Reading Strategy Task Cards - FREE

I have this idea that if a teacher who has never used task cards tries them, she will love them so much that she will simply have to get more. That is one reason why I made this set of free Reading Strategies Task Cards. While totally useful as a stand-alone activity, this set of task cards is kind of a sampler of some of my best selling sets. It is a great way to "try before you buy."

For those of you who already have some or all of these sets, this set would work great for extra reinforcement or as an assessment. Although the card designs were taken from the other sets, I wrote new paragraphs for this set, so none of the content is repeated.

Each card features a different fiction or nonfiction paragraph and a reading strategy challenge. This set includes four cards for each of the following reading strategies:

  • Author's Purpose
  • Making Connections
  • Summarizing
  • Inference
  • Questioning
  • Predicting
The cards are free, so why not give them a try? And if you'd like to share with your colleagues, on facebook, Pinterest etc, that would be wonderful! 

Most teachers use task cards at literacy centers or in with games. But there are many other ways to use them too. You can find some great ideas at Totally Task Cards.

Freebie Fridays

The Day AFTER Halloween: Tips for Making it Through the Day

It's almost upon of the most dreaded days of the entire school year...the day AFTER Halloween. Most likely your students have stayed up way too late the night before and have eaten more candy in a single night than they usually do in a month. I know that taking a sick day is one great way to deal with November 1st, but if that is not an option (or you have bravely chosen to face it on your own), here are some ideas for not only making it through the day, but making it a good day to boot.

Strike Preemptively
On Halloween (or perhaps a day or two before) send home a note suggesting to parents that they limit the amount of candy they allow their kids to consume and that they try to get their kids to bed at a decent time. If you have any rules about Halloween candy at school, be sure and include them in your note. My rules are that students are only allowed to bring two pieces a day which they can eat at lunch (not during morning snack time).

Plan a Quiet Day
Today is not the day to introduce a new concept, give a test, or host a guest speaker. As much as possible, follow known routines and focus on quiet work. You might consider extending your silent reading time or read-aloud time.

Deal with it Head On
Your students will want to share about their Halloween experiences, so give them some time to do it. Jim Alexander (from my facebook page) sets a timer for ten minutes at the start of class and allows students to use that time to share with each other. Another idea is to allow students to share a few sentences about what they did with the class. Once students have had some time to talk about their Halloweens, they will be more likely to be able to focus on the work at hand.

Make it Part of the Learning
Stormy Daniels (also from Facebook) has her students write about their Halloween nights and then share with the class. For younger students, you could have each student create a page to go into a special Halloween book. Also from Facebook, Michelle Byram James offers these ideas:
If you can't beat them, join them. My homework is to sort your candy any way you want. During math, we talk about how they sorted their candy. Some kids are surprised that there is more than one way. I also ask them to bring 10 pieces of candy that they don't mind givinig up. During history, we do some bartering so they can see that some candy is "more valuable" than others. Depending on the grade, you can do a lot with this. We also write about what we did the night before. There are always kids who don't celebrate Halloween. I bring them my candy leftovers and when we write, I really try to make them feel proud of their family traditions instead of feeling left out. Have a fun candy day! (By the way, if you tell kids what your favorite candy is, you will be sure to find some on your desk the next day.)
Give Yourself a Treat
Emily Williams Kelley (from Facebook) says that her team has all scheduled massages for after school on November 1st. Why not do the same? Or maybe a pedicure or facial. If money is tight, a hot bath and a good book can also do the trick.

Do you have more ideas to add? Please share with a comment.

Everything Halloween (Freebies and Ideas)

Okay here it is, every Halloween Resource I have, all in one place!

First off, if you are looking for some fun and quick activities, here are five Halloween Freebies from my TpT Store. As you can see, there is something for pretty much any 2-6 grade level.

If you are looking for ideas from some terrific teachers then you will want to download this Free Halloween Idea Book

You may also want to take a peek at my Halloween Pinterest Board which has all kinds of fun ideas for celebrating the holiday.

Earlier this month I collected these great ideas for Halloween Read-Alouds from my facebook followers:

If you would rather tell your own tale, in ghost story fashion, here is my favorite one to tell. You can make it as scary (or not scary) as you want and it has a fun surprise ending.

And finally, for all you math fans, here is a picture of a pumpkin my son carved a few years ago.

Wishing you all a fun Halloween. Though for teachers, I don't think Halloween is the scary day. The truly frightening day is November 1...a school day for most of you.

Freebie Fridays

Ideas for Teaching Theme (and a couple freebies!)

Teaching story elements is generally pretty straight forward. Setting, Character, and Plot - easy-peasy. There are tons of resources available and the concepts are fairly concrete. But then you get to theme. How to teach something that is abstract, subjective, and requires that oh, so tricky skill: inference? As it turns out, teaching theme didn't turn out to be as difficult as I thought it would, especially when it is broken down into steps. And that is a very good thing, because theme runs across the grade levels for CCSS ELA-Litarcy. RL.2. Here are some ideas about how to get started teaching theme to your students: 

Define it in terms kids can understand
Theme is the main message of the story. That is why I like the message in a bottle graphic as a reminder. I have also seen resources that use this reminder:


Theme is a broad idea that can be applied to life, and in most stories the theme is not stated and instead must be inferred by the reader. This poster (which you can download for free) is a good reminder for exactly what theme is.

Contrast Theme with Plot or Main Idea
Kids (and adults) frequently confuse the theme with the plot or the main idea. One way to help your students understand the difference is to contrast the two concepts using stories that your students are already familiar with. For example, in Charlotte's Web the main idea or a summary of the plot could be: Charlotte saves Wilbur's life by writing words in her web. However that is not the message of the book. It is not a broad idea and it can't be applied to everyday life. Contrast that with: Good friends are always there for each other.

Remember that Theme is Subjective
Keep in mind that in many stories, there can be more than one theme or the theme could be interpreted in different ways. For example, in Charlotte's Web, an alternative theme could be, "Never give up," since Charlotte works literally to the end of her life to save Wilbur.

Ask the Right Questions
The theme comes from the way that the characters - usually the main character changes and grows throughout the story. Looking at how the main character responds in in various situations can give you clues to the theme of the story. Questions to ask include:

  • How did the characters react to obstacles?
  • What important decisions did the characters make?
  • How did the characters grow and change over the course of the story?
  • What did the characters learn?

Site Examples from the Story
Ask your students to give examples from the book that demonstrate the theme. Examples from Charlotte's Web, that demonstrate that good friends are always there for each other include: Charlotte went to the fair with Wilbur even when she was very weak, and Wilbur took care of Charlotte's babies.

Here is a freebie to help your students answer questions to help find the theme and a graphic organizer to help them cite evidence from the text.

Make Connections to Real Life
The whole point of having a theme in a story is that the author is trying to give the reader something that he or she can apply in life, or at the very least, make an observation that is thought to be universally true (at least from the author's point of view). Students will gain deeper understanding of the theme and the story by relating it to their own lives. For example, for the theme, "Good friends are always there for each other," in Charlotte's Web, students can share stories about times that they helped a friend or were helped.

Connecting to other stories is also important. What other stories have a similar theme? Just off the top of my head, I came up with many of the stories from Winnie the Pooh, Frog and Toad are Friends, and for older students, Holes by Louis Sachar.

Cultural Stories and Fables
Stories from different cultures are a great way to start your study of theme because many of these stories have been passed down through the generations for the purpose of teaching an important truth or lesson. Aesop's Fables are another excellent resource. Try reading the fable without reading the moral at the end to see if your students can infer it on their own.

Story Cards
I created this set of theme task cards for two reasons. First, because I got many requests for it, and second because when I searched the internet, I did not find many good resources for teaching theme.

 Each of these cards features a different story. Students find the theme and can answer either in a multiple choice or short answer format. In addition there are two challenge cards that ask students to dig deeper by:

  • Identifying the clues in the story that helped them to infer the theme
  • Summarizing the story and comparing the summary to the theme
  • Comparing the story on the card with a story that has a similar theme
  • Relating the theme to their own lives
  • Creating a new story with the same theme
Here is an example of two story cards.

For card number 4, students are given three possible answers.

a. You should always share everything.
b. Selfishness leads to unhappiness.
c. Cassie did not share her cookies.

If you prefer a short answer format, there is a student answer sheet provided for that as well. Answer keys are also included.

You can learn more about this product right here.
Theme Task Cards: 16 Story Cards, 6 Challenge Cards, Differentiated Student Answer Sheets

How do you teach theme? Please share your ideas with a comment.

Halloween Books to Read-Aloud

A few days ago, I asked my Facebook followers to share their favorite Halloween book to read out loud. Their responses are below along with any comments they had to offer. You can learn more about each book by clicking on the title or the image to go to the Amazon listing.

Picture Books

Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds
A new favorite? Creepy Carrots. Perfect for the little ones who say they want "a scary story." No mention of Halloween but the illustrations are EPIC. :)

The Runaway Pumpkin by Kevin Lewis

The Hallow-Wiener by Dav Pilkey
Great picture book, can tie in talking about bullies.
-Cindy Boardman Reed

I love The Hallo-Weiner!! It always makes me think of my old dachshund, Louie. Cute story!
-Jamie Hoisman

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda D. Williams
The Little Old Lady Who Wasn't Afraid of Anything is one the kids always love!
-Kim Patton 

I pass out props that go with the story. the kids LOVE it!
-Amy Edge

Boo! By Robert Munsch. I read the story, in all of it's descriptive loveliness, without showing the last page. The kids are each given a paper plate and asked to show what they think the little boy's face will look like. There are several opportunities for predicting and inferring (how the characters feel, etc) and the repetitive pattern is great fun.
-Sue Scott

Like Goodnight Moon. My 5 year old love it.
-Heather Soucy

The Big Pumpkin by Erica Silverman
A great lesson for cooperation!!!-Betsy Steele

Wonderful book for the younger set...great repetition and positive message about cooperation.
-Kelly Hiltz

A humorous look at what life as a child is like on one of the most beloved days of the year.
-Karen Jamison Wiley

Love The Withered Corpse poem with gooey props... kids are blindfolded.
-Amy Kurtz

The Jerry Seinfeld book for sure! Soo cute!
-Heather Van Nortwick Faulkner
Great story for overcoming fears.
-Alice Hathcock

The Halloween Surprise by Corinne Demas
The Halloween Surprise is great for younger kids. I would say preschool-1st grade. Really cute pictures and easy for prediction making.
-Maria Reierstad

His illustrations are great and the kids love Splat!
-Tara Ail

The description in this book is awesome :)
-Ashlee Fetters

Acceptance of differences! Love it.
-Sheryl D. Sharkey Boegner 

Great non-fiction with gorgeous pictures.
-Life with Mrs. L

Chapter Books

Cinderella Skeleton by Robert D. San Souci
Cinderella Skeleton- I love all kinds of fractured fairy tales. You can teach lots of different concepts with them.
-Robin Runnels Muse

My Dog's a Scaredy-Cat (Hank Zipzer) by Henry Winkler
This is one that I love to read to my fourth graders because it's aimed at their age level. It also features a character parade which we have at our school each year and the kids enjoy that part a lot!
-Chrissy Rene

The Haunting of Hillside School by Kristiana Gregory
The Haunting of Hillside School: great read for kids in 2nd-4th grade... the writing really makes it easy for you to feel like you are right there-and it's creepy enough, but not totally scary-if that makes sense.
-Maria Reierstad

In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz
My students love these books-Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark-they sit around huddled in the library reading them together.
The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe. Great to read to 6th graders, it's usually their first introduction to Poe and keeps them on the edge of their seats.
-Kim Scanlon

Perfect for 3-5!
-Tracy Hardin Horton

The Witches by Roald Dahl
I LOVE to read the Grand high Witch's dialog.
-Maggie Wilson

Wonderful author!!
-Jane Holaday McGinness

Do you have more to add? Please comment with your favorite.

Ten Cool Things You May Not Know About TpT

Teachers Pay Teachers is growing in leaps and bounds! Most likely you already use this site, maybe on a daily basis. But you may not know everything about it. Here are ten tips for buyers to help you get the most out of your TpT experience.

  1. You can find all of any seller's free products by going to his or her store, scrolling to PRICE on the left sidebar and clicking Free. The results be displayed with the best selling products first, but you can use  the tabs at the top of the column to search by Most Recent, Rating, or Price. Here is my store sorted by free and most recent. 

  2. TpT sellers love ratings and comments, but the bar is set pretty high on TpT. Most of us are doing our best work, so anything less than a 4, can be upsetting many sellers. If you have a problem with a product you have purchased, rather than leaving a low and/or negative comment, please use the Q&A section of the seller's store to tell him or her about your concern. You can find it on the Ask a Question tab on the product page. Be sure to remember to click the "Email me when seller responds" box after you write your question. Most TpT sellers are great about answer their Q&A and you will probably be able to get the issue resolved to everyone's satisfaction without lowering the seller's rating. 

  3. TpT now allows you to purchase multiple licenses at half price if you want to share with your colleagues. Remember that when you buy from TpT, the money goes to real teachers, many of whom are putting it back into their classrooms or using the money just to get by since so many teachers have had their wages frozen and their benefits cut in recent years. Please resist the urge to share and purchase multiple licenses instead. 

  4. If you are wondering how TpT stacks up against the competition, below is an Alexa graph (a well-respected site for website analytics) showing TpT in blue against its nearest competitor in red. The big bump toward the end of September is due to recent press from the top seller, Deanna Jump crossing the one million dollar mark. 
  5. TpT's key word search (at the top of the page) is a little wonky and often pulls up irrelevant results. If you don't like what you get, you can also "See results by Google" by clicking on tiny link just under the search box and to the right. 

  6. Want to spread the word about TpT? You can get this free flyer from TpT to hang in your staff room or distribute to your colleagues. The flyer on the site won a contest that Paul (the site owner) held several years ago, this one was my entry. It did not win, but it is in color and I have updated with the current number of products if you want to use it.  

  7. If you like a seller, be sure and follow him or her (click the little red star by his or her name). Not only will you get notified by email when the seller posts a new product, but the seller will also appear in the SELLER UPDATES box near the top of the homepage. 

  8. Seller's frequently revise products - either because they find a typo or because they want to update it with new clip art, Common Core Standards etc. You can see which products have been updated and then download the new version on your MY PURCHASES page. You can also find out what to do if a PDF you download comes out blurry on that page. 

  9. TpT has gift certificates! You can find the link near the bottom of the left sidebar. When parents ask you what you would like for the holidays or what you need for your classroom, consider asking for a TpT gift certificate.

  10. If you are thinking of becoming a seller, now is a great time. TpT is growing exponentially and with a little work, you could pick up a few hundred dollars a month or even more! If you want to give it a try, please consider signing up under my referral link here. If you post quality products, I will be happy to give your store an occasional shout out on my Facebook or Pinterest.

Teaching Resources

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