the building one day a few years back, and he brought me one.  It was black, dirty, and ugly.  The crafty me took it home, spray painted it a kicky blue, and ta da!  It was only after the fact that I found out it wasn't an extra, however since I had painted it blue the music teachers could no longer use it and I got to keep it!
This is truly one of my favorite things!  I'm not much of a sitter in the classroom so this makes a great place to rest my materials as I'm teaching.  It raises and lowers, so it's perfect for my friends.  We  use it as a podium for author's celebrations. It's also easy to move around, nice and light weight.  I'm so glad I painted it blue!

Thank You Cards
I ordered these cards from after seeing them on another teacher blog.  If you don't know Vistaprint, go visit.  They offer lots of free printable items where you only have to pay shipping.  These are postcards with envelopes.  As a teacher, you know we write tons of thank you notes.  These are perfect!  You can design the front to say anything you want, so they don't have to be thank you cards.  You could use them as "good job" post cards for your friends or anything else you can think of.

Poly Folders
I use these for absolutely everything.  I will throw papers I need to grade with a pen in one for easy transporting.  I like that I can see right through them and see exactly what's inside.  I sometimes keep work of different subjects in separate folders.  And, much like my MacGyver-Like Storage Solution  these are easily hole-punched on the accordion side and slipped into a binder for extra storage.  I order mine from School Specialty Catalog with my school order every year, but I know you can always get them at Staples.

A Lovely Pencil Holder
What can I say?  I like pretty!  This cup sits on my desk to hold all my pens, markers, scissors, etc.  And, it's HUGE!  It holds a ton as you can see.  Perhaps the best part, besides the fact that it is pretty, is this. . .

I'll take pretty for $3.99 any day!

Magazine Storage Boxes
I wrote about these and linked to them in this post.  They are from Ikea.  At first, I was worried they wouldn't be sturdy enough to last, but no problems so far.  One of the things I did was to put a strip of book tape on the bottom of each box for extra support.    My friends use them to store their reading books, and I have a set behind my meeting table for my guided reading groups.  Can you tell they got to select the name of their group? :-)  I love these because they are colorful, pretty durable, and super cheap.

Mr. Sketch Scented Markers

Oh my golly!  Do I love these!  They write nicely. The colors are bright and they smell yummy.  It's all I can do to not sniff them as I write with them.  Trust me, if my friends weren't sitting in front of me, I would be sniffing away.  Thank goodness they are non-toxic!  Also, when I come home with multicolored hands from writing anchor charts, it washes off.  Amazon has them, but you can get them almost everywhere around my area.

Picture Book Stand

Hold on to your shorts, because you won't believe the deal I got on this.  I went in to my local Goodwill, and there it was.  Just waiting for me.  In perfect condition.  I didn't even look at the price.  I just grabbed the clerk and had him haul it to the register for me.  It was a whopping $6.99!  Wait!  It gets better!  It was half off, so I only paid $3.50 for it!  I still get happy just thinking about it!  The funny thing was the Goodwill clerks had no idea what it was.  I had to explain that it was used to store big books.  I then had to explain what big books were.  Sometimes I forget that I don't live in a world where everyone is a teacher. ;-)  By the time I was explaining my plan to  use it for picture books, they had lost interest. 

So, those are just a few of my favorite things.  There are so many more I could add, but I'm sure you get the idea.  If you have a blog, I hope you do a favorite things post.  If you do, leave a comment on this post so we can check it out.  I would love to hear what your favorite things are.

Tomorrow, I have a post about a fun review game that can be used for any subject.  See you then!

(By the way, I usually post at night Eastern time,
so when I say tomorrow don't look for the new post too early!)