Thursday, January 31, 2013

Math Notebooking

I let the students make a cover page to personalize their notebook.

They then use the next four pages for the table of contents where they write the date, topic and what page that topic can be found on.  After those four pages, the students start numbering their pages.

In the past, I used the notebook purely as a place to do classwork and homework problems and to take a few notes. This year I've tried to make it a little more interactive. The following are some foldables I found on-line.

This coordinate graph foldable by Kate can be found on her blog, To the Square Inch.

This order of operations foldable by Sarah Hagan can be found on her blog, Math = Love.

This integer foldable is another by Sarah Hagan and can be found here.

We write all our vocabulary in the notebook with the notes that we take.

The last five pages are used as an index for vocabulary words.  The pages are folded into fourths and each column is assigned a letter.  The students list the vocabulary word and the page that it can be found on.

I hope this motivates some of you to start using a notebook for math.  If you already notebook, tell us some ideas that work for you.  If you have an awesome foldable you'd like to tell us about, leave a link in the comments so we can check it out.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Interactive Bulletin/White Boards

Every student teacher's dream is to have his/her own classroom and spend hours...days...weeks during the summer setting it up.  Desk arrangements, putting names on almost EVERYTHING, and making those cutesy bulletin boards sound like a blast!  The day before the students enter, the room is perfect, spotless, silent.  Then......they come.

This was me right out of student teaching 5 years ago.  I thought everything in my room needed to look perfect and attractive.  I slowly learned, that I needed every centimeter of space available to foster learning.  Now, those adorable bulletin board packages from all the teacher supply stores brightened up my room, but I noticed a few things.  Most of the time, the text was too small for the students to see.  They also took up a lot of space on the walls.  Most importantly, the students rarely used them.

I slowly learned that I needed to take charge and get my students engaged in and interacting with these displays.  Goodbye hundreds of dollars spent on borders.  Hello engaged students.

The following three examples are from the year I taught fifth grade.  My students loved these  boards and were always referring and adding to them.

This board was actually next to my desk and because I lacked bulletin or white board space, was taped to the wall.  I included some posters about the Civil War with the Essential Understanding questions above them.  We referred to these Essential Understandings throughout the unit and related each lesson to one of them.  This board stayed up for the whole unit.  Students would constantly take yellow post-its with questions they had.  I would try my best to find the answers to these questions and covered them in upcoming lessons.  The students also used blue post-its to record information they learned and found interesting.  

This next picture is of a closet I converted to a white board...because useable space.   The white board is actually from Really Good Stuff and came in a large roll with an adhesive back.  With this board, I used it as a review to reinforce the equation for finding the size of interior angles in regular polygons.  After learning how and why this formula works, I created this chart on my closet.  I started off by writing town the names and number of sides for a few polygons.  Every day I would add a couple more.  At first, I had students arguing over who got to write it.  Then I just began to draw names at random.

The last example I have for you goes back to the Civil War.  During the unit, I dedicated half of my main white board to this word wall.  As we heard a significant word that related to the Civil War, students wrote it down under the corresponding letter.  At the end of the unit, I had the students create ABCs of the Civil War books.  They were able to reference this board to help them and on each page were required to write the word, describe why it is significant, and draw a picture.  Please disregard the bar graph and the "Easiest Books List" that the students created.  This was for a school-wide reading program and my class wanted to be the only class where everyone read each selected book.  :-)

Well, you can clearly see that my room was probably not the most attractive that year, and with me being so organized, was difficult to spend my days in.  Many times I look back to pictures of my first classroom where everything was perfect, but I am proud at how my fifth graders took responsibility of their own learning.

Do you use interactive boards in your classroom?  What have you found to be successful?

Stay Connected!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Morning Meeting Shares Sign Up Board

With progress reports done and less than a month until February vacation, I was feeling creative this week.  So when a need arose during Morning Meeting, and some unuseable items needed discarding, inspiration struck!

The Need:
I used to think "Show and Tell" was too babyish for fourth grade.  But my class LOVES share time during Morning Meeting.  It's funny how the group dynamic changes from one year to the next.  Last year's group just wanted to get to the game portion of Morning Meeting and couldn't care less about sharing.  This year I have so many kids bringing in stuff from home to "share" that if I let them, they'd be sitting around in Meeting chatting for hours.  I'd been pulling names out of a hat each morning, but I felt like some kids were luckier than others in terms of having their name chosen.  I didn't want any child who was eager to share have to wait over a week have a chance to be heard.  

What I wanted was a system for posting names on a weekly basis.  It didn't have to be big, but I didn't want to use more paper than I had to (we're already running out this year).  Also, at this point in the year, I want the children to be independent and sign up in the morning on their own without my help (after all, they're already good about heading over to the Share Table to drop off their item, so it would be easy enough to sign up over there).  The posting didn't have to be big (I don't have any wall space to spare for another bulletin board) and I want it to be fairly close to our Meeting area for easy access.

The Junk:
Some of my whiteboards are unsalvageable.  I've seen the Pinterest posts about Turtle Wax, but I'm sure these are too far gone (warped and creased) to be saved.  I was very close to throwing a bunch out, but couldn't bring myself to do it.

The AH HA Moment:
The whiteboard would be nice and sturdy like a clipboard, and a transparency sheet over the names would mean no need for a new signup sheet each week!

The Process:
The first thing I did was put my roster into table format, as opposed to a list.  I thought it would help students find their name quicker, and I wanted a good sized space for them to write.  More ideas on what to write later.

I traced the whiteboard to cut out the paper and transparency sheet to fit perfectly.

Once everything was the right size, I dug out my Duck Tape.  I picked some up AGES ago knowing it would come in handy some day, but I wasn't sure of the best use for it.

I taped the paper at the bottom and the transparency at the top to hold each in place.  The transparency sheet can flip up if I need to change the names (one of my students might be moving soon).
I lined all the edges of the page to secure it to the board as well as for decorative purposes.  They're not the neatest Duck Tape edges you'll see on Pinterest, but form follows function, and so far so good.  The sign up board was taking shape to be just what I need it for.

I tied a pen to the board, and taped the twine so that it wouldn't slip.  And that's it!  The sign up board is complete.

As for the sign up process, I have lots of ideas about how to use this sheet for MY purposes.  If the kids are so eager to share, I'm going to make them work for it!  You can see that for the first week, they just have to put a check in the box to sign up.  However next week, they will need to write a multiple of 7.  The week after, a factor of 48.  The week after that, a related word for "said."  And so on and so on!  If you could use an editable sign up sheet for Morning Meeting (or any purpose, really) I have it available as a free download on my blog, Shut the Door and Teach.  You don't even have to complete the above craft (unless you love it) if you're content to make a copy each week to put on a clipboard.

Otherwise, please share with us, do you have any tricks for managing "shares" during Morning Meeting?

Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites on Teachers Pay Teachers

Monday, January 28, 2013

Short Stories in the Classroom

I feel very fortunate to have many students who love to read. On a team of over 100 sixth grade students, I would guess that about 80% of them would read all day if they could. I've worked hard as the reading teacher on the team to inspire "reading magic" in my room, create a fun and interesting classroom library, and build time for pleasure reading into each and every school day (and now my team teachers do the same). Our students always have SSR books with them. During homeroom, my classroom library is a happening place for any of the 100 kiddos who wish to visit. I'll share more about how my classroom library functions in an upcoming post.

I have to be honest with myself, though, and admit that most students can not acquire necessary reading skills by pleasure reading alone. As an avid reader myself since childhood, it sometimes pains me to break down a story and tackle each skill. There's always a part of me that wants them to "just enjoy the beauty" of every story we read (and sometimes, we do just that). That's the reader part of me. The teacher part of me, though, knows that the benefit of direct reading instruction is undeniable. Even in sixth grade, it's still really needed. I've been a witness to its positive effect on my students' comprehension, appreciation of literature, and standardized test score performance (as well as growth reflected in other data points including benchmark tests, etc.) over the course of the year in sixth grade.

I taught English for so many years that it fit like a glove. When I was asked to teach reading again for the first time in several years, I had to figure out a way to organize the new curriculum that would "make sense"- both to me and my students. There are so many skills to cover, and each skill can be taught in so many different ways. I had to develop some kind of road map that I would feel comfortable following. Although the literature textbook suggests that certain skills be covered while reading specific selections, I would often find myself thinking things like, "This would be perfect for teaching cause and effect," etc. even though the teacher's edition didn't suggest that. I have to admit that I've never been one to follow the teacher's edition.

I sat down with the curriculum guide and the standards and created a checklist of everything I needed to cover in reading for the year. Then I chose all of the selections from the literature textbook that would lend themselves well to the skills. I then created a comprehension packet for each fiction and nonfiction piece (I do poetry a bit differently) that included everything I would like to cover while using that piece. Each packet has its own activities and format.

I'd like to share some completed pages to show how I use this method while teaching one of the short stories in our text. The story "Stray" by Cynthia Rylant is basically about a young girl who finds and bonds with a stray dog despite her parents' insistence that the dog must be taken to the pound when the weather clears.

I start out most of my short stories by using my "Story Suitcase." The top suitcase opens up and there is storage inside. Sometimes I put clues to the setting in the box and ask, "Where will reading take us today?" For "Stray," I used the suitcase to inspire students to predict what the story might be about. I included a dog collar, a paper snowflake, a red heart, and a dollar bill. Each of these items symbolically represents something in the story. Students wrote their predictions in the first section of the packet and we discussed their thoughts. It was amazing how many creative predictions came out of just seeing those four items.

I always include a section to help students activate background knowledge as well before we read.
On the next page, I included new vocabulary I wanted the students to know before reading. We used context clues to identify the meanings of the words.

For "Stray," one of the skills I decided to focus on was using the active reading strategies. We had already covered the strategies and how to use them, and they are posted on my classroom wall (along with the "reading bugs" which serve as part of our mnemonic device). 
I included a chart to review the strategies and students drew each strategy's reading bug as well.
When students independently read the story silently, they used a chart in the comprehension packet to record the strategies as they used them. Students also completed comprehension questions at the end of the story.
After class discussion, we continued on to a group activity. Students reread the story in small groups and identified character traits using supporting evidence from the text. They had wonderful conversations as they completed this chart, and I was very impressed with their answers.
I always like to include a page called "Author in the Spotlight." Sometimes this page is at the front and sometimes it is at the end, but I feel it's important. I also feature the author in my Book Nook while we are covering the story.
For "Stray," I decided to use a biography entitled Cynthia Rylant (Library of Author Biographies) by Alice B. McGintyI shared selected passages with the students and had them record interesting facts about the author.

I then used Cynthia's book Every Living Thing. If you don't have this book, you should check it out! It contains fictional short stories with a common theme of animals that change people's lives. Many of the stories in it are great read alouds in the upper elementary grades where (be still my happy heart) most kiddos love animals. "Stray" is one of the short stories from this book. 

I chose the short story "Slower Than the Rest" for a read aloud. As I read the story, students listed similarities between the story and "Stray." I think it's valuable to share multiple pieces by the same author. This way, students can really get a feel for whether or not they like each author's style. Many students wanted to check out Cynthia's biography, Every Living Thing, The Van Gogh Cafe and other books by Cynthia in my library by the time we had finished. They are still being checked out now!
One of the great things about the packet is that you have one place for students to record all notes over the duration of the story. In addition, the packet serves as a great study guide prior to a test or quiz at the end.  Naturally, the packet varies depending on the reading selection. I have incorporated music, slide shows, DVD's, video clips, and other tools into the packet completion. The possibilities are endless!

I really feel that using this method helps my students stay organized and focused, and it lets them see how we can use the skills learned in class when we read. I feel my students really connect to each story using this method and ENJOY the story even though we have broken it down. I hope you can take away even one small idea from this that you can make your own and use in your classroom.

Stop by and see me here:

Happy teaching, friends! 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Groundhogs, Graphs and a Freebie.. OH MY!

It's already Sunday? Where has the weekend gone? Guess it's time to get down to business and get prepared for a new school week.

First, did you enjoy the Free for All Linky Party yesterday? If you haven't checked it out yet, what are you waiting for. At the time of writing this post there are already over 50 items linked up and it will continue to grow through tomorrow so keep checking back!

Well, onto today's topic of Groundhogs, Graphs and a Freebie! It seems like it's always around this time of year that I need something to pull my students back into their learning despite just getting back from Winter Break. I blame it on the weather and the longing for a snow day which just doesn't happen that often in Texas.

So this year when I knew I was going to be introducing graphing with points in all four quadrants, I wanted my lesson to also have a component they could continue to practice on after we had put our Coordinate Plane Flippable in our Interactive Notebooks.

Enter Groundhog Graphing! The learning goal for Groundhog Graphing is for the student to locate points on a coordinate grid.

Now, I know that lower grades only teach coordinate graphing in one quadrant so I couldn't leave you out and I made this a set that includes One Quadrant as well as Four Quadrant coordinates! Easy differentiation right there!


There are 12 Task Cards for each Level of Coordinate Pairs (One Quadrant and Four Quadrant) and all I simply do for these is laminate them and cut them out and then give my students either a dry erase marker to mark the point or a small counter where they can manipulate it around on the graph.

This is also great to then use when you are working on Transformations as you are able to physically slide, flip and turn the point around on the graph from the original point!

Now, you can go grab this for FREE in the 4mulaFun Teachers Pay Teachers Store! Don't forget to leave feedback if you use this and I'd love to see links to how you used it in the classroom or what your students thought.

Don't let Graphing and Coordinate Pairs send you (and your students) screaming for the hills! Make it fun and interactive and they will love you forever!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

First Free For All Linky Party!

Are you ready for our first "Free 4 All" Linky Party here on All Things Upper Elementary? So what's it all about you may be asking. Well, do you have an awesome FREEBIE to share with other 3rd though 6th grade teachers? Well then, feel free to link up below so we can all share in the goodness!

Now, what else can you do? Promote the Linky Party on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter!

Don't forget to leave comments and feedback for participants in the Linky Party if you add a link! Rule of Three Works for Me!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Interactive Read-Alouds in Intermediate Grades

Hello Friends!

I am super excited to be sharing my thinking in my first blog post here on All Things Upper Elementary!  I have enjoyed reading my friends’ posts this past week.  I just love having this blog as a resource…it’s like the professional development we all wish we had more of at our schools!

So, today I am going to share some of my thinking around interactive read-alouds (IRA).  Interactive read-alouds are when teachers read a text to the class (usually a picture book but it can also include chapter books over several days) and share thinking out loud.  The IRA books are then often used as mentor texts when teaching a specific reading or writing skill in either workshop.

Teachers will often give a brief explanation of the text before reading so that students can begin thinking about the topics and themes addressed in the IRA.  This also gives students time to activate any prior knowledge they may have involving content in the text.  As teachers read, they will share some insights in specific areas of the text.  For example, teachers might think-aloud about a part of the text that they have a strong connection with or where they learned something important.  Often times teachers choose to point out areas of the text that fit with the reading/writing lessons for that day. 

To make the read-aloud interactive, teachers will ask students to turn and talk to a neighbor about their own thinking at certain points as they are reading the text.  Students may also share their thinking with the whole class.  Picture books with rich content are mostly used during interactive read-alouds, but chapter books could be used over the course of several days as well.

Once the book is read, it can be referenced as a mentor text in either reading or writing workshops, during guided reading, and in either a reading or writing conference.

I believe that reading to children, even the big kids in intermediate grades, is critical in helping students develop into stronger readers.  Every class of fifth and sixth graders I have taught has enjoyed read-alouds and has been upset when there is not time for a read-aloud each day. 

There are numerous reasons for reading to students in the intermediate grades.  Here is a list of just a few:

·         IRA’s build a strong sense of community.  Every student in the room knows and understands what the class is talking about when a text is referenced.

·         They expose students to deep thinking in rich text.  During an IRA, teachers are able to model deep thinking as they share their own thoughts with the class.

·         They take away the decoding difficulty for struggling readers.  With IRA’s, students can focus all their attention on comprehension because they do not need to attend to the decoding of words.

·         IRA’s can connect to content area topics.  For example, Pink and Say by Patricia Pollaco can be read and analyzed during reading workshop, writing workshop, and a social studies unit on the Civil War.

·         The class can have conversations about why the author wrote the book.  What was the author trying to say to the readers?  What is the big idea or reason for reading this book?  How will it change us as readers?  These are all great questions to ask students as they think about the author’s message.

·         IRA’s are a great way to expose students to a variety of genres.

·         They are wonderful to use as mentor text in writing

·         Teachers reference parts of IRA’s when teaching a specific reading strategy in reading workshop mini lessons.

·         They give students the ability to analyze great writing.

·         They encourage students’ thinking…bringing their background knowledge to the understanding of the text.

·         They can be used for numerous learning opportunities throughout the school year.
Check out this video of me introducing the text, Ira Sleeps Over during the beginning of an interactive read-aloud.  This is just one example of how teachers can get their students involved in thinking about readingJ

The last thing I want to say about interactive read-alouds is that teachers should be keeping a running list of books that have been read in class.  With an anchor chart of texts read together, teachers can reference them all year long.  Here are two pictures of the books my fifth graders and I have read so far this year.  We are on our way to filling up our third chart!


I hope you have learned some new ideas around interactive read-alouds.  Give them a try with your big kids if you haven’t already.  You will be surprised by the rich conversations and learning that they will provide!
Stop by and visit me for more fun literacy ideas:


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Teaching Point of View Through Writing

Happy Wednesday! We have reached the midpoint of the week. :D

Today, I wanted to share a writing project that my students worked on a few weeks ago. I teach in Tennessee and they recently changed the writing exam. The students have to read a text and respond by writing a narrative story. So I decided to tackle this and our point of view standards at the same time...and why not throw in some Social Studies! Gotta love integrating skills into one assignment.

We started this lesson by reading a Rosa Parks biography. You can read any picture book or passage for this lesson. As we read, we took specific notes about her experience on the bus. Then, we discussed point of view. We made a list of different people who would have enough knowledge to retell the events from their point of view. Here is what we came up with: the bus driver, another passenger, Rosa Parks heself, the police officer, and even Martin Luther King, Jr, who one student said would need to know this event to better his purpose.

After that, we discussed how each person would have a distinct point of view and would describe the events according to that point of view. We brainstormed feelings and internal dialogue for each person. Then, the students chose which person whose point of view they wanted to use to retell the events. We wrote rough drafts, edited and revised and then published! I was so excited to publish because we rarely have time for formal publishing.

I made this fun printable to help them publish. Click on the picture to get a copy today! The awesome graphics are from Teacher's Clipart!

Then we combined the printable and the story for a cute published piece for a bulletin board! Check them out!

I had to share this one because of the image! I thought they would draw the person in the circle, but some of them made the circle the face! :D

From the point of view of Rosa herself:

You may not be able to see the title, but it says "I'm Still Standing." I just love these kids!

I would love to hear how you guys tackle the skill of point of view.

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