Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Workshop Wednesday- Writing

Happy Wednesday!  Yay, the middle of the week is here....hump day.... :)  I'm thrilled that this week is going much better and faster than last week, however I could do without the polar vortex returning.... AGAIN!  Looks like another couple of days of indoor recess for us.  You warm weather bloggers need to start sharing the wealth. I'm ready for SPRING {and so are the kids!}  I'm linking up for the first time with Ideas By Jivey for the weekly 'Workshop Wednesday' linky party!  It's on writing this week, and I'm so excited that I feel like I have something to link up with!  Be sure to stop by the blog to check out what others are doing.

Writing is something that I feel I always am changing and improving in my classroom.  It's the one thing that I never feel satisfied with, but always enjoy finding new things to incorporate.  I feel very fortunate to be working in a school that does value the teaching of writing, and making sure our kids write everyday!  I'm a part of our school writing committee, and have been since I started working here 7 years ago.  I have to admit that it has changed directions several times in those 7 years, but always for the better.  We're always trying to find new and exciting things to do and teach with one another so we're all on the same page.  I've really learned some great things from them and others.  Although this isn't my tip.... I would highly suggest getting involved in a writing committee at your school or talk to others about how they teach it.  Even across grade levels, it's so important to see where students are coming from and where they are going.  I've been trying to get to my co-worker Jennifer's room for weeks now, with little luck... however I know I'll get to her eventually and I can't wait to see her writing circles.  Check out what she's been up to here at Mrs. Laffin's Laughings. I get a lot of great ideas from her, so would like to give credit!!! :)

My tip for writing would be to keep it interesting and different.  I run my classroom in centers for language arts.  Even though I have a specific writing block each day where we are working on writing projects, I try to incorporate many different things into my writing centers, especially where students get the chance to work independently.  I like to change it up and give students the opportunity to write in a number of ways and feel like they are free to express themselves in the writing that they do.  I don't always tell them what they have to write, because where is the fun in that?  Sometimes I guide them or give them specifics, but I want them to want to write.  (A movie quote is coming to mind here.... don't ask me why because that usually isn't my thing.  In the Breakup where Jennifer Aniston wants Vince Vaughn to want to do the dishes... anyone anyone??? I digress)....

Some examples of changing it up and keeping it different for students at the writing center are:

Seasonal Activities-

I will set my read alouds up for different activities using the 6 traits. They are usually small activities, but I will read a book and then pick a trait to focus on.  For example, using this book: Wee Can Write: Using 6+1 trait writing strategies with renowned Children's Literature, I will pick a book to share with students.  For Winter I may read Owl Moon, and focus on voice.  After reading, we will talk about the three main characters in Owl Moon (the father, the child and the owl) and then in their journals they will draw one of the characters and then write sentences describing that character and their traits.

Letter writing or prompts for writing letters-

We will write letters to our buddies, or teachers in the school and the kids love it.  We address and deliver so they practice all aspects of writing a letter.  Other time I'll put out some letter writing prompts for them to write to other people.  Here are a sample of a few prompts.
I also put out stationary paper and different letter writing paper options that change for holidays and seasons. They sure love playing with letter writing materials! Here are examples of some of the prompts that I use when they are told who to write to.

Sticker Stories-

I shared these in a blog awhile ago, but I LOVE sticker stories. For an explanation check out this past blog post on writing sticker stories.  Students get so creative when it comes to making a picture around a sticker and then writing a fun story to go along with it. I don't do these every week, or even every month, but when I do it always gets students writing!


If students want to write about their own topic then they can, and if they don't want me to read it because it's personal they fold the paper in half when they hand in their journal.  If not, I respond to their journal writing.  Sometimes they get stuck so I put a prompt up for them to follow and then write a story about the prompt. I found this really great website for different writing prompt ideas.  Check it out here: CanTeach.

Memory Books-

Our grade level orders memory books for each student for the school year.  We try to write one memorable thing that we do in 3rd grade each month.  It's fun to allow students to be given a topic and a picture of them doing something and then have them write about it.  We use main idea/detail graphic organizers, and I always write in my memory book first to show some examples and think alouds on the topic.  At the end of the year, we sit in a circle and write something nice to each student from the year and then they get to take them home on the last day.  It's so much fun to have them write about what they are doing in this journal/diary format.  They love their memory books and it really helps us stay on top of all that we've accomplished through the year.

Here is an example of our writing from Thanksgiving time.  Instead of a picture of themselves, they make a 'Thankful Turkey' out of tracing their hand! :)

Here is just a small sample of what we do to change up our writing and give us many opportunities to write! What do you do to motivate students to write?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Peek at my Week 2.24.13

Happy Sunday Blog World!! I have been out of commission for the past week and one thing that I made myself NOT do was open any of my blogging sites.  It's not because I don't love them, trust me it's quite the opposite, but I really needed to take some time this week.  Baby and I are fine, but we had a scare earlier in the week that had me in and out of the hospital.  We're not entirely sure what's going on, but my blood pressure is the main culprit.  So I really had to take it easy and step back from all of my extra stuff this week. I'm hoping for an uneventful last week of February, as I bring in my birthday on March 1 (come on spring!!!!)  and also hoping for a lot of blogging!!!! 

I'm linking up with my co-worker, Jennifer and her weekly linky party 'A Peek at My Week' to share what I've got going on.  Be sure to check out her blog and what others have posted! It really has helped me get organized for the week ahead.

This week.....  
This week in math we're really spending a lot of time shifting gears to focus on subtraction methods.  Last week we were successful.  We started using proof drawings to check our subtraction.  

Then as the week goes on, we will slowly get away from drawing the pictures and use addition to relate to the subtraction problems and it looks a lot like what we did with the relationship between multiplication and division!  

We will end the week with multi-step word problems involving both addition and subtraction. 

This week we are wrapping up our poetry unit.  The kids have LOVED learning about poetry and reading/writing different kinds of poetry.  We end the unit with a poem presentation & fluency project. Students are given a poem that I choose for them. I tape record them reading the poem on a cold run. They watch their poem and we come up with what they should practice on.  They then take their poetry toolbox from all of our previous poems that we've read and decide what elements from their toolbox to add to their own poem.  They pick what kind of rate they will say their poem, their volume and their voice. They will also add an element like a pause or bold/italic word of their own to make the poem of their own.   They then practice their poem all week and present it to the class on Friday. Some get really into it and dress in costume or make a cute background to go along with their poem. Here are just a few of my favorite poems that students will be reciting! I love Kenn Nesbitt's poetry, and the students think that the goofier the poems the better.  You can access some great resources online here at

Writing- We will continue our focus on non-fiction reading and writing together.  This week we're really hoping for students to be able to put together their own paragraphs about a topic that they have read about independently.  We've really been working hard together on this, so let's hope I have some great things to share at the end of the week!

I hope everyone has a great last week of February!!!  What do you think March will come in like? A lion or a lamb?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Spark Student Motivation- Bentin Bucks

Hey there!  Back again to link with Joanne from Head Over Heels for Teaching for her weekly linky: Spark Student Motivation Saturday!  

I apologize ahead of time for the wordy post... not too many pictures to share, just an explanation!  I use Bentin Bucks in my room that students can earn and yes can lose and it's been the best behavior system that I've ever used!

There isn't a ton of money in our common core curriculum for third grade, so my team and I have all adapted some sort of money system in our classrooms to get students using money. I start each year off with students getting $25 for their bank accounts.  Then each day students can earn $5 Bentin Bucks for completing their homework.  Everything has to be done in order to earn the money.  So they can earn $25 a week just for doing their job.  I also hand out money (I keep a stash in my pocket, or up by the board at all times) when I see students following directions, working really hard, or doing what they should be doing without being asked!  They can earn $1 for each 100% that they get on an AR quiz, or for being a lifelong learner-  they participate and try to answer and pose questions in class. (Sometimes I even hand out a higher dollar amount if I notice that one or two students are really going above and beyond with behavior or academics.....)  

I also charge for things to get them used to making change.  They owe me money at the end of the week for 'rent' of their school materials (desk, chairs, books, computers, etc.)  It's not a large amount of money but it's an odd amount.  They own me $12.33 for these items.  It helps them budget their money, and also then they have to make change when they don't have a bill that is worth $12.33 ....(Trust me at the beginning of the year several students don't get that!  They think that they can't pay for something with $20 that is worth less because they don't have exact change!!!)  They also owe me money for having to leave the room during learning time to use the bathroom.  We take several trips during the day for a break or to a special and we always take a bathroom break before or after.  So if they have to leave it's $8.00 each time.  Yes expensive, but it really takes away from the potty parade!!!! We have a huge discussion about what to do if it's an emergency and that I will ALWAYS let them use the restroom--- they just can't abuse the system!

If students aren't doing what they need to be doing or making bad choices, they owe me a Bentin Buck (or more if it's necessary).  This is a huge range of things from talking loudly in the hallway, or not being on task during center time when I'm working with small groups.  Yes I do have to take money, usually not a lot, but there is one or two a day--- but once they have to give me a Bentin Buck, 9 times out of 10 they will fix whatever the problem is and I won't have to worry about it again. 

I've been using this for 3 years now, and I have to say it's been a great way to incorporate money, saving, spending and also having fun. I open up a Bentin Store where they can purchase goodies with their money once a month or once every other month.  I have just little trinkets that I have collected from clearance bins or garage sales.  I also have a sheet of things that they can buy that don't cost me money (lunch with a teacher, extra computer time, stay in at recess and play a board game with your teacher and a friend, classroom pj party, pizza party, etc. etc. etc. ...) I let the students make the list at the beginning of the year!  

Anyone else do sometime similar??? :)  Have a happy weekend!

{A Late} Five for Friday---

Happy Weekend all!  I am late to the party this week, but still wanting to share, as I had a really great week.  It was a long one with late night conferences on Thursday night and V-Day on Friday... also not to mention I'm back to my 1st trimester feelings again of needing a nap right after school and not feeling the greatest.... so that's something to look forward to for the last 2 and 1/2 months..... but we won't dwell on that!! :)  It's all for a great cause.

Today I'm linking up with Doodle Bugs Teaching for the weekly linky party: Five For Friday! I just love reading through all of the blog posts from this linky and hope you all had a great week.

A few weeks ago, while reading blog posts, Joanne from Head Over Heels for Teaching wrote about some motivating things to get her students reading.  I really loved her idea of using an estimation jar, to have students take guesses on how many items were inside to after each reading quiz they took.  Check out her post here.  I took a slight different spin on this, but with Valentine's Day this week, I set up with the help of an ESL aide that works in my classroom---- 5 different estimation jars.  Each day students had the chance to guess the number of items in a jar, and then win its contents.  The last day, Valentine's Day was the BIG jar, and was filled with a special Valentine Day treat. 

The cool thing was to have students figure out in various ways how to split the jars up when there was a tie.  We had a tie 3 of the 5 days!  They were really great at problem solving.  Although some of our guesses were WAY off, it was pretty amazing after all of the rounding and estimating we were doing in class how many of the students were getting the hang of it.  I'm for sure going to continue doing this! Thanks for the great idea, Joanne.

In math this week we talked about various addition strategies to use.  We reviewed the 'old' way with students on regrouping above and then introduced the show all totals method, and the regroup below method.  A lot of my students surprisingly LOVED the show all totals method. They start with the hundreds and write that total under first, then the tens and ones.  It usually involves little regrouping so I think that's why they loved it!  :)  I enjoyed having multiple strategies to give to students and let them explore with them!

One activity I worked on this week was a review activity on main idea.  I have had these task cards for several years now, and I have to say that I forgot where I got them from, so if it was you I say THANK you for the idea, and all the credit is yours.  I used it as a center this week between doing all of the odd and end things that we needed to get done.  Students are given a response sheet, to record and there are several bags of labeled main idea questions.  Each bag contains three details, and three possible main ideas for the details together.  They need to read through all of them ( most of the information is non-fiction too!) and then choose what the best main idea for the three details are.  The kids love it! :)

I've been working with my group this year a lot on writing.  You've heard me tell about my adventures, and how much support I've been getting!!  It's been a long road, but we've really embraced this and have taken it to all subjects. This is an example of a writing in math activity that we did this week.  We haven't done one in awhile, and students really had a rough time answering all of the questions.  What we did was went through and highlighted in different colors each item in the question that needed to be answered.  They then wrote and tried to answer all of the questions.  When I corrected the work, I highlighted their answers in the same colors that we used above for the questions.  In order to have their assignment complete they had to have all 4 colors down in their answer.  The color-coding really helped, especially with my ELL students. They could separate and focus on one thing at a time. 

Photo Credit: Zak Smith
Location:  Yerkes Observatory- Williams Bay, WI

This week I celebrated my 4 year anniversary with my husband!  I had late night conferences, but came home to a coke in a bottle (its just so much better from a glass bottle) and some McDonald's french fries. Don't ask me why, but I am a sucker for french fries from McDonalds!  It was a great day!!!

I hope everyone had a great week! I'm excited to read about them!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tried it Tuesday- Literature Circles

Happy Tuesday!  I'm on a roll this week and trying to make up for not really posting last week.  I'm linking up with Holly from Fourth Grade Flipper for her Tried it Tuesday linky!

There are a million and one ways to run a reading group.  In fact I feel like I've tried about a million and two things in my classroom over the years.  No matter what you do, I've always found that I can go back to a traditional literature circle.  This year I've struggled so much with some of my higher readers, because I only have very few of them that can really handle the responsibility and challenge of a chapter book.  This hasn't really ever happened to me in my years of teaching, so I've had to revamp a lot of what I do during guided reading.  I feel lucky to have a few students who really challenge themselves and are ready for a challenge from me. I've recently pulled out this literature circle packet to guide us through her reading of The Tale of Despereaux.

This was designed to use with small groups of students, to get them talking about books that they are reading.  Discussion can sometimes be hard, especially when students don't know what to bring up. This requires students to be an active participant in the book discussion, and not having me ask all of the questions and they answer (or stare blankly at me). I like using this because it can be used in so many different ways, and with so many levels of students (2-5). It's easy to change up or add/take away responsibilities based on grade level and independence of students.

The most common use is having a small group of students work on one book together by going through this packet either a chapter at a time, or several chapters at a time. Pages can be taken out or added depending on the length of the books that are being used.

There are 4 different members made into this packet, but you can have more than one member 1 or member 2 and so on to accommodate larger literature circle groups. I've found that 4 is a good number to keep it to though, as discussion can be repetitive or very long with a lot more students. The files that I've created already have each members booklet in order.  I tend to make a different colored copies for each cover based on what member they are (member 1 is blue, member 2 is green, etc,) and then do the rest of the pages white.  I have in the past color coded each job page before putting books together (so every time they see a yellow paper they know that they are in charge of drawing a visualization for the group).  That takes up a lot of time, but when I used this in 2nd grade that helped to keep jobs separate. Each person had a different job for each day based on the pages/chapters that have been read.

    1. One job is to give a summary of what was read. 
    2. One job is to pose long answer questions to the group based on what is happening in the story.
    3. One job is to draw a picture and visualize what is happening in the book to share with the group.
    4. One job is to make connections to the text to share. 

Not only are students required to keep up with their reading each night, they also must complete their job to share with the discussion group.  I like how it has them self-evaluate after each day as well.  It's important that they actively talk and listen during their group time.  It's always amazing how they are harder on themselves than I would be when grading their own work and participation.  If you're interested in this, or have questions please don't hesitate to contact me.  The plan is to get it up and running on my TpT store as soon as it's ready! It's a really big file, and with being new to TpT, I'm having some issues.  Please stand by---- ;)

How do you teach small groups?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Peek at My Week [2.10.14]

Happy Sunday! I'm here again to link up with Jennifer from Mrs. Laffin's Laughings for her weekly linky called "A Peek at My Week."  I'm excited for another 5 day week, and also try to incorporate some Valentine's Day fun!  We have late night conferences this week and next, so I'm sure the days will fly by with so much going on!

I am in the middle of several things that we've been working on over the past few weeks, so I won't bore you with the same details over again... however these are the highlights!

Reading/Writing-  In reading we're continuing our work on Poetry, and the kids are loving it!  We ended up only getting through a few poems last week, not as many as I wanted to, but the discussion we had was worth being put a little bit behind. This week's focus is on learning about what a haiku is, using homophones in poems, rhetorical questions, lyric through poems and chanting.  We're going to write some of our own poetry too!  We're going to write love poems about special people in our lives while trying to incorporate some of the elements we're learning this week.  Last year my class wrote haiku poems around this time and we wrote them about winter.  We even made snowflakes.... but aren't we all sick of winter????  Even though they turned out great, I'm going to shake it up a bit, so I don't have pictures so share yet.  Hoping to use this product that I found from The Teacher's Desk 6 Blog.   Check it out from this TpT link! Looks like a super fun way to practice using homophones, so we can incorporate them into our poems this week!

Math-This week we're working on using our proof drawings to learn addition strategies. Excited to see where it takes us, especially after the fun we had rounding last week. I've made a morning work packet for this week to help us review what we've been working on, as well as continue to practice our multiplication and division. It can also be found on my TpT store.  I of course added some hearts for V-Day!

I'm also going to start introducing this number of the day page to students this week.  I want to make sure now that we have a good grasp on rounding and working with numbers in various ways, we keep working on it each day to ensure mastery.  I put together this quick number of the day page, and left the number spot in the middle blank.  That way I can choose different numbers for students (also a great way to differentiate based on levels in the class). If you're interested you can get this from my TpT store

Hope you all have a fantastic week!  :)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Spark Student Motivation- SmartBoard Fun

Happy Saturday! Hope everyone is having a great day.  It's snowing here again... I know, shocker!!! :)  I've gotten all of my errands done and I'm about to sit down to do some crafts.  Before I do that, I'm linking up with Joanne at Head Over Heels for Teaching and her weekly linky party to Spark Student Motivation!

This week I've had to pull out all of the stops. We've had a full week of school which is great after having so much time off, but we've also had indoor recess.  That means that I have a group of wiggle worms who can't let off any steam outside.  I've found a great game to play on the SmartBoard that gets kids super excited for telling time and for some school related activity! What's even better, is that you could play on the computer as well, you don't have to only use it on the SmartBoard. 

Here is .... Stop The Clock!!

Check out this website (for many telling time games):

Scroll down to "Stop the Clock" to see that there are different variations of the game that can be played. When I introduce the game we start off small, but then get to play the version with times to the minute.  We pick names and students work in teams to play. I love how it's a random draw and then students really need to work together to figure out the times. The object is to match the time with the clock and then stop the clock to see how long it took you. I keep track of scores bracket style and we try to beat the fastest time to correctly get the answers.

Right now our best time is 11 seconds! The kids love it, and it's been a great way to end or begin a math lesson to motivate and get students focused on school.  Hope some of you can use this link/game.  It's really been a life-saver this week!