Monday, March 31, 2014

Poetry Mentoring: Guest Post, Elizabeth Stavis

love that dogWriting and interpreting poetry requires heavy lifting of key skills we want students to know: interpretation, synthesis, attention to detail, language, analyzing author's purpose, etc. But while students love Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky, they sometimes shy away from the more subtle poems, confused by what they mean and lost in the language. It can be tough to guide them through the dense works.

Lucky for us, Sharon Creech has provided a kid-friendly guide. Love that Dog is a deceptively simple story about a boy, Jack, who gradually changes from a student that rejects poetry to one who not only works to understand poems, but writes them himself to share his life. The story is written as a series of poems, and famous poems are sprinkled throughout as Jack's teacher, Mrs. Stretchberry, introduces them. Jack begins the story with a clear stance:  

Sept 13th

I don't want to

because boys

don't write poetry.
Girls do.

 But as the book progresses, his feelings slowly shift until he is writing to authors and sharing his poetic works with the class.  

Love that Dog can fulfill many roles in the elementary classroom--as a novel to teach poetry or character change, as a tool to engage reluctant readers and writers in a difficult subject--but what I love is its ability to model how to mentor off of a great writer. As Jack reads famous poem after famous poem, he tries writing a version for himself. One of his most frequent models is William Carlos William's "The Red Wheelbarrow" poem:

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Throughout Love that Dog (and the sequal, Hate that Cat) Jack is constantly re-inventing this poem.

So much depends

a blue car

splattered with mud

speeding down the road.

He models what mentoring off of an author looks like, as well as the idea of re-writing and revising.

Jack does this with numerous poems, and by the middle of  Love that Dog, students can recite the original poem by heart and immediately connect his work. Jack mixes and matches pieces of different famous poems, and they can trace the source of where each piece comes from. They learn to identify great works of literature, to read closely, to notice repetition and realize it's important.  

While we had been reading Love that Dog as a whole class read aloud, we had also been studying poetry during reading workshop. We focused on three main ideas: poem techniques help us to visualize the world in new ways (sensory details, similes, metaphors, personification, etc), poetic techniques help poems to have an interesting rhythm or sound (line breaks, alliteration, repetition), and poetic techniques focus the reader on the meaning or purpose behind the poem (all of the above).

Towards the end of Love that Dog, we combined the work students had been doing in Reading Workshop and Love that Dog and create poems that were inspired by the poems in the novel. We played around with different subjects, word choice, and line length, using the famous poems as a guide, but also thinking about meaning and sound.

What was amazing is how fluidly students were able to write these poems after all of the models they had read in Love that Dog. Even some of my most reluctant writers were successful. And they were proud--so proud--of their work.

"Inspired by" Poems

 photo 1 copy photo 2 copyphoto 2photo 3photo 1photo 4

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Creating Diagrams in Interactive Notebooks

If you are like me there are times where creating a diagram is necessary to show how something works. When I was teaching fifth grade we had so many diagrams and they were up all over our classroom because I didn't know better. This made it really hard for my students to actually use the diagrams to retain the knowledge.

Now that I have been using Interactive Notebooks for the past four years I wish that I had been using my students lab books (composition notebooks) better back then. I remember we had a lab where we talked about weathering, erosion and deposition and my students used their pencils and drew pictures. HOW BORING! Color is so much more fun and can add to their learning.

I love using the Tri-Fold Mini Book Template to create flowing lessons that build upon each other or diagrams with room to identify things.

The front section allows me to title the flippable for Weathering, Erosion and Deposition while also being a little creative. Most of the time my students only do the extra creating when they are at home and studying. Inside class time is used for the actual diagram creation as well as labeling. 

The extra side on one of the flaps allows the students to keep definitions for each of the terms that are involved in this flippable. I love that we can also color-coordinate them with the title words and areas in the diagram.

When you open up the Three-Flap Mini Book it gives plenty of space for the diagram for the process of Weathering, Erosion and Deposition. I only wish this was how I taught my fifth graders (who have now graduated) because I think it could have really helped. Believe me, I have sent it on to quite a few friends who still teach as 5th Grade is a testing grade for Science and any visual the students can use will help!

Do you love using Flippables as much as I do? Would you love to add three more templates to your arsenal so that you can use them as needed? Click the picture below to join my newsletter and you will be given a link to download three new templates in PDF (easy printing) and JPG (editable) format!

Would love to hear from you and see you over on my blog so check me out at

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Have you tried Edmodo yet?

I recently had the opportunity to attend a workshop on Edmodo.  Whenever I heard about teachers talking about creating a class page with their students, Edmodo always came up.  And I'm interested in using technology more with my students;  I already had a classroom blog which I talked about in this post.  I just didn't know how Edmodo was different.

The instructors likened Edmodo to Facebook.  While I wouldn't "sell" it to parents in that way, the kids did see the connection right away and were excited about all the features:

  1. Kids can personalize their account complete with avatar, learning style, career goal, and inspirational quote (they can even search by famous person within the system).
  2. Kids can reply to posts.
  3. Kids can write their own posts for others to reply to.
  4. Kids can upload photos, links, and documents.
  5. Teachers can post all of the above as well as polls and quizzes (very similar to using Google forms, but integrated onto Edmodo itself).
  6. Teachers can enter dates and assignments into an integrated calendar.
  7. There's an app for that (Apple and Android).
However, Edmodo is designed for children and therefore has safeguards against predators as well as cyber bullying. 

First, when you sign up for Edmodo as a teacher, you are given a "classroom code."  You will give that code to your students when you sign them up, and no one else can see the page unless they register with that code.  It's not the same as a password, in that the children will sign in with a username and password each time they log in, but the code is only used by them once when the register.  Once your whole class registers, you can "lock" the group.  If you get a new student later in the year you can reset the code to register that student (students who registered already don't need to re-register with the new code).  So the bottom line is, no one is getting on now or later without your help.

Second, unlike Facebook and other social media sites, there is no private messaging between students.  Anything a child writes will be seen by you and every other child in the class, and it will be logged under their real first name.  If a child was going to say something inappropriate, it would be as if they stood up in the middle of class to say it; it's all out in the open.  You even have the option (in case you do have a "bold" class this year) to "moderate" comments.  That is, you can set their posts to stay hidden from the other kids until you approve each one.   

Edmodo does not require an Email to sign up (unlike most websites that you create accounts for).  The only tricky thing about signup is that children need to tick a box that says their parent has read and agreed to the terms of use.  Out of respect to this rule, I sent home a permission slip that granted the children permission to tick the box in class during my introductory lesson.  [Update] A reader requested a copy of this permission slip.  I've added it to my TPT store for free for a limited time, so if you're interested, grab it now!
I've used Edmodo for 2 weeks now, and honestly I am not sure I love it more than the classroom blog.  Tomorrow over on Shut the Door and Teach I will be writing a pros and cons list for Edmodo versus Weebly.  So if you're interested in Edmodo, I feel it IS worth trying, but you might find a different platform suits your needs better. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Upper Grade Test Prep Strategies

Hello Upper Elementary friends! It's Jennifer from Teaching to Inspire in 5th. We are knee deep in test prep over in Georgia. I wanted to write a post describing (and showing a few pictures) of my favorite test prep activities to use.

Gallery Walk:

For this activity, I post several problems on chart paper around the room. In groups, the students walk around and complete each problem. I have them complete them on a piece of paper first. Then, I choose groups to complete on the chart paper. Finally, if time allows, I have the groups rotate through one more time to compare and contrast their answers and strategies with the work on the chart.

Graffiti Test Prep:

If you have never seen this before, students respond to a text or stimulus on butcher paper at the same time. For this activity, I took three test prep questions and taped them to the middle of a piece of butcher paper. I sectioned off the butcher paper into four sections: A, B, C, D. This referred to the students and not the answer choices.
The students had to finish these sentences stems for each of the three questions:

  • The question is asking me...
  • The topic/skill of the question is....
  • I already know ....
  • The answer is ... because ...
  • wrong because... (done for all three incorrect answers)

Hands On Test Prep:

Finally, I love anything hands on that the students can manipulate. Here are two examples of hands on test prep centers I have used.

This one is a dialogue center where the students manipulate the punctuation and place it correctly.

This hands on center has the students correcting pronoun and antecedent agreement errors.

Do you use any of these strategies in your classroom? Or do you plan to try one out? I would love to know which one!


Monday, March 24, 2014

Guest Post: Katie Lately, States and Regions Freebie

 Hey Everyone! It's Katie from Katie Lately. I am so excited to be guest blogging at ATUE today! I am currently teaching 5th grade in the North Texas area.  Our main focus in 5th grade is American History...but we start the year with States & Regions. I wasn't too impressed with the one week worth of material I had to pick from so I decided to get creative and develop my own. The States and Regions unit is a 6 week unit about the 5 different regions and the states that form them. We end the unit with a big research project about a state. I can honestly say, from start to finish...this was SO MUCH FUN! 
My full unit is in my TpT store for you to check out, but I wanted to explain how I used all this in my classroom and give you a freebie! I started off by contacting each states tourism department and requested a free travel brochure for each state. I have a crate in my room that I store all of these in. (Except Connecticut who is the only state to go paperless) Then I checked out all of our State Books from the Library and stored them on a cart in the back of the room. Finally, I found maps (that for the most part came with each travel brochure) and a few websites that I made available to my kids. I kept all these on hand throughout the duration of the unit. 

Week by week we went through a region of the US. Each region had their own journal pages my kids added to their SS Journals. I decided to set up my room in stations and my kids used the resources I listed above and moved around my classroom to find information. It took about 2 class periods for them to get through the stations and find the information each week. As they finished, I gave them the Region Word Search for that week...and they loved those! 

At the beginning of the week, we talked about the states in a particular region, and we labeled them on our Study Guides. These are not mine, but I wanted to link them as a resource if you'd like to use them too.  They come from Teacher Vision and are free! Just do a search for each of the 5 regions and you'll find them all! I also used this same page as weekly quiz. 
Finally, to culminate this unit, we did a big State Float Project. I knew I didn't want to do a research paper. Let's face it...I always hated writing them myself, so I wanted to make this fun. I created an A-Z State Floats Notes packet for my kids to turn in as their research. For each letter of the alphabet, I came up with something I wanted them to research. {Examples: C=Capital, H=Historical Event, L=Landforms} My kids really seemed to enjoy this type of research and I enjoyed grading it! The other part of the unit was to construct a State Float (like a parade float) I had seen these projects floating around on Pinterest and knew I wanted to try it out. They turned out so cute!!! We set them up on display in our Science Lab for a few days and let other grades parade through and check out our floats.
 I am linking my State Float Project with examples for all the ATUE readers! I hope you enjoy this unit as much as we did and will be able to use this in your classroom too! 

If you have enjoyed the State Float Freebie and would be interested in implementing the full States and Regions Unit in your classroom, head on over to my store and get your very own! :)


Thursday, March 20, 2014

National Poetry Month

I love writing.  I always have.  There's just something about a fresh journal and a brand new pen that makes me want to write ALL.DAY.LONG. I often curl up on the couch and wait for inspiration to hit. Once it does, I become lost in a world of creativity.  Can you tell I'm a Pisces?
Why am I telling you all of this? It's because I'm SUPER EXCITED that April is coming and that only means one thing:  National Poetry Month!  Woo hoo!  An entire month actually dedicated to my favorite genre!  What better way to celebrate than to share some of my favorite poetry sites with you?!?
I hope you find time to use them in your classroom, even if it's just for a quick read aloud.  

This site has some pretty funny poetry that students will enjoy!  One of my recent favorites on the site is found under "Funny Poems."  It's called, "The Teacher Took My iPod." My advice?  Read it out loud.  Poetry is to be shared and enjoyed aloud.


One of my favorite sections on this site is called, "Poetry Class."  Once you click on this tab, you will be taken to a list of poems about writing poetry. One that your students are sure to love is, "I Have to Write a Poem." This explains trying to write a poem when you really don't know how to do it. 

Jack Prelutsky is one of the most famous children's poets! I found this site through Scholastic and it is bookmarked to use with my class next month.  Prelutsky offers a quick workshop where students can draft a poem online. The writing tips are are great for helping your writers stay on track.  Check it out!

There are so many sites that I could spend all day listing them here!  Start with the three listed above and see if there is a need to check out any more.  If you are like me, you will get lost in the poetry and you won't have any time left for additional sites.  Be sure to bookmark these for your students so they can explore poems and poetry writing whenever time permits.

To get you started in your upper grades classroom, download a poem from my new resource, "Spring Activities in a Pinch!"  This resource hasn't been posted, yet, but should be out within a few days.  Look for the link over at my blog, Leanne Baur's Creative Classroom, sometime this week. (Click on the poem to download your copy of it.)

 If you are preparing your files for National Poetry Month, purchase this resource which is filled with poetic terms, posters, and activities to do with your upper grades writers! It will last you awhile!

Here's to a great kickoff to National Poetry Month!  Have fun planning and don't forget to comment and share what you have done with poetry in your classroom. Who knows? We may even feature your ideas in a future blog post! 

Talk to you soon!

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