Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dollar Tree Deals!

I'm pretty lucky in that my school provides pretty much everything we NEED. We always have pencils, markers, and paper at our disposal. There's a copy center for printing and at least one computer in every classroom. But it's generally understood that if you WANT your classroom to be a pleasant and appealing place to be, you're going to end up shelling out some of your own hard-earned moolah. I don't mind that so much, but I do like to find a good deal. 

I've recently re-realized that....brace yourselves....not all teachers go to the Dollar Tree. GASP!!!!!!!!!! I know. Ok, so I know that there aren't Dollar Trees everywhere, but most towns have some similar version of a dollar store. 

I vividly remember my first Dollar Tree awakening. It was my first year of teaching and I was about $600 in debt thanks to Lakeshore Learning (home of the most beautiful and overpriced teaching resources on the planet). A veteran teacher looked at me and said, "Are you crazy? You know you can get all this stuff at the Dollar Tree, right?" My. Whole. World. Changed. 

So it's likely that you are thinking, DUH. But if this post reaches even ONE new teacher in need of supplies who isn't in on this very important secret, I'll consider it a success. 

On a recent pilgrimage to my mecca, I wanted to buy everything and *needed* nothing. So the inspiration for this post struck - I had almost as much fun snapping pics of everything I wanted as I would have actually buying it. I didn't get much of a chance to take pics inside my classroom, but trust me, they could restock the store from Room 302. 

Mind you, the folks at the DT are no dummies. They're on to us. They have an entire Teacher's Corner. It's amaaaaaazing.

It's where I buy pretty much all my little incentives and reward certificates - so much cheaper than the teacher supply stores. They also have sentence strips, parts of speech cards, maps, etc. 

This is where I buy my "Turner Tickets" - a BIG deal in my classroom. :) Three of those bad boys will earn you a trip to the prize bin.

As you may have guessed, my prize bin is stocked entirely from the Dollar Tree - sure it's all junk, but there's plenty of junk that will actually work well enough to satisfy a 9 year old. Like these bubbles that are 6/$1 and a huge hit with my kiddos. 

I probably have 100 of these foam dice in my classroom. They are perfect for math centers because they don't get lost or make noise, plus kids love taking them as prizes from the prize bin.

They have books. They aren't amazing, but they are books that cost a buck. They are awesome for giving away as prizes. And they are generally about high-interest topics and the kids like them. 

I only made the mistake of spending big money on my recess bin one year. It would have been more efficient for me to just drop kick my wallet over the fence and into oncoming traffic, because that is what happened to all my expensive kickballs that year. In addition to stocking up on cheaper balls and jump ropes at DT, I also love this egg-shaped sidewalk chalk. 

And ohhhhh the office supplies!! So many office supplies. I love office supplies. HOW CUTE are these composition books? I could not justify them on this trip, but I am determined to find a reason to go back for them. 

Another AHHHHHHHH moment in my life: realizing that spending $5 on a gift bag from Target or CVS was uneccessary when good ol' DT had an entire wall of them.

This is Ringo. You can't buy him at the Dollar Tree, but he's the cutestlittlesmooshieintheworld and I snuck him into this picture-heavy post because I felt it important to share his cuteness with the world.

Love these little dry erase boards for a buck each. 

 And then....the bins. This is what sealed the deal for me on my first trip. I could not believe how ripped off I'd been on BINS before coming to the Dollar Tree. Seriously, I will never buy a container anywhere else in my life. 




More bins in action:

And to clean it all up....

Do you have a favorite dollar store deal to share? How do you save money when you need to buy supplies for your classroom? I'd love to hear your secrets in the comment section! :)

Happy Teaching!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Guest Poster, The Room Mom: End of Year Writing Portfolios

writing portfolio binder I love the end of the school year. And although summer vacation has been on my mind quite a bit, I am actually more excited about some of the culminating projects my students complete in May. Next week, we will begin our end of year Writing Portfolios.

 I plan for these portfolios all year. My students don't know this, but every time I assign a story or an essay, I have the Writing Portfolio in the back of my mind. It actually forces me to consider a variety of writing projects because I know I want a variety of writing samples in the portfolios. (This lends itself very well to Common Core!)

Every writing assignment I grade throughout the year, I send home for parents and students to review, but I require that students return the graded papers to me. I file all of the graded papers in my file cabinet. When we begin work on the Writing Portfolios, I return all of the writing. The students prepare new, clean copies of their favorite writing samples without any teacher marks on them. The students provide a 3-ring binder and organize all of the writing in the binder. I encourage them to add color or decoration like a scrapbook, so it is a fun keepsake.

The finished portfolios are a great record of a student's writing accomplishments from the school year. Parents love the Writing Portfolio because it is a time capsule of work completed, and it is organized before it goes home. I like the Writing Portfolio because it does not require hours of grading at the end of the year since I have already graded the writing samples at the time the students wrote the original version. I do grade for completion and organization.

portfolio requirements
Below is a list of suggested writing assignments you could incorporate into a Writing Portfolio. I try to offer some choice, so students can select their favorite pieces from the year while insuring variety at the same time. It is easy to adapt to any classroom based on your writing activities. Over the years, I have completed this assignment with 4th, 6th, and 9th graders. It always turns out well, and I am always pleasantly surprised at the growth in writing when I see writing samples from August alongside writing from April.

letter to myself
Letters to Self (2 letters in the portfolio)
  • The Writing Portfolio project actually starts in August during the first week of school. Students write a letter to themselves about their expectations for the upcoming school year. We complete a friendly letter mini lesson, and the students write the letter in their best handwriting. I do not read these letters. They are sealed in an envelope and stored until the end of the year. Next week, students will complete another letter describing what they actually accomplished during the year and their best memories. At this point, I return the first letter and both letters go into the Writing Portfolio.
Journals or Free Writes
  • My students respond to a journal prompt each day as a warm up activity. For the portfolio, students choose 10 of their favorite journals from the year, type or write them in final draft form, and add them to the portfolio.
  • Any quick write activities you have in your class from the year can be incorporated.
expository sample
Expository Writing
  • Compare/contrast main characters in a novel
  • Essays that discuss how a main character changes throughout a novel
  • Analyzing a big theme in a novel
  • Research essay
character resume portfolio
Creative Writing
  • Book cover for a novel study
  • Design a Facebook page for a book character
  • Write a resume for a character
  • Compose an epilogue for a book
  • Original student poems
  • Historical fiction short story (the story must be set in a time they studied in history during the school year)
  • Tall tale
  • Point of view journals (re-tell chapters in a book from the point of view of a character)
  • Create a Glog (virtual poster)
  • Newspaper with a feature store about the climax of a novel study
character newspaper portfolio

Odds and Ends
portfolio samples
Do you have strategies for showing student growth throughout the year? This is a great way to highlight changes in writing, but I would love a concrete way to share reading and math improvement that is easily visible to the student and parent. The Student Writing Portfolio plans and reproducibles are posted at my Teachers Pay Teacher Store. Please visit and download for free! You can also find me at:
Happy Writing and Happy End of the Year! Caitlin (TheRoomMom)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Free 4 All Linky Party #4

It's time for another Free 4 All linky party here at All Things Upper Elementary! But first, I wanted to take this opportunity to share one paid resource with you.

"A paid resource?!?" you may be thinking. "On Free 4 All Saturday?!? Say it ain't so!" But wait! This one is special, I promise.

I live in Boston, and our community is still recovering from the recent Boston Marathon bombings. Although it was a truly horrific event, it has brought out the best in the people of Beantown. The entire city is helping to raise money for the One Fund Boston - a fund set up by our mayor and governor to benefit the victims of the bombings.   

I've created a Boston Strong Activity Pack to help out. All the profits from this product will be donated directly to the One Fund. Students will love learning fun facts about Boston while practicing their academic skills. If you can't use it in your own classroom, but are willing to pass on the link to others, that would be wonderful!

And now....ON TO THE LINKY!

Below, you'll find a treasure trove of free resources for grades 3-6. Link up your own free items as well! Link to a blog post or straight to your freebie on Teachers Pay Teachers. 

Make sure to spread the love by sharing this linky with other teachers via Facebook, Pinterest, your blog, etc.  And in the spirit of collaboration, don't link and run! :) Leave comments for the 2 posts before yours, and come back and leave a comment on the post after yours. 

Thanks for sharing with us and HAPPY LINKING!

Friday, April 26, 2013


Do your kiddos have problems paying attention to details?  Mine sure do!  So, I'm in the process of tricking them into paying attention with a super nerdy math logic game called SET!  

SET is a game of attributes.  Each card has 4 different attributes: number, color, shape and fill.  A card can have 1, 2, or 3 shapes.  The shape is either a RHOMBUS, an OVAL, or a SQUIGGLE.  Each shape can be RED, PURPLE, or GREEN.  And each color can be SOLID, LINED, or OPEN fill. 
The object of the game is to create a SET.  The difficult part is actually making the SET! A SET is a grouping of 3 cards that either have all the cards the SAME within a given attribute or all the cards DIFFERENT within a given attribute.  The kicker is you have to take into account ALL 4 attributes at the same time.  A great rule to remember - if two of the cards share an attribute, but not all three, then it is NOT a set. 
The card game starts by laying out 9 cards (I use 12 when my kiddos are first learning)  Within 9 cards there is almost always a set, but with 12 it is almost guaranteed to have one which makes it easier for them to spot in the early game.

Whenever a kiddo chooses a SET I make them explain their reasoning, whether the cards the cards are a SET or not.  This helps them work through the details more in their head.  Also, I tell them right away, the more you play this game the better you get.  

Let's look at a few cards my kiddos chose to determine if they are a set or not (this will help you too!)
Attributes:  All 3, All Green, All Different Shapes
BUT  two are solid, and one is lined.
Verdict- NOT a set!
How about this one....
Attributes:  All Different numbers, All Green, All Different Shapes,
BUT, again, two solid, one lined.
Verdict - NOT a set!
Is the third time a charm?
Attributes:  All Different numbers, All Green, All Different Shapes,
All Different fills.
Verdict: Set!
Getting it yet?  Like I said earlier, the more you play the more you start to "see" the SETS.

SET:  same number, different colors, same shape, same fill
SET: different numbers, same color, different shapes, same fill
SET: same number, different color, same shape, different fill
Sometimes you get a board like this.... So I asked my kiddos, what can you tell me about this board?  They told me it was a lot of red.  After more questioning, they realized there wasn't any green.  We chatted some more about what this would mean for a set.  They discussed multiple ideas but concluded that any set they found on this board would have to be the SAME in the color attribute. 
Sometimes you can't find a SET in the cards, so you add 3 more cards.  I have never added 3 more cards and NOT found a set almost instantly.  Can you find any sets in the above 15 cards?  I see at least 3!  (the top middle card is a purple, open rhombus - it's hard to see the color in the pic).

As I was playing this game with my kiddos, I started to come up with ways to help them "see" the SETS.  Sometimes I would pick two cards out of the group of 12 (I already could see these were part of a set on the table) and ask them to find the missing set piece.  Once they got really good at this, I would hand them only one card and ask them to make a set around it.

I could see playing this game with much younger kids and changing the rules a but.  Maybe they only need to have 2 attributes in common - number and color; or maybe color and fill.  You can always work your way up to the full game.  I decided just to jump right in with my kiddos.  It was actually quite amazing to sit back and watch who could just "see" the attributes popping out at them - most of the time it was NOT the students I expected it to be.  

My kiddos currently ask to play this daily.  It's super awesome and they are getting really good at it.  The best part is watching them teach each other how to play.  I've also introduced them to the online version, so now they play at home!  

Want to check out more but don't own the cards?  Check out http://www.setgame.com/
purchase the cards here on Amazon!  AND.... well, because everyone likes something FREE here is a little something I came up with to 1) hold your kids accountable at a center and 2) help with writing out their justification and get them ready for proof!  I'm leaving it pretty generic so that it can be used at an grade level with any set of rules you choose to use with your kiddos!  ENJOY!

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Guest Poster, Leah Fullenkamp: Book Creator App

Hello everyone!  I'm Leah from the blog Learn With Leah.  I wanted to take soem time and show you one of my new favorite apps- Book Creator.  It is a $4.99 app but it is well worth the price!  This app allows for the quick and easy creation of ebooks- in my district, all of the fourth grade students created an ebook.  I love this app because it is so easy to use!  Within minutes they had hit the ground running.

I started with these basic planning pages so the students knew what they wanted to write before we started.  There are six different story mapping pages- you can snag them here!  This worked really well because they had there plan together and could really focus on making their story come alive.

Within the app, you can insert photos from the photo roll, text, drawings, videos, songs and voice recordings.   Everything can be moved, resized and rearranged quickly with the tap of your finger.   The pure simplicity of this is astonishing to me!  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE when the technology takes a back seat and the joy of learning and creating take a front seat.  This is exactly what this app does!

Finished books can be printed, sent to iBooks with a quick tap, saved as a pdf or sent to dropbox.  I am so in love with this app and I hope that you will love it too!

Thanks to everyone here at All Things Upper Elementary for allowing me to guest post!!!

Learn With Leah

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Writing That POPS!

I love when writing is just plain FUN for my students. Sure, we go over all of the basics and "how to's" for writing. We learn how to organize essays, write thesis statements, use persuasive techniques, etc. Sometimes, though, it's just good to use our imaginations and have fun! This is when my writing classroom comes alive with some of my students' best ideas. This is the writing they want to share with their classmates.This is what they love. 

The end of the year seems to lend itself well to just having fun with writing. The pressure of state testing is over, and let's face it- we need writing activities that POP to engage students whose minds are already way ahead on summer vacation.

One of my favorite websites for fun writing ideas is Scholastic. If you haven't been to their Story Starters page yet, you have to give it a try! My students love the look and sound effects. It also can spark some pretty creative writing with very unique topics! 
My students have writing journals, and they really enjoy them. Sometimes I incorporate manipulatives with our writing topics to add a little spark. For example, when we do our Magic Stone writing, each student actually receives a magic stone before his/her writing takes place. The actual writing seems much more fun (and MAGICAL!) that way.
Sometimes students must do something silly before they start writing. When we do our Time Machine writing, students must stand and spin around three times to activate their time machines. When we do our Lost Alien writing (see below), students must speak in a "foreign tongue" before writing!
Putting writing prompts in a fun container (even if it's just a bag with a colorful label) can make the whole activity seem more enticing. Sometimes I photocopy the prompts on colorful paper that fits the theme. One of my favorite containers is a popcorn box I purchased a few years back (I think it was at Target, but I honestly can't recall).The prompts seem much more fun when they are chosen from such a container!
Popcorn theme prompts are even better when a movie theater sign is hung on the board and students begin writing to the sound (CLAP!) of the director's board. Sometimes a bit of popcorn delivered to each table during the process is an added bonus!
If you'd like to check out the popcorn prompts in my TpT shop, just click HERE.
I want my students to LOVE writing. Sometimes that means forgetting all the formalities and technicalities and just having fun with it...and I am VERY okay with that!

Until next time, happy teaching, friends!
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