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 years...no 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),

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Outsource it! 50 Ways to Utilize Classroom Volunteers

As a teacher, you have a never-ending stream of work. Here is the good news: you don't have to do it all. Classroom volunteers are the teacher's version of outsourcing, and you should do it as much as you can. Ideally, you have a solid group of parents to fill this role, but if you don't, consider recruiting your past students. They will love coming back to help one of their favorite teachers. Other sources for volunteers: high school students who may be able to earn credit for helping in your classroom and senior citizens such as grandparents or enthusiastic older folks from your local retirement home.

Before you assign a task to a volunteer, make sure they are a good match. Considering the following categories can help you select the right volunteer for each job:
  • At school, working directly with students 
  • At school, not working with students
  • At home (great for parents who can't make it into the classroom)
  • One time/occasional help
So, what should you have them do? Here is a list of 50 different tasks 
  1. Taking down bulletin boards/student artwork
  2. Putting up bulletin boards/student art work
  3. Copying/printing
  4. Cutting stuff on the paper cutter
  5. Cutting stuff out at home using scissors
  6. Sharpening pencils
  7. Laminating task cards and other materials
  8. Binding books with binding machine
  9. Using the die-cut machine
  10. Collating and stapling papers
  11. Distributing end-of-the-week papers into mailboxes
  12. Correcting assignments/tests that do not need comments
  13. Labeling books and classroom materials
  14. Cleaning computers and keyboards
  15. Organizing classroom library, games, art materials etc.
  16. Repairing books, games, and other classroom materials
  17. Organizing, cleaning, replacing classroom materials such as crayons, markers, and glue
  18. Creating materials for centers, games etc. 
  19. Setting up centers or stations
  20. Facilitating centers or stations
  21. Monitoring class while you work with a small group
  22. Using flashcards with a group or individual
  23. Leading a small group
  24. Helping/tutoring one student who is struggling
  25. Listening to students read one-on-one
  26. Working one-on-one with students during writing workshop
  27. Helping a student who has been absent to catch up
  28. Helping a student get organized/find papers/basically pull it together
  29. Leading enrichment activities with fast finishers
  30. Supervising indoor recess so you can have a break (if school allows)
  31. Reading out loud to the class
  32. Ordering books from book clubs/collecting checks etc.
  33. Sorting and distributing book club books once they have arrived
  34. Setting up science, art, or cooking stations or centers.
  35. Helping with particularly involved art, science, or cooking projects
  36. Cleaning up science, art, or cooking stations or centers
  37. Organizing and implementing fund raisers
  38. Organizing class parties
  39. Helping with class parties
  40. Helping on special days like Science Fairs, Read-Ins, Author Day etc.
  41. Guest speakers
  42. Field trip leaders
  43. Making costumes and props for classroom productions
  44. Taking pictures of students/printing and organizing
  45. Scanning/saving student work
  46. Maintaining classroom website
  47. Helping with parent newsletter
  48. DIY projects like making milk-carton stools or personal whiteboards
  49. Returning books you have used for a unit to the public library
  50. Buying schools supplies (since you are buying them anyway, why not send a parent out to do it? Give her your hard earned cash and tell her what she needs to buy with it. It will raise some awareness and maybe she will even share the experience with other parents and they will contribute to the cause) 

Looking for more teaching ideas like this? Consider following me on Facebook, Pinterest, or Teachers Pay Teachers.

This post was part of the Bright Ideas Blog Hop. Find more ways to make your school year amazing by checking out some of the posts below. There are a lot of posts, so looking for your grade level below each thumbnail will really help!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

37 Ways to Help Students with Dyslexia Flourish in the Mainstream Classroom

Minds in Bloom is excited to present Anne-Marie of BayTreeBlog.com who is giving us a TON of great tips on teaching students with dyslexia.

You work so hard. You're dynamite with your students. You spend hours preparing your classroom activities. And yet, your hard work isn't paying off for all of your students.
You're not alone.
Most classroom teachers have a small handful of students who misspell words, struggle to memorize math facts, or hate to read out loud. Sound familiar?
Chances are good that some of these students have dyslexia.

Dyslexia is a loaded word.

There are lots of misconceptions and misunderstandings about this condition. Maybe you've heard a few of these myths?
  • People with dyslexia see words backwards.
  • Only boys are impacted by dyslexia.
  • People with dyslexia are less intelligent.
  • Dyslexia is caused by bad teaching.
  • People with dyslexia can't learn to read.

Here's what we know to be true.

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability that can impact reading, writing, and spelling. People with dyslexia struggle to match up letters with their sounds.
Typical learners use the temporal-occipital lobe to read. Individuals with dyslexia use different neural pathways and different areas of the brain to read. As a result, reading is often slow and inaccurate.
I'm going to be honest with you: dyslexia interventions are time-intensive. As an educational therapist, I frequently schedule over 100 sessions per year with individual students.
You probably have 25 other students in your classroom, lessons to plan, and homework packets to correct. So, the question is...

What can you do right now to reach the students in your classroom who struggle with dyslexia?

37 things, actually.
Well, you don't have to do all of them once! But seriously, I hope that as you read this list, a few items pop out at you and you're able to add one or two more instruments to your toolbox.

    Explicit Instruction

  1. Make directions clear. Kids with dyslexia often can't remember multi-step or complex directions.  Speak briefly and clearly, and always provide written directions. Try this: video yourself for an hour and see how you can tighten up your delivery.
  2. Get students interacting! To ensure that all of your students are engaged, require frequent responses from students. Kids with dyslexia have perfected how to fly under the radar.  This will also allow you to provide immediate corrective and positive feedback.
  3. Build in review. To help students retain information, check for mastery before jumping into a new topic.
  4. Reading

  5. Use an Orton-Gillingham-based reading program. Orton-Gillingham is explicit, systematic, and multi-sensory. It works. Other good programs: Lindamood-Bell, RAVE-O, Slingerland, Wilson, and Barton. Many classroom teachers successfully use Fundations for whole class instruction.
  6. Act on your suspicions. If you have concerns about a student's reading progress, refer him or her for appropriate services. Kids don't outgrow dyslexia! Early intervention can change the way the brain reads, preventing decades of struggle.
  7. Use audiobooks too. Audiobooks allow all students to access the curriculum. They help students build background knowledge, comprehension skills, and vocabulary. Free books can be found at Learning Ally and Bookshare.
  8. Teach phonemic awareness. All students in kindergarten, first, and second grade need daily phonemic awareness instruction. Phonemic awareness creates the foundation for long-term success in reading and spelling. Here are two fantastic programs: Phonemic Awareness in Young Children and Road to the Code.
  9. Read aloud to students. This is the perfect way to develop vocabulary and explicitly model reading comprehension strategies. Even better, you can demonstrate your love of books.
  10. Teach phonics. New readers and older students who struggle to decode need help. Make sure students know their letter sounds and can blend sounds together.
  11. Teach reading fluency. Once students have mastered basic phonics and decoding skills, make sure they can read with grade level speed and accuracy.
  12. Monitor reading progress. One straightforward way to monitor progress and spot problems is the DIBELS program.
  13. Use Speech-to-Text Software. With headphones and a computer, students can "read with their ears," regaining independence. Here are two videos on how to set this up for PC and for MAC.
  14. Don't require students to read aloud. Many adults with dyslexia vividly describe the shame they felt when they read in front of the class as children.
  15. Writing

  16. Teach specific strategies. Decades of research have demonstrated that one method, Self-Regulated Strategy Development, produces significant improvements in students' writing. (Graham & Harris, 2005). This book will save you hours preparing your writing lessons.
  17. Give credit for graphic organizer use. Do you have students with great ideas, but their writing is unclear?  Show the class how to use graphic organizers. If you give credit for  thoughtfully filled out graphic organizers, your students will buy in!
  18. Use Speech-to-Text Software. Make sure handwriting and spelling challenges don't get in the way of students expressing their ideas. Say good-bye to resistance to writing. Dragon Dictate is popular.
  19. Teach handwriting. Research has shown that elementary students who write legibly and automatically write longer and better compositions (Graham, Bernginer, Abbott, Abbott, & Whitaker, 1997).
  20. Teach spelling. Spelling instruction needs to continue through seventh grade according to researchers (Jushi, Treiman, Carreker, & Moats, 2008). Here are some of the best programs for providing explicit, differentiated instruction: Spellography, Spelling Through Patterns, and Words Their Way.
  21. Use Ginger. Students with dyslexia sometimes can't effectively use the built-in spell checker because spell checkers are designed for fixing typos. Programs like Ginger correct severe spelling mistakes.
  22. Help students with persistent letter reversals. In my article, What Tigers Can Teach Us About Letter Reversals, I explain why letter reversals happen and how to help students avoid them. I also offer a free workbook of activities for eliminating letter reversals on my Teachers Pay Teachers page.
  23. Math

  24. Teach with manipulatives. Kids with dyslexia don't always understand symbols immediately. You can use manipulatives like base-10 blocks to teach basic math operations. Avoid rote learning like the plague.
  25. Write accessible word problems. Use straightforward language, with simple vocabulary and short sentences.
  26. Spend more time teaching math facts. Mastery of math facts frees up working memory for other cognitive demands.
  27. Use graph paper. Sometimes kids with dyslexia have a hard time lining up their numbers.
  28. Try alternate methods for teaching math facts. Many of my students finally learned their math facts with the School House Rock songs. Here's one of my favorites:
  29. Avoid timed math drills. Timed tasks send anxiety levels skyrocketing. You can use the same tests and turn off the timer. Some kids prefer to be tested privately so they can't compare themselves to others.
  30. Provide calculators. I recommend allowing students to use calculators once they've demonstrated conceptual proficiency and fact fluency. This will free up working memory so they can do higher level work.
  31. Invest in programs designed for all kinds of learners. I've found the Making Math Real and Jump Math programs helpful.
  32. Social-Emotional

  33. Teach to strengths. Students with dyslexia often have pronounced strengths in big picture thinking, problem solving, creativity, and design. Check out the Strengths Assessment from Headstrong Nation to find out where your students shine.
  34. Emphasize problem solving and critical thinking. Try some of Rachel's fabulous tips.
  35. Read books that feature characters who learn differently. Here are a few of my student's favorites: The Dunderheads, Tacky the Penguin, Thank Your Mr. Falker, Percy Jackson, Two Minute Drill.
  36. Build rapport. Students with dyslexia are hungry for approval. Make a point to greet students daily and connect about their personal interests.
  37. Call home with good news. This is powerful reinforcement that students with dyslexia rarely get.
  38. Feature all student work. Some of my students have never had their work displayed or held up as an example of good work.
  39. Be on the lookout for bullying, and stop it.
  40. Help students build community. Kids with dyslexia need to know that they are not alone. Eye to Eye is a national mentoring organization that pairs college students and elementary-aged students with learning disabilities.
  41. Empathize. Motivate your students by helping them feel understood and respected. On my website, I share my favorite strategies for building empathy.
Thank you, Rachel, for helping me share these tips and strategies!

P.S. - If you found some of the suggestions on this list helpful, you may also enjoy using my free resource book on letter reversals, The Eliminating Letter Reversals Workbook for b and d. Each activity in the book includes concise teacher instructions and full-color worksheets. Please enjoy!
Anne-Marie Morey provides tools and strategies for educators who teach kids with learning differences at BayTreeBlog.com. A Board Certified Educational Therapist, she runs a private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. She loves to help students with learning disabilities build foundational academic and life skills.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Anchor Chart Intervention! Secrets to Making Effective AND Well-Designed Anchor Charts

Minds in Bloom is very happy to present Michael Friermood and his guest post on anchor charts We know you'll find this very informative!

You don't have to be an artist to make a great anchor chart. I mean, you can be an artist, it's just not a requirement. It would be helpful if you are a teacher though. Are you in?

I see teachers sometimes cringe when the topic of making an anchor chart pops up. They aren't necessarily cringing at the thought of all anchor charts. Just their anchor charts. I hear things like, "My anchor charts look terrible," "My students don't even look at them," and "All I do is fumble through the whole lesson when I'm making it, and I start sweating."

Well, I'd like to share some tips and tricks on making a great anchor chart, one that will do its job of anchoring students' thinking to a strong model of a concept or process, and one that is well-designed without taking forever to make. I'm going to focus on making anchor charts for reading comprehension strategies, but much of what I have to say can be applied to any sort of anchor chart.

We're about to start our intervention now. If your anxiety level just ticked up, take a deep breath and repeat after me... "I am not creating a masterpiece. I am creating a tool." And this one... "This piece of paper need not last forever." One more... "I can make this chart be effective AND look good." If you start getting worked up again later on, just come back to this paragraph and repeat those mantras. Here, I'll put a star by it so you can reference it easily: *

Rather than showing you a bunch of anchor charts about different comprehension strategies, I want to show you just one, and really dissect it. Below is an anchor chart I made for the strategy: "Inferring a Character's Feelings." It's the one we'll use.

Use Space Strategically
Think about the chart in sections. Mentally breaking the space into thirds can help you organize the chart, and thirds are naturally pleasing to the eye. But no measuring! Exactness is not necessary and will just stress you out. You won't know how much space you'll really need in each section until you are waist deep anyway.

Let's look at what might fit inside each third.

In the top third of the chart, I put a title and my learning target (student friendly objective). If I'm using a text during the lesson, I'll note that as well. What irks many teachers is not getting their title centered perfectly. Centering is hard to get exact, so why bother? When I align my title on the left side, it frees up that nice little chunk of space on the right to add my target.

In the middle third of the chart is where I record the most important pieces of the strategy I'm trying to teach. What will be most helpful for students to know and remember? Sometimes I write complete sentences, but I always look for chances to organize information even further, with a table, a chart, or a bullet-point list. I also look to add simple visuals with which students can connect. Don't go rolling your eyes at me saying you can't draw. Think of them like symbols, not drawings.

In the bottom third of the chart, I think it's really important to have a record of a strong example. I model the strategy aloud with students, and record my thinking in the SAME FORMAT in which I'm going to want students to respond. Whether it's a reader's notebook, graphic organizer, or sticky note, I draw an enlarged version on the chart to use for my example.

But don't stop there! Notice the cues and tips on the left side of the notebook page. During the lesson, in addition to modeling the thinking behind using the reading strategy, I also want to capture my thinking about the response itself. I want to anchor it down so that when a student gets stuck on his own response, these cues can be a bridge to get on track.

Step back now and look at the whole chart again. You can see our "thirds," and even smaller sections within.

Use Color and Line Strategically
Color can brighten up an anchor chart, or it can look like a rainbow exploded. To avoid getting too color-happy, try to be purposeful with the colors you choose. Use color to help organize content and draw attention to certain information. How?

I normally pick out three colors to make an anchor chart, not including a black or gray marker that I keep on hand. I want two of these colors to be similar: I'll use them for the majority of the chart. Picking similar colors, or different shades of the same color, is easier if you have a wide range from which to choose. Every year I buy a pack of Classic, Assorted, and Bold Crayola markers for this reason. The subtle difference between your two main colors will help distinguish parts from each other without pulling attention in too many directions. Then I want the third marker to be an accent color that I'll use less often. It will contrast nicely to make certain sections stand out.

Just like with color, your lines matter, too! This is the other reason I like normal, conical-tip Crayola markers so much. I can use the point for smaller lettering or thin lines, press a little harder to make something bold, or turn the marker sideways to get full-on thick. This applies not only when I'm writing actual words, but also with lines that divide up sections of the chart or that frame certain chunks of text.

What to Do with Anchor Charts Before, During, and After the Lesson
I'm a proponent of creating the majority of an anchor chart right there with the students during the lesson. The power of an anchor chart multiplies when students actually see it being built. They make connections from what you are saying to what you are making permanent on the chart.

I do like to have the "top third" information (strategy title and learning target) already written prior to the lesson. This saves a couple of minutes of lesson-time, but more importantly, it gives students a little taste of what's coming and it helps me get off to a focused start to the lesson.

Sometimes a strategy lesson might be pretty involved, or maybe it's the first time I'm teaching it, and I want to be a little more planned out. If that's the case, I might  sketch out some of the "middle third" beforehand, but I'll flip the chart up and clip it so I can reveal exactly what I want at the appropriate moments of my lesson.

But at the very least, I always want to add the most vital parts to my anchor chart during the lesson. That would include most of the "middle third" and all of the "bottom third."

In my experience, two reasons cause a student to refer to an anchor chart: (1) because they remember being part of its creation, and (2) because I refer to it. So for a reading strategy, I try to keep the anchor chart displayed in order to reference it during follow-up lessons or small group teaching. But after my kids have had practice with the strategy, I take the chart down. I may hold onto it for individual students struggling with the strategy, but I rarely keep a strategy anchor chart displayed permanently. If I did, the sheer number of them would make them fade into wallpaper.

An Anchor Chart Template
I've taken some of the tips we talked about above and put them into a sort of anchor-chart-for-anchor-charts. It's not the only right way to make an anchor chart. Plenty of other styles and philosophies are just as valid. But hey, if you need someplace to start, here's one:

Don't feel like every time you touch marker to chart pad, you need to be aware of all these factors and options and their grand effects on your students. Clearly, you want to be focused on teaching. But, by incorporating a few of these tips and tricks, your anchor charts might just become more organized, more appealing, and more valuable to your students.

And that is something to breathe easy about.

* * *

http://thethinkerbuilder.blogspot.com/Michael Friermood is a third grade teacher who encourages deep, bold thinking from his students. He has taught at the elementary level for ten years. You can find more fresh ideas for your classroom at his blog, The Thinker Builder.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Adding Creativity to the Classroom

Minds in Bloom is excited to present Jenn Larson and her guest post on creativity in the classroom. She's got some great tips we know you'll love!

  We all know that creativity is important. I mean, who doesn't want to be one of those memorable teachers who not only teaches creatively but who encourages kids to think creatively as well? Unfortunately, creativity in the classroom seems to be on the decline. What's the reason for this? I'll give you a hint...it's due to three little words that strike fear in a teacher's heart more than indoor recess, an unexpected sick day, or an empty chocolate stash...that's right...high stakes testing. Since testing doesn't seem to be leaving any time soon, to be effective teachers, we need to "up" the creativity in our classroom, regardless of the pressure to constantly prep for the test. 

Here are 5 tips to get you started.

1. Vary Your Teaching Modes and Questioning Strategies

Let's be honest...We've all had lessons that were less than memorable, but when we actually make a conscious effort to teach creatively, using a variety of methods of presentation and student interaction, that's when the magic occurs. All teachers are creative, some more than others, but all of us can find fresh, creative ideas on Pinterest, Facebook, by reading blogs and by collaborating with teacher friends. 

In addition to switching up what we do as teachers to add creativity, we can also examine our question strategies to see if we're asking the types of questions that generate more creative types of answers. Even though I've taught forever, (since the disco era anyway) I like to keep a list of question starters handy (Bloom's Taxonomy) to remind myself of the kinds of questions that will lead to a more creative, higher level of thinking.

2. Incorporate Creativity into Key Subjects like Math (Yes, math!)

Math may not be one of the subjects that we typically think of when we think about creativity, but actually there are lots of ways to make the process more creative. In my classroom, the kids each have whiteboards that we use for math. Before each math lesson, I sneak in a little creativity lesson by having the kids do a 3 - 4 minute "quick draw" (see Ed Emberley's Drawing Books for ideas). 

Another way I like to make math more creative is to personalize it. If the concept is addition/subtraction with decimals, I might ask a student what movie he/she would want to see and what kind of snacks he/she would want to buy and make up word problems with the child's information. Or if we're doing percentages, I might ask a student to tell me one thing he/she would love to buy at Target. Then I have them imagine it was on sale for 20% off...now how much does it cost? Oh yeah, we need to add sales tax (another percentage)...These types of activities truly increase motivation, make math more "real world" (big focus in Common Core), and definitely make it more creative and fun for everyone!

3. Add Creativity to Your Science Lessons

Science books are loaded with good information but are not always the easiest to comprehend or the most engaging for students. I like to think of our science book as a springboard for our lessons. Using hands-on experiments or activities whenever possible, makes the concepts come to life. I used to do a 5th grade lesson on the circulatory system that was as dry as the Sahara Desert. After giving it some thought, I decided that the kids needed a much more visual model. So...I made some simple posters, cut up red and blue paper strips, and designated different areas of our classroom to be the heart, the lungs, and even the big toe. Then I sent two kids to each place. Next, I chose a few kids to be blood cells and move from place to place, from the heart to the body, to the heart (with blue slips to represent de-oxygenated blood), then to lungs (trading blue slips for red ones to signify oxygenated blood) to heart and back to the body/big toe. Why did this work so much better? Several reasons... the kids were much more involved, it was visual, and it was creative. 

Many science lessons can be changed to make them more creative, whether it is by creating a model, doing a demonstration (my kids have a love/hate relationship with a banana-graham cracker digestive demonstration we do, but they never forget it!), or by doing art that is connected to science (think clay atom models, a water cycle collage, a water colored animal/plant cell...).

4. Make Social Studies Lessons Creative

In social studies, again, I like to use the textbook as a starting point for my lessons. Much of social studies is simply history, which is a story. So, this is how I teach it...I story-tell it and then I ask the kids to role-play key people in our unscripted historical skits. For example, when my 5th graders studied the colonies, we learned how the King of England granted different types of charters. So, I chose a king, gave him a construction paper crown, sat him on a throne (okay... it was just a regular blue plastic chair) and appointed guards to announce those brave enough to approach the king to ask for a charter. I narrated the role-play (leading it ever so gently to where it needed to go) but allowed the king to decide to grant or not to grant the charter (the kids always love to exert their power and refuse the first few requests!). 

Another example would be when my 4th graders learn about California government and how bills become laws. I put them into small groups (some belonging to the Senate and some to the Assembly) and their job was to write several possible bills for our classroom. After each house voted and approved the other House's bills, then I acted as the governor and either signed the bills into law, vetoed them, or let them sit on my desk for 30 days (an automatic pass). The kids always love doing this activity and due to their skillful bill writing, these little devils have earned things like permission to sit with a friend on the last day of school (I was going to let them anyway...shhhh) or a 30 minute game time on Friday once a month (oh darn, I can try to get a few things ready for the next week!).

In addition to role-playing historical events, using open-ended projects adds creativity to social studies assignments. Although each project I assign has specific requirements, they also have a creative component that allows for student choice. My 4th graders have a big California Mission Project each year and in addition to the written report, they are able to create either a brochure, mission model, storybook, PowerPoint, game-board, recipe book, and more to show what they have learned in a creative way. My 5th graders research a Native American group and are able to make a home as well as several other options. 


5. Incorporate Art, Music, Dance, and Drama Whenever Possible

I have to admit...I love me some art! In fact, I sometimes dream of being an art teacher full time, until we do some collage type of project or paper mache thing and I snap back into reality! The great thing about art, true art (not the cut and paste, cookie cutter type) is that art is creative by nature...without even trying!  Art for art sake is wonderful but tying it in to core curricular areas increases creative thinking for students and reinforces learning (like doing area robots for math, painting a castle during a fairy tale unit, drawing crayon resist fish when studying the ocean habitat, or making a class quilt when learning about the 13 colonies...)

Music is a really awesome way to infuse your classroom with creativity. It can augment social studies lessons (play music from certain countries or time periods...), add to science lessons (play sounds of the rainforest or a whale's song...).

Drama, whether it is a social studies quickie role-play or a fully rehearsed class play, is an excellent way to boost creativity and self-expression. I love to write science plays that go with our curriculum and we perform one of these each spring. Kids are asked to learn songs, dances, and to memorize lines. In addition to the creative aspect of class plays, students learn to work as a team and to speak in front of an audience...great skills, I think.

Creativity in the classroom can thrive, regardless of the test driven atmosphere in which we live. Besides making everyday more enjoyable and helping kids use more divergent types of thinking, creativity is also the great differentiator. Kids who struggle academically can experience success often times, when asked to make something creative or to think creatively. Kids who need enrichment are able to go above and beyond and to come up with projects and ideas on their own level. When we make a conscious effort to add creativity into our classroom, all of our students will reap the benefits!

Here's a freebie for you! It's a set of 32 Creativity Task Cards you can download at my TpT store:


About Me: I have taught every grade (K - 5th) at least once in my 18 year teaching career but am now settled in at 4th and 5th grades. I am passionate about teaching creatively and about designing resources that are rigorous and engaging. I have two kids, a son who is 23 and a daughter who is 18. 

I would love to connect with you! You can find me on Teachers Pay Teachers, Pinterest, Facebook, or on my blog.

Thanks so much!
Jenn Larson

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Back to School Sale: Task Cards, Brain Breaks, Close Reading and More!

Picture from More than Math by Mo
Holy Bananas, the back to school sale is early this year!! Of course my entire TpT store will be marked down 20% and you can get another 10% by using the promo code BTS14 at check out. So, what on earth should you spend your hard earned money on? Well of course, I have some ideas, but before we talk about all of that, how about downloading something for free?

If you have yet to download The FREE Task Card Handbook, the beginning of the school year is a great time. It is jam-packed with ideas for using and storing task cards. Even if you have been using them for awhile, you are bound to pick up some new ideas. And of course, if you are after task cards, I have a ton of them (including three new sets all on prepositions), all of which you can find here.

If you are already on board with the task cards and want to get a ton of them for way less than you would normally spend, check out this giant bundle of reading strategy task cards! There are 21 one sets of paragraph cards included. The bundle is already discounted more than 20% from what you would pay if you bought each set - add the 28% more off you will get if you buy during the sale and...well you do the math! And speaking of mathhttp://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Brain-Breaks-956957, I also have a math word problem bundle as well as many other bundled sets, all of which you can find here

You might also want to check out this set of Quick and Fun Brain Breaks. I put a lot of thought and research into each one of these, and I made a list of requirements that each of them had to meet.
  • First off, they all get every student up and moving. No just watching while other students perform - everyone gets to share in the fun. And nothing that didn't get them out of their seats for a few minutes.
  • Second, they all involve more than just standing up and doing some stretches or jumping Jacks. Each of these activities incorporates a fun physical challenge, a chance to interact with peers cooperatively, or an opportunity to use their imaginations. Many involve more than one of these things. 
  • Third, they are all quick and easy. No prep and no special equipment or materials needed.
Finally, to make it easy on YOU, they are in card format. Just print, cut, and laminate and you are set to go. Nothing to glue. Everything you need to know is on the card. 

Finally, if this is your year to really dig into Close Reading, you will want to pick up this Close Reading Toolkit for Informational Text. It's packed with posters/anchor charts, Discussion prompt cards, graphic organizers and text-dependent questions that you can use for any text. Easily adaptable to whatever format you use and you can use it with interactive notebooks too! Also, it's Common Core Aligned to all of the RI standards.

Looking for more great resources? Check out what some of my favorite TpT buddies are featuring!

Remember to use Promo Code BTS14 at check out. Happy Shopping!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Finding Success With Common Core Reading Using Mentor Text

Minds in Bloom is excited to have April Smith of Performing in Fifth guest posting today! This post is packed with great ideas on using mentor text. Enjoy!

If you teach writing, you've invariably used, or heard about, mentor text. Mentor text is a book that you use to show your students examples of excellent writing, which they can then go imitate in their own writing. Mentor text is often in the form of a picture book, because students can easily relate to them. As a language arts teacher, I was skeptical when I was first approached with the idea using mentor text in my writing instruction. I had many concerns, including the fact that the mentor text I was given to use with my 4th-6th graders was at a 1st grade Lexile level. After years of checking the Lexile level of everything we read, I was worried that these texts wouldn't be useful for my students. After my first year using mentor text, I was sold on the idea. My students were more interested in writing, and their writing skills drastically improved.

Why is mentor text so effective?

  1. Mentor text is engaging. There's nothing more exciting to a 5th grader than when you pull out a pack of stickers or a coloring sheet. Students feel the same excitement about picture books. 
  2. Mentor text is understandable. Even my struggling readers understand the words and concepts in mentor text. 
  3. Mentor text is efficient. It allows me to model a difficult standard in a 25 minute mini-lesson. 

Once I realized how successful mentor text was in my Writing instruction, I asked
myself, "How can I used mentor text to improve my Reading instruction?

In Reading, I realized that mentor text can be used to show students excellent examples of all the story elements. After hearing that many teachers were struggling with the new Common Core standards, I realized what an amazing resource mentor text can be to help make the standards more understandable.

How do I choose mentor text?

The best mentor text gets students interested. My absolute favorite for the upper grades is Train to Somewhere by Eve Bunting, a historical fiction book about orphans that travel by train to find new families. I read this story with my 4th, 5th, and 6th graders each year, and they've always been on the edge of their seats waiting to see if she is adopted. The best thing about mentor text is that you can reread it throughout the year, teaching a new standard each time. I can model 6/9 of the Common Core Reading Standards for Fifth grade with just this one mentor text. Find a book that you love, and your students love, and find out which story elements are apparent in it. You'll be surprised by how many standards you can fit into one mentor text! Remember that the author's craft connects reading and writing standards, so you can reuse mentor text in both subjects!

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.1 - Inferencing
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.3 - Compare & Contrast Characters
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.5 - Text Structure
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.6 - Point of View
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.9- Compare & Contrast Books in Same Genre

I can model each of these standards using a mentor text, and then facilitate while my students apply what they've learned to reading literature in their lexile band. Because they have a good example of the standard in a mentor text, they can easily transfer that knowledge to more difficult reading.

Can I use mentor text with my current curriculum?

Yes! Mentor text can be easily paired with your curriculum. I use a mixture of mentor text, Harcourt curriculum, and my Interactive Reading Notebooks. Mentor text is an important piece in my ELA puzzle. Once you find a few good mentor texts, you'll find yourself using them over and over again!

Mrs. Smith teaches 4th-6th grade ELA and Math throughout her career. She strives to make learning enjoyable for all of her students using high-interest activities like Interactive Notebooks and Project-based learning. You can read more about student engagement on her blog - Performing in Fifth, or download here free Project-based Learning pages from her Teachers Pay Teachers store.
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