Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fold the Line

Minds in Bloom is happy to present Terri Izatt from KinderKapers with a guest post on the game Fold the Line. We know you'll love it!
This is an exciting time of year as we are thinking about going back to school and getting to know a new batch of students.  How do we build rapport with all these new little (or not so little) people?

One of the best ways to get to know your students is to get them talking.  Get them discussing topics that are relevant to them and you will gain insights that can impact your teaching the rest of the year.  Getting them to interact and connect with each other, will impact their learning as well.

The game I have for you today is called Fold the Line.  To play this game you first need to set up a spot for a line.....somewhere in your room, the gym, outside.  You do need a little bit of space, but you can make almost anyplace work.  The line should be set up as a number line....1-10 or 1-5 (that would be your choice).  You can define your line with a rope, some surveyors tape, a sidewalk, any long straight line that will help your students "see" where they need to be.  Label your number line with numbered circles, squares, cones, flags, anything that will help your students know where along the continuum they want to be.

Next you read a statement.  Have the students decide if they agree or disagree with your statement, and how strongly they agree or disagree.  Students line up along the line.....1= they agree strongly, 5= they both agree and disagree, 10= they strongly disagree (okay, it would work the opposite way too, just make sure they know which end is agree and which is disagree).

Now comes the tricky part....wherever the middle of the line ends up being, that is where you fold.  If your line tends to be bunched up at one end....don't worry.  You just want to have about the same number of students on each side of the fold.  Bend the line, there at the mid-point and the students walk towards each other.  Ones should end up across from the tens, and the four, fives, and sixes are in the middle, across from each other too.

Now comes the fun part...Discussion!
Begin with questions that have lots of opinions, but are not very controversial.  Those kinds of questions are good for getting to know each other, establishing trust, and learning the rules for a good discussion.

Those ones and tens need to have lots to talk about.   Choose topics that are relevant to your students and the area you live in.  The fours, fives, and sixes, may have close to the same opinion, but they should still be able to discuss why they think there is both good and bad, right and wrong in the topic.

You can use this teaching strategy to move into statements that are more controversial, local, and important to your students.  Recently there was a debate going on about whether a new highway should be built across wetlands.  Lots of good chances for students to establish their own opinions (or express the opinions of their parents) and learn to express and defend them politely.  You could give the statement. "Legacy Highway should be build across the Great Salt Lake Wetlands." They would have to choose how strongly they agreed with that statement.  Line up on the number that corresponds with the strength of their opinion, then fold the line.  Those that have the most differing opinions would be talking to each other.  Just remember the rules!

You can use this type of discussion at other times with topics that you know will have common misconceptions, like Newton's third law.  If you push on this table it pushes back (with equal force).  If you use these types of statements be sure to start the discussions before you teach the concept. get to know you discussion game I use is Walk the Line.  This time I pose a question with two possible answers.  "Which do you like best, cats or dogs?"  Students line up on either side of a line according to their answer.  They turn and face each other, walk toward the line, and then discuss.  You can find this game in my TpT store for free.  These questions can be used with Fold the Line, if you change it from a two-choice question to a one-choice statement.

One last activity is Stand Up For Friendship.  You can find this on my facebook page in the fan freebie section.  In this activity you read a statement like, I have a baby at my house, and everyone stands up for whom that statement is true.  It is a great way to see who has things in common with you and with each other.  You can have a discussion about the commonality, if you want (and have the time) to extend the activity.
Get your students talking this year.  Listen to what they say.  Practice the art of conversation.  Then craft your lessons to take advantage of what you, and your students, have learned.

 Terri has taught for 28 years while raising four beautiful children and now she is blessed with 12 wonderful grandchildren. She has taught every grade K-6, but most of her teaching years have been in 2nd. Recently, she has gone back to Kindergarten and thinks she would love to stay there for a good long time. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

12 Tips for Implementing Close Reading

Clip Art: Whimsy Clips, Dancing Crayon Designs, KG Fonts

One of the reasons I did not dig into close reading sooner is that it seemed really intimidating. But it turns out that while it does go deep - way beyond traditional comprehension, it is not all that mysterious. Once you learn the key pieces - what makes close reading close reading, it becomes less intimidating and more intriguing (or at least it did for me). 
This post is not meant to teach you how to do close reading with your students. Rather it is meant to give you a few pointers as you find your way. If you are looking for a good online resource try this Live Binder. You might also consider reading the book  Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst (although they focus primarily on fiction rather than informational text). Most of the tips below were taken from my Close Reading Toolkit for Informational Text which you can purchase in my TpT Store. 
  • Try not to worry to much about getting it exactly right. It is okay if a little traditional comprehension leaks into your close reading lesson. It might even be beneficial as it is good for test prep and can help to build confidence in the early stages before digging into the more challenging aspects of close reading. 

  • When selecting passages to read, you will need to make sure that the text is challenging enough to be “close reading worthy,” but not so challenging that your student struggle through every sentence. You will also want to consider student interest and how it relates to your curriculum. A piece of text can do double duty if it can also be worked into a science or social studies unit and can help you meet CCSS.RI.10. 

  • While Lexile reading scores seem to be the current trend for rating the difficulty of a text, keep in mind that a Lexile score does not take everything into account. For example, a few long vocabulary words can up a Lexile score inappropriately. Also, the score does not take the content into consideration nor the background knowledge of the reader. So, while a passage on Thanksgiving might be easy for a child who has grown up in the US, it would likely be more difficult for a student who has only recently come to the US from another country and is not already familiar with the holiday. 

  • Avoid pre-reading activities beyond setting a purpose for reading. In close reading, the emphasis is on the actual text. Background information and other pre-reading activities are thought to be a distraction. 

  • Don't skip the annotation. If at all possible, provide copies of the text with wide margins for annotating (and an annotation guide). If copies of the text are not possible, consider overlaying the text with clear plastic and allowing students to use thin, dry-erase markers for annotation. Sticky notes are another possible alternative. 

  • Discussion is a big part of close reading. While you can facilitate discussions with prompts, you will also want your students to formulate their own questions as they read. When students ask (and answer) their own questions, they become more invested in the text and more empowered as readers.

  • Answering text-dependent questions is an important component of close reading. Avoid questions that do not require students to consult the text to answer. For example, if you are reading about space travel, asking students if they would like to travel to the moon does not require reading the text at all. A better question would focus on the risks associated with space travel. 

  • Making connections to other texts is always a good thing; however, there is some debate about making connections to the reader’s own experiences, especially in the upper grades. It is thought that these connections take the reader away from the text. My own opinion is that connecting to self can lead to greater understanding of the text, as well as interest in it, and can be used effectively with close reading as long as it does not become the focus. 

  • As you perform close readings throughout the year, you will want to build independence in your students. At the start of the year, many of your close reading activities will likely be teacher-lead. As the year progresses, make more use of small groups and independent work. In the upper grades especially, students should be able to perform the entire close read process independently by the end of the school year. 

  • Spice things up by occasionally close reading nontraditional texts – try emails, brochures, cereal boxes, magazine ads, greeting cards, flyers, even comics. 

  • Instill pride in your students for working with and understanding challenging texts. These are difficult skills to learn – they should be proud of themselves when they succeed! The flip side of this is teaching your students to be patient with themselves when they are struggling and to keep at it without getting discouraged and giving up. 

  • I read somewhere (I wish I could remember where so I could give credit) that close reading is like salt – a little is great, but too much is not a good thing at all. Not every text needs to be read closely. Make sure that your students have plenty of opportunities to read for pleasure.

If you are interested in that Close Reading Toolkit mentioned above, here it is again (with a picture!). Or you can pick up this Close Reading Freebie.

I hope these tips have been helpful and if you have more to add, please comment! 

Happy Teaching!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Classroom Finds From the Hardware Store

Minds in Bloom is excited to present Melissa with her post on using items from the hardware store in the classroom! Enjoy!

Aside form Teachers-Pay-Teachers, my favorite place to shop for classroom and teaching supplies is the hardware store.  The Home Depot, Lowe's, True Value-- I love them all!  Here are just a few goodies I found on my latest window-shopping spree. Enjoy!

1. Gear Ties: 

I found these in the electrical aisle of The Home Depot.  The colors are what first jumped out at me; I am sucker for anything neon.  But then I quickly realized the great functionality these would have in the classroom.  They are perfect little gadgets to clean up the rat's nest of cords I have hidden under my desk, and unlike zip-ties, you can just untwist and rearrange as needed.   They come in a variety of colors and sizes.  The packages pictured below range in price from $3 to $5.
How awesome would these be for teachers who use ear buds as listening centers. This would save so much "detangling" time.

2. Microfiber Dusting Mitt

I have a few pair of these that I use at home and I LOVE them.  They are a necessity for the classroom.  Not only do they work really well, but they last forever.  I think what I like most is that you can just take them home with you over the weekend and throw them in the washing machine.  These make a perfect classroom job that your students will eagerly volunteer to do.  At only $3 for one glove, you could have several sets at the ready!

3. Tile Spacers

Yes. Tile spacers.  You know, those little rubbery things that are placed between the corners of tiles to make the perfect grout lines on your floor.  These make an excellent math manipulative when teaching adding and subtracting integers.  Simply cut off two "nibs" to make a negative.  Then make a class set so that each student has 10 positives and 10 negatives.  They are very effective for modeling zero pairs and getting your students thinking algebraically.  This entire bag, which is enough to make 3 or 4 class sets, is only $6.  It will literally last you your entire teaching career.

4. Restroom Signs  (Bathroom Pass)

Don't these make the coolest bathroom passes?  They are the perfect size (3' x 9') and they are plastic, which means they are durable and easily sanitized (SO important). I bought two and drilled a hole through them so that I can attach some nylon cording.  I then used Sharpie Paint Pens to color the boy and the girl, but the sky is the limit on personalizing them for your classroom.  

5. Step Ladder

Okay so this isn't the most novel or exciting idea, but it is VERY important.  I still see so many teachers balancing on classroom furniture to reach those high places. Sorry to get bossy but, STOP doing that!  A student chair on top of a student desk is not intended to be used as a ladder, and up until a friend of mine broke her ribs falling from one of these contraptions, I was the number one offender.  Invest in a good step stool that has at least 3 steps and a little shelf.  It will run you about $40, but it is so worth it!

6. Steel Buckets

These are everywhere right now.  But, if you're looking to save some money and you still want quality, then pick them up from your hardware store. There were over 8 sizes and shapes, so you can use them in countless ways.  The large ones make excellent waste baskets, and the smaller ones can be used for pencils, markers, pens, etc.  There was also an oblong one that would be perfect for clipboards or student whiteboards.

7. Key/Badge Reel

I think most schools these days require staff to wear a badge at all times.  I have mine attached to a lanyard with my school keys.  I really didn't care for wearing a lanyard around my neck, especially because it made me hunch over awkwardly anytime I had to open a door.  The key reel is genius!  I have it attached to my lanyard with my badge and key and it makes unlocking doors so much easier.  I have owned quite a few of these and I will say the plastic ones won't last a whole school year.  I finally found this all metal one at The Home Depot and it's going on three years.  They should be located near the key center of your hardware store.

8. Vinyl Letters

These adorable letters were in the "sign area" (where I picked up the bathroom passes).  They have a bit of style to them and are not the old boring block letters you typically see in the hardware store.  Even though they are only available in upper case they would still look really nice on your white board or even in a window.  I also like that they are only 3 inches; not too big and overpowering, but still perfectly visible.  And, they are only $0.68 each!

That's a wrap on my shopping fun! Thank you, Rachel, for allowing me to share my classroom finds on Minds-in-Bloom.  I hope you and your readers found some useful ideas.

Melissa from Got to Teach is an elementary teacher with over 12 years of teaching experience. She lives in Southern California with her daughter and husband, and other than spending time with them, she loves to create educational resources.  You can check out her blog at and her TpT store {HERE}.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Improving Behavior Management with a Student Incentive Store

Minds in Bloom is happy to present Erin Beers of Mrs. Beers' Language Arts Class with her post on improving behavior management.

With the beginning of the school year comes excitement, anxiety, and a yearning for wanting order as soon as possible.  While classroom and behavior management differs greatly in the various school and classroom settings, it is an essential component to running a successful learning environment with thriving students.
The last 15 years has really allowed me to pinpoint and refine what works best for both me and my students.  My classroom management style is very structured because I find that the students I teach thrive with structure.  They want to know what they are learning, how much time will be spent, and what is happening next. When they don't have guidelines or are unclear on the expectations, they struggle.

One component I added to my classroom about ten years ago was a student incentive store.  Our building had been struggling with a great deal of transition, and our student behavior was a school-wide challenge.  We had just adopted the CHAMPS Program, but as whole group teachers we were still finding behavior management to be a challenge with our students.  Work completion was a struggle and student behavior was impacting instructional time.  

As a 6th grade team we decided we were going take a different approach.  Part of the CHAMPs program is having a student incentive opportunity for students.  While some teachers thought a school-wide incentive store was the way to go, it wasn’t working for our upper elementary students.  They complained that “No one ever gives us Eagle Bucks!” or “The incentives are too babyish!”  So I took charge and created a student incentive store to meet the needs of my sixth graders.  I can’t control what happens in other classrooms or learning environments, but I can control the needs and successes of my students.

I cleared out the back closet in my classroom, bought twenty clear bins, labeled them with currency amounts, bought items that my students would love to work for, looked for donations, and vowed that every Friday would be our Eagle Buck Store Shopping Day!  …and it was a raging success.  My students wanted to earn Eagle Bucks because they wanted to have the opportunity to shop each week, so work ethic and behavior improved.

It has grown into so much more than I could have imagined with students helping to run the store, AMAZING donations from local businesses, and other teachers implementing a store into their grade levels.  While I certainly don’t have all of the answers and can only speak of my experience, if you are looking for a way to motivate your hard to inspire students, or for a tool that can improve behavior management, this is a really fun way to achieve those goals that will cost very little.

Whatever your rationale for implementing this fun element into your classroom or building, here are a few tips and tricks to create your own student incentive store…

What you need to get started:

 Find a space in your classroom, hallway, or school building that:
  •  has shelving
  • is inviting to students
  • can be locked

One grade level in my building used a rolling cart for their store that an aide would organize and roll out each week.  It was the only space that they had in order to implement their own grade level store.  Each Friday it was re-stocked, rolled out, kids shopped, and rolled back until the following week.  Use what works for you!

Materials Needed to Organize Student Incentive Store:    

  • Clear, plastic bins or boxes (lids are not necessary)
  • Hooks
  • Labels
Our entire building used Eagle Bucks.  Our building administrative assistant created the document for each teacher and then each teacher would make copies as needed.  If no one else in your building is using any type of currency for student incentives, make your own.  Use your building mascot and have fun!

Item Ideas for Students to Purchase:
(Think of all of the trinkets that students LOVE to possess, but feel free to give students a survey in order to find out more things that they would love to own…)
  • Pencils, pens, markers, colored pencils
  • Notebooks, folders, loose-leaf paper, mini-notepads
  • Extra classroom planners
  • Stickers
  • Tattoos
  • Bead packs for jewelry-making
  • Craft supplies/kits
  • Picture frames
  • Baseball/football/basketball cards
  • Playing cards
  • Silly Putty, Slinkies
  • Sunglasses
  • Seasonal items
  • Bags of crackers, Goldfish, fruit snacks

My favorite places to find trinkets are: Michaels, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Target Dollar Spot, Walgreens, Wal-Mart.  Each of these stores tends to mark down seasonal good at some point and you can scoop things up for CHEAP!

Getting students to buy into the idea can be the biggest challenge, especially if you have had a scenario like we had where the store was unsuccessful.  Here are a few things I did with my sixth graders to encourage them.
Make it a BIG deal!
If you want your students to be enthusiastic about their student incentive store your have to:
  •  Make it a big deal!  Shopping day should be a scheduled day and an EXCITING day!
  • Keep it well stocked.
  •  Include items they WANT!
  •  Make sure you establish a routine so they know when they will get to shop EVERY week.
Students will quickly lose interest and not care about the store if it does not have items they care to earn and if the day they are expecting to shop never seems to happen.  This is something you have to be consistent with because your students will come to look forward to it each week.  If I were going to be at a workshop or out on a Friday, I would surprise the students and have it on Thursday.  Another possibility was telling them it would be Monday and that their appropriate behavior with the sub was contingent on them getting to shop.

Earning Currency and a Shopping Day
Currency can be both hard and easy to earn for our students, which might sound crazy!  I would give out Eagle Bucks for:
  •  going above and beyond on an assignment or task
  •  helping others
  •  demonstrating good citizenship
  • random acts of kindness
  •  using strategies for reading

The list is endless as to how students can earn, I just made sure to be consistent with passing it out to students so they knew they had the opportunity to earn them at any time during their school day.

I created this FREEBIE to help others create a student incentive store with ease.  Click the image to download this resource and get started motivating your students right away!

I would love to hear all about your incentive store success or any questions you may have about how to get started.  My e-mail is:  Best of luck this school year!

My name is Erin Beers from Mrs. Beers' Language Arts Class, and I am thrilled to be guest blogging today on Minds in Bloom.  I am an upper elementary teacher currently on extended maternity leave for the 2014-2015 school year.  I have been teaching for 15 years and adore being an upper elementary teacher.  Teaching 6th grade language arts for the last 13 years has been an amazing experience and I love blogging, collaborating, and connecting with other educators to enhance my "bag of tricks."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tips for Making the Most of the Second TpT Back to School Sale!

Picture Credit: Creating, Teaching, Inspiring
It's deja vu!
It's a flashback in time!
It's completely unprecedented!

It is in fact, a ~~second~~ Teachers Pay Teachers Back to School Sale! Most likely, you already gotten what you needed from the first BTS sale a few weeks ago. But maybe...
  • You forgot a few things.

  • You were on vacation (hopefully somewhere with a pool where you could get one of those yummy drinks in a coconut shell with a little red umbrella).

  • You don't go back until after Labor Day and you were not ready to think about school yet.

  • You suddenly got moved to a different grade level ("Sure, I can do fifth grade...even though I have been teaching kinder for 16 problem")

  • You finally got a look at your district's new curriculum and are seeing some gaping holes.

  • You just discovered task cards and now must own all of them (and who can blame you, really. Task cards are kind of like shoes, you can never have too many)

  • You won the lottery and want nothing more than to spend your millions on teaching materials.

  • You just love a sale.

Here are five tips for making the most of this ONE DAY sale:

  1. Make sure and leave feedback for the products you purchased during the last sale so that you can use your TpT credits during this sale. 

  2. Put a Post It on your computer screen that says, "Don't forget to enter the promo code BOOST at check out." Do it right now. 

  3. Shop from your wish list. You put that stuff there for a reason...

  4. Consider buying bundles. Bundles are already sold at a discount. With the sale price, you save extra-big! 

  5. Think ahead. To the best of my knowledge, the next big sale will not be until after Thanksgiving. You can save quite a bit by purchasing what you will need to get you through autumn. 
Of course, I also hope you will buy from me. Here are some ideas from my store:

Happy Teaching (and Shopping),

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