New Year Freebie and...

The New Year is almost here and I have a fun (and free) reflection activity for you to do with your students when you get back from break. I think this would be fun to do each year - especially if you have your students for more than one year or are home schooling. Then you could fill out one for this year and then look at the one you did last year. Download yours for free right here.

On a personal note, I have been reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and have decided to launch a Happiness Project of my own. She chose a theme and a different set of resolutions for each month. I am not that ambitious and have instead choose to divide the year into quarters:
  • Jan, Feb, March: Health 
  • April, May, June: Home
  • July, Aug, Sept: Relationships
  • Oct, Nov, Dec: Spirit
If you want to read more about The Happiness Project, here is the link to the website.

Mathtopia - Best Math Facts App Ever!

For all you teachers (and parents) with Ipads, I recently discovered a great app for reinforcing math facts. I am a big fan of making learning fun and Mathtopia does just that. The game incorporates aspects of the popular arcade game Bejeweled which not only makes it highly addictive (or as 9 year old Claire says, "addictingly fun"), but also adds a challenging element of logical thinking into the game.

How it works
Students answer math facts by touching tiles on the screen. One nice feature is that the user can select either the answer or the expression first. So, an effective strategy is to select an answer on the right and then find all of the correct expressions. When a problem is solved the tile turns solid and can be moved. When three tiles of the same color are placed in a row, they all disappear - which is where the logic part comes in. When a student chooses the wrong tile, it gets "locked," which means it cannot be moved. Fortunately, there are a couple of tiles that show up every so often to help - a hammer which can be used to smash the locked tile and a shuffle tile which can be used  (you guessed it) to shuffle the tiles.

Why I like it
Of course, the game aspect is great (love the bright colors and fun sounds), but the folks at Top Shelf Learning really did their homework in brain research and motivation. For example, in many games, users get rewarded by randomly guessing. The locking tile feature takes care of that. Accuracy counts big time in this game. I also like that students see all of the possible expressions for an answer and that they are repeated for building fluency. The game is also timed, so the user will get more stars at the end of a level for solving the problems quickly. I also really like the spatial piece (lining up the tiles). Sometimes students with great spatial skills struggle in other areas of math. The spatial component will motivate them to learn those facts.

How to get it
Mathtopia covers all of the basic facts in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. It comes in two flavors. You can download Mathtopia from the App Store and try it for free and then purchase additional levels within the App. If you know you are going to get all four levels, the better option is Mathtopia+, which costs $3.99 for all four games and works with Apple's special pricing for teachers.

Fern Smith's Thursday's Tech Tips for 

Quick and Easy Gift Idea for Teachers

You really can't lose with a Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Certificate. Your child's teacher will get to choose from thousands of excellent teaching products and you'll be helping the teacher he or she buys from as well.

In Honor and Remembrance

20 Christmas Writing Prompts

Just in case you are looking for some last minute writing prompts for they are!
  1. Pretend you are one of Santa's elves. Write a journal entry about your day.

  2. Personification means giving human traits, such as feelings and thoughts to objects. Personify your Christmas tree. Write a story from the Christmas tree's point of view.

  3. Think about last Christmas. How was your life different then? How is it the same

  4. Pretend the president has passed a law banning Christmas. Write a letter to convince him that Christmas should not be banned.

  5. Create a Top Ten list of your favorite Christmas activities. Your favorite should be #1.

  6. Pretend that you can choose one gift that will be given to every child in the world. What gift to you choose? Why?

  7. Pretend you have been given a baby reindeer to raise. Write about what you will do to take care of it. What challenges will you have to overcome?

  8. Write about the perfect Christmas day. Include plenty of details. 

  9. Write about your favorite Christmas book or movie.

  10. What does Santa want for Christmas? Make a Christmas list that includes whatever you think he might want. Tell why you think each item should be on the list.

  11. Who would you rather have as a friend: one of Santa's elves or a snowman that magically came to life? Explain your choice.

  12. What do you think Santa's elves do on their day off? Write a story about an elf that gets into some kind of trouble on his day off.

  13. Finish this sentence in ten different ways: This Christmas I hope....

  14. How many Christmas gifts do you think a child your age should get? Why do you think so?

  15. Create a new holiday tradition for your family. Write about what you would do and why it would be important.

  16. Do you think it s better to be a kid or an adult at Christmas time? Tell why you think so.

  17. Write a story about, "riding in a one-horse open sleigh."

  18. Pretend that you can get each person in your family any Christmas gift you want -even if it is very expensive or difficult to get. What would you give each person and why?

  19. Write about the best Christmas present you have ever received. Why was it so special?

  20. You are in charge of planning Christmas dinner. Create a menu for your perfect Christmas meal.
If you would like more writing prompts, you can find a whole bunch of them here

12 Activities for 12-12-12!

12-12-12 is only a few days away, and it won't come around again for another hundred years. What can you do with your students to celebrate? Try some (or all) of these fun ideas.

1.  Challenge your students to write a short story using twelve sentences that each contain exactly twelve words.
2.    Have your students come up with twelve different challenging equations that all equal 12.
3.    Incorporate the season by having your students solve these 12 free story problems based on the Christmas Carol, "The Twelve Days of Christmas."
4.    Have your students make a list of their twelve favorite books of all time.
5.    Surprise your students with a fun treat in twelves, for example, 12 Tootsie Rolls, 12 pretzels, 12 Skittles etc.
6.    Use a map to discover what lies 112 miles north, east, south, and west of your town.
7.    Have your students write about what they think their lives will be like in twelve years. Or alternatively, have them write about what they think the world will be like on 12-12 -2112.
8.    Choose a question with 3-4 more or less equal responses (e.g. which of these is your favorite Christmas treat.) For homework on December 11th, have each student query twelve different people and tally the results. Then use the results to create a class bar graph.
9.   Read twelve short poems out loud throughout the day. Or, tell 12 jokes.
10. In PE, do drills in twelves: 12 sit ups, 12 jumping jacks, 12 laps around the gym, 12 ball tosses, 12  seconds balancing on a balance board etc.
11.Play Dictionary Blitz (a game I just made up). Give each student or pair of students a dictionary. Set an alarm for 12 seconds. When you say the mystery word (which can be any word you want), students have to find the word before the alarm sounds. Just be sure to emphasize that students must still be sure to handle their dictionaries carefully (no torn/wrinkled pages).
12.Have your students complete this free 12-12-12 Challenge which involves a combination of writing, research, math, and creative thinking. 

Freebie Fridays

Favorite Christmas Books to Read Out Loud

Looking for some new books to read out loud to your students (or perhaps your own children?) You've come to the right corner of the blog-o-sphere. These books were all suggested by teachers from my facebook page. Click on the title or the image to for more information on Amazon.

A family goes out to the woods for what the readers believe will be to find their Christmas tree, but instead they decorate a tree in the woods with yummy goodies for the forest animals to enjoy for Christmas. The room is always silent when I read this one!!
-Lori Lagro Butler 

It's about how one family who celebrates Hanukkah helps a family get ready for Christmas because they are all sick, so everyone can have a happy holiday season. Takes place about 50 years ago and focuses on putting aside differences and accepting others. Great writing!
-Kathy Roehrig Caraynoff

Tear jerker..hate to ruin the ending or I would say more.....
-Stephanie Helgerson Corley 

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

I always read The Polar Express and then have another teacher "hide" a silver bell in their desk while we are out at recess or lunch; somewhere when I am with the kids, so they don't know I planted them.....LOL
-Rebecca Parker

Polar Express....hard to beat and great acting it out whilst reading with the kids :)
-Ciara O Driscoll:)
I love reading this book after reading the original (Twas The Night before Christmas) because we have so many military families and the kids can really relate to the story, especially those with a parent that has been deployed.
-Lorraine Palmer Vasquez

I am reading The House Without a Christmas Tree by Gail Rock to my students. This is a book for grades 3-6. I love it because it is a good book to discuss character traits like perseverance and generosity, and what really is the meaning of the holiday. It's an oldie, but the DVD is also still available.
-Robin Klein

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Suess

I love the approach he takes with what it means to be giving and that when someone believes in you anything is possible!
-Nadine Cruz-Saubert.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas. We talk about forgiveness and how important it is to our happiness. And of course we love to listen to and sing the song!!
-Candance Brannen Plymel

How the Grinch Stole Christmas - my son wanted this book to be read all year long! It teaches all of us a great lesson; having a big heart, and surrounding ourselves with loved ones, are the most important parts I the season.
-Gina Moretto Wright

A Wish to be a Christmas Tree by Colleen Monroe
I LOVE the story "A Wish to be a Christmas Tree" Its about a Christmas Tree that is too old to be picked/cut down and he just wishes he was someone's special tree for Christmas. The animals that live in his tree hear this and decide to decorate him and show him that he IS special to them.
-Christina Collinsworth

The Christmas Magic by Lauren Thompson
To me it is so poetic and simply profound. I have yet to use it with students, though. I have read it to my daughter (now 4 3/4) the last two Christmas Eve's and I get choked up each time.
-Sandra Leiser

I love to read Christmas Magic, I love the story and the illustrations are amazing.
-Tonya Ballew Dye

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

It's a story about an "unruly" family, the Hurdman's, that collide with the yearly pageant head on. It's funny and touching. I just learned there is a picture book version as well. My other VERY favorite is The Polar Express.
-Nancy Loberg Reinhiller 

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson because it gets to the real meaning of Christmas. The Herdman children learn what Christmas is really all about. I read this out loud to my 3rd and 4th graders and we discuss the vocabulary and the story with comprehension questions.
-Leah Anne Neidert Fisher

There is also a picture book version of this wonderful classic.

This is one of my favorites since I was a child because I always thought Little Critter was so cute! In this story, he tries and tries to make it a great Christmas for his parents, and he keeps making mistakes, getting tangled up in the Christmas lights, etc. The message is that no matter what, the people you love will appreciate what you try to do for them on Christmas!! :):)

It is about the Christmas Train that runs through the Appalacian Mountains. The main character hopes for a special gift each year but always receives what he needs instead. It focuses on hope and perservance and giving and receiving.
-Deborah Hughes Freeman

The Red Ranger of Mars Comes Calling by Berkeley Breathed
Awesome to make those believe, believe even more and those non believers cross back to the believers side. So Awesome! I usually ask for a secret poll on a card of who believes before I read and then again after I read. I always get about 50-50 to start and way more believers after.
-Marla Rosenthal
Prancer by Stephen Cosgrove Taylor

I love all of the above but also use Prancer. The kids predict if it is really Santa's reindeer or not, vocabulary, persuasive writing- she writes a letter to Santa that is published in the newspaper that helps get the whole town believing-& of course we compare & contrast the movie to the book. I like it because most of the kids have never heard it unlike Polar Express or The Grinch.
-Robin Runnels Muse

Mooseltoe by Margie Palatini
I love the book Mooseltoe by Margie Palatini - I teach it with Problem/Solution or story elements since the moose has to ALWAYS solve a problem in all her books. :)-MsJordanReads

Note: This looks like a great book, but seems to be out of print. Copies on Amazon on expensive, but you could try your local library.

The ending really shocks the kids, makes them think, and makes them FEEL. There is also a good animated video on youtube that looks like it takes place in Eastern Europe (Russia maybe?) but uses no words only music. I showed it first and had students write their own stories/commentaries about what was happening. Then I read the book to see how close they were. It worked much better than I anticipated!
-Laurie Griffin

Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera
Auntie Claus and the Key to Christmas are two of my favorites. Picture books for older children for the holidays and still keeps them wondering.
-Tricia Jacobson Gout

Stranger in the Woods by Carl R. Sams II and Jean Stoick

It's not necessarily a Christmas book but the LD teacher and I (an SLP) gave taken on Stranger in the Woods. I have created almost 3 weeks worth of activities to do with the book. We will use it with 4th grade this year and they will research information about one of the animals from the story and write about it. We work on pre and post test vocabulary. I will probably also make a word search and crossword puzzle up. I think it's hard to keep the kids engaged during this time before break! You have to make the work fun!
-Shelly Gehring Gervase 

Snowmen at Night by Carolyn Buehner
Snowmen at Night for visualization ( I don't show the pics and have my students close their eyes as I read... then they get to draw a picture on dark blue or black paper using white chalk and crayons)
-Lisa Travis

You can also get Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner

Llama Llama Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney
So cute and so true! Too much before the holidays causes lots of drama!
-Maria Reierstad

Other suggestions include:

Welcome Comfort by Patricia Palacco

The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate (Concept Books (Albert Whitman) by Janice Cohn

The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski

A Wish for Wings That Work: An Opus Christmas Story by Berkeley Breathed

And finally, I was surprised that no one mentioned The Snowman by Raymond Briggs, though that is possibly because the movie version is even better.

Is your favorite missing from this list? Please tell us what it is with a comment. 

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