Thursday, November 29, 2012

Integrating Nonfiction Studies with Science and Social Studies

The Common Core Standards put as much emphasis on nonfiction as they do literature.  It is important to find ways to incorporate nonfiction into your classroom. We have been studying weather over the last couple weeks in Science and previously we talked about earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis. I decided for Science this week to grab a big stack of nonfiction books at the library.  I checked out books on different types of storms and natural disasters.  I grabbed Hurricanes: Earth's Mightiest Storms because it is a CC Examplar text, as well as several books by Seymour Simon since his Volcanoes book is an exemplar text. 
I also grabbed other books on tsunamis, mudslides, drought, wildfires, etc. The students had to choose a topic and read the book.  Their task is to create an alphabet book over facts they learned about the weather/storm/natural disaster.  I gave them the option of making the alphabet book as an actual book by hand or making a PowerPoint with a slide for each letter.  They love their Mac's so they all chose a PowerPoint.  We have read other alphabet books already this year on other topics, so they were familiar with the text structure of an alphabet book.

It has been a good assignment though.  I tasked them with the idea that all of their facts have to come from the text and not the internet.  We were able to talk about reading nonfiction with a purpose.  It also gave us a chance to review text features.  Since they are having to use all 26 letters of the alphabet, it makes them think a little differently.  We also talked about helpful resources for this task are to use the index and glossary at the back since they are alphabetized.  How do you incorporate nonfiction? 

I like that they are having to read a longer text and not just an article.  At the end, I am going to have them answer some general questions on the their text.  So, some of them may have to go back and read a little more closely.  Truthfully, this is how many of us read nonfiction though.  Authentically, we often skip around, scan the facts and pictures, skip to the chapters we are most interested in, and then go back and reread.  I want to help them to become authentic and enthusiastic readers.  How do you incorporate nonfiction to meet common core?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Favorite Online Resources for Teachers

I thought today I would share some of my favorite online resources that I have discovered from the blogging world or workshops:

Watch Know Learn - I just learned about this one today from Krista at Stellar Students.  It has videos for educational topics, even Common Core.  Just yesterday I was researching the different tools I could use to create lessons and videos for flipped learning.  I love finding great free videos and resources though.

Planbook - This is my online lesson planning software.  I love it.  It cost me $12 for the year, but it is super easy to use.

Engrade - I use this website to record grades.  They also have some apps and tools for creating online lessons and quizzes.

Weebly - I use this to create my class website.  I love it!  I had the option to add an assignment form where my students can submit assignments to me on my website.  It is fabulous. I am going to blog more tomorrow about ways I use my class website.

Sumdog - This is a really fun website for math practice.  They can play math games tied to Common Core.  It is a lot of fun and has a lot of choice.  You also can edit the skills by student to choose what math skills for them to work on.

Xtramath - My students use this to practice mastery of the four basic operations.  It works very well and has helped a lot of my students.  They were really struggling with basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Readworks - This is a website with passages, questions, and lessons tied to the Common Core Reading standards.  I love it!

Writing Fix - This is my favorite website for text related writing lessons.

ReadWriteThink - This is my favorite website period.  There are so many lesson ideas and interactive tools for Reading and Writing.  I use it every day.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The US Regions and Analyzing Characters

I hope you had a fabulous break.  I got back from Vegas on Thursday just in time for dinner and clean-up at my house with my in-laws.  They were here through yesterday.  I told myself I would be productive this weekend, and I took a nap instead. How about you?  I did spend time yesterday working on my "Common Core Paragraphs" unit.  Hopefully I will finish in the next couple days.  My store is on sale for 20% off today and tomorrow.  (So like everyone else you can get up to 28% off at my TpT store).

Social Studies - Five Regions of the US

Today in Social Studies we began our discussion of the Midwest.  We have already discussed the West and the Southwest.  Next week, we are going to start a project where they have to imagine if they were going through the Midwest, Southwest, and West on a roadtrip, where would they go?  For our text for learning about the regions we are using Jill Russ' Five Regions of the USA Complete Unit from TpT.  It really is fabulous. 

Each region comes with a booklet with five sections that total about 6-8 pages.  It covers things like land and water, landforms, climate, natural resources, and culture. It comes with questions, a test, and a little scrapbook. I really want to work on writing, so this week instead of using the questions they are writing a 1 paragraph summary of each section using a graphic organizer. In the past, we would try to read the whole 6-8 pages in a couple days.  They were really struggling with answering the questions and pulling information out of the text.  This week because there are five sections, they are reading 1 section each day.  This seemed a lot more manageable to them.  By the end of the week, they will have five paragraphs on the Midwest.  They will then put the info in the little scrapbook.  We will probably take the test on Friday.

Along with these packets on the regions, we are learning about the Native Americans of each region while we discuss that region. 

Reading - Analyzing Characters

In Language Arts today, we talked about analyzing characters and adverbs.  I decided at the last minute to make a little bookmark for them to write down their thoughts on the characters in their book while reading.  Before Thanksgiving break, we talked about letter writing a lot, so we are going to start a weekly reading response letter where they write to me about what they are reading.  Each week, I want them to focus on different skills in their reading response.  They can use their thoughts from their bookmarks to help gather ideas for their letter.  I was going to type a bookmark and copy it, but then decided to just cut out cardstock and show them what I wanted them to write.  Sometimes all the copies get old.

To model it, I grabbed a book from my shelf and started it today and wrote down things about the character Sprig from the first three chapters. Each bookmark is about 1/4th of a sheet of paper so they would have room to write. I had them put their name and date, the title of the book (underlined), a reading focus skill, and then words and phrases about the characters. We brainstormed all the things they could look for while analyzing characters.  At the end of reading time, we shared about what we read and they used their bookmarks to help them. I want to build more sharing time into our reading workshop.  We do pretty well with sharing our writing (although I do love the idea of a more formal author's chair).

FE66EC96-779E-4252-B4FD-180F37E4EDAF-1133-0000019AD82545C6, Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
2599E2E7-2AAC-4937-A459-80DBCDA9109B-1133-0000019ADBEC53C8, Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App

I am trying to move toward a Daily 5 where they have more choice over the order they complete the elements of Balanced Literacy. Because I am using a lot of technology that needs modeling, I just have not quite gotten there yet. I am playing with the idea of trying to create the mini-lessons (or at least some) for Daily 5 on the computer to create a "flipped learning" aspect to the mini-lessons and then focus more on opening and closing the workshop with sharing and setting goals. I really want to start doing more small-group lessons and individual conferencing and less whole-group lessons. I will probably use the "Listen to Reading" portion of Daily 5 for read aloud or shared reading. Have you tried incoporating technology into your Daily 5?  How does it work for you?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Writing Inspiration for Thanksgiving and Poetry

I have been a little absent the last few days.  We finished up school on Friday.  The last day before a break is always chaotic.  I thought I would magically get packed Friday night, pick up some stuff from the store for when I got back, clean my house, and you know...write some posts to schedule for my break.  I flew out Saturday morning to  Vegas. (I am here visiting with my mom and brother.  My mom lives in Utah, and I live in Texas.  We decided to meet up in Vegas for a few days.) I did pack and the house got vacuumed.  That's all.  So the laptop came with me, and I sit here in the Starbucks to give a brief post.

If you need some other last minute Thanksgiving ideas (not that you haven't seen a million of them by now).  If you are like me though, great ideas get tagged in your google reader for next year.  Here are some fun things we did last week related to Thanksgiving. 

We read the poem "Thanksgiving" by Edgar Albert Guest.  It is a great poem for this time of year and discussing mood and theme.  It is a relatively simple poem.  We read through the poem and underlined unfamilar words.  Then we discussed what the words might mean using context clues.  Then we labeled each stanza with the main idea of the stanza.  We followed up by using a graphic organizer I had created called "Poetry Accessories" to analyze the poem. We looked at things like visualization, sound, comparisons, mood, author's purpose, and message. It is from my Analyzing Poetry pack. My students then had to write a paragraph to show their analysis of the poem using the elements of the graphic organizer.  We completed these tasks together.  Going forward I am going to analyze our weekly poems in small groups as more of a guided reading lesson.  I think they will get more out of it in small groups.  Poetry is hard, but it really can be fun with elementary and middle school students to see them open up to thinking more metaphorically. I would like to follow up with writing more poetry.

I am trying to get back to my weekly writing inspiration series on my blog and with my students.  Each week I want to analyze a poem, quote, and picture.  Then, they use each of those items to inspire their writing.

For our quote last week, we used the following quote:

We used a form I had created to analyze the quote. They had to copy the quote down, write what they thought it meant, write how the quote made them feel, and write any connections they made to the quote. You can get a copy here.  After analyzing the poem and quote, they use the ideas from them to inspire their own writing.  They can write essays, poems, personal narratives, creative stories - all during their journal writing time.  I really like how our journal writing is going.  I am still struggling to figure out how often I want to publish pieces and really edit.  I have been using a lot of computer resources lately, so I am thinking we will save these more for publishing.  I am trying a lot of free technology resources right now, so they can learn how to use them.  Over time, they will have more choice and then I can conference more with them to work on the editing and revising.  Sometimes, technology is hard because you are having to teach the content as well as the technology.

We did a lot of letter writing last week.  On Friday, we read You Wouldn't Want to Sail on the Mayflower.  Then, we watched the Charlie Brown version of the Mayflower voyage on the "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" DVD. They followed it up by writing a letter from the point of view of a pilgrim describing their journey and the first winter.  The funny thing is that my students are doing fabulous with RAFT writing tasks where they write from another point of view, but really struggle with a basic summary.  So, I am thinking our next approach will be to write a summary from the point of view of a book character or person in history or something.  Not sure.  How is your writing workshop going?  Okay...back to Vegas.  (I know this post was not that brief. Mine rarely are. Hopefully, you don't mind too much.  If I am going to share an idea, I feel the need to explain it).

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Nonfiction Fun Texts on the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade and the First Thanksgiving

Today, we read Balloons over Broadway by Melissa Sweet.
The book is about Tony Sarg, the original puppeteer who got the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade started in 1924.  The illustrations are beautiful and very life-like.  It has a very collage-like feel to it.  I actually think this would be a fun follow-up project to the book to have the students create a biographical collage of text and pictures about someone of interest to them.

We read the book and created a character trait map on Tony Sarg. (Here is a Character trait map from Laura Candler.) He was very inventive, clever, and creative.  There are tons of examples of his creativity and inventiveness throughout the book. After reading the book, they researched the Macy's Parade and designed their own balloon.  My students really loved reading about the parade route and looking at the pictures of the balloon line-up on Macy's website. If you go to Melissa Sweet's website, you can download a discussion guide and activity kit for the book. I used the maze and the "design your own balloon" page from the activity kit.

I first read about this book from the blogs: Kid Lit Frenzy and Teach Mentor Texts.

Tomorrow we are going to read You Wouldn't Want to Sail on the Mayflower

It describes life for the pilgrims, but focuses on all of the gross and unpleasant parts.  Students always love it.  I am going to follow it up by having them write a letter back home to England from the point of view of a Pilgrim describing their journey and that first winter. Once again here is the interactive letter writer from Read Write Think.  Here is another one from

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How to write a paragraph with Common Core?

I created Writing Graphic Organizers for the Common Core Standards for Grades 3-5.  I know they are great.  The only problem is that my students are not ready for them yet.  We are still struggling with writing a solid paragraph. 

Thus, I woke up early this morning and started working on some graphic organizers for the grades 1 and 2 standards.  We will start easier and work our way up.  I started with the basic "hamburger" graphic organizer.  I like this better than the web because they can see the idea of an opening and closing to the paragraph.  I created 2 types of organizers and then created various versions for different kinds of writing.  I also created a version with RAFT (Role, Audience, Format, Topic) because I find this writing stategy to be absolutely amazing.

I am finishing up some rubrics and student checklists to accompany the organizers before uploading them to my TpT store.  Be on the lookout in the next couple days. In the meantime, here is a freebie that shows the basic template for the two organizers. 

I have changed up the details based on the types of writing.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Thankful for a smile or two

Today I am just thankful for the things in life that make me smile.  Sometimes you just need a smile or a good laugh. 

I smiled when I woke up.


I smiled when I got ready to go to bed.


What makes you smile in your life?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Disguised Turkeys, Newspaper Articles, and Persuasive Writing

I am going to actually finish all of the products I start one of these days.  Oh, well.

Today we presented our disguised turkeys.  Last week we read Letters from the Campaign Trail: LaRue for Mayor by Mark Teague. 

The vocabulary is fabulous, and the text structure really challenges students.  The story is presented half through persuasive letters and half through newspaper articles. This would be a fabulous story to discuss fact versus opinion and look at differences in newspaper articles and persuasive writing.  You also could look at the differences in opinions between Ike LaRue (the dog) and Mayor Bogwort on the mischievious behavior of dogs in Snort City.

We used this book as our segway from the election to Thanksgiving.  Just like Ike LaRue ran for mayor to represent the interests of dogs, we discussed what a turkey might do represent the interests of turkeys. My students had to present the viewpoint of their disguised turkey.  I gave them the option of writing a letter, writing a story, or writing a newspaper article about their disguised turkey and what he/she does to convince others not to eat him. Now, this is an activity I would like to work on expanding.  We will go more into the features of letter writing, persuasive writing, and newspaper articles.  Today I let them jump in and experiment.  We used the Read Write Think interactive tools to help us. Here are the links:

Those writing a story used the Interactive Story Map to plan out their story.  Those writing a newspaper article used the Printing Press tool.  Those that wrote a letter used the Letter Generator.

For my students who wanted to plan their articles on paper, I used graphic organizers that I had created for a product in my TpT store called Create a Novel Newspaper. (It is an activity I created to be a culminating activity on a class novel, but the graphic organizers could be used for any writing activity where you want your students to create a newspaper article or editorial.)

Here is a picture of my disguised turkey named Turbob, who is disguised as a cowboy or "redneck."


Here is a picture of my newspaper article on Turbob. 


I also am going to write a letter tomorrow from Turbob to juxtapose the letter and newspaper article just like Mark Teague did in Ike for Mayor.

If you are looking for some additional persuasive writing lessons and resources, click here for several fabulous lessons from Read Write Think. There are printables, Powerpoints, lessons, and interactive technology tools.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Persuasive Thanksgiving Writing Ideas

Here are a couple Thanksgiving writing ideas:

Writing Fix has a lesson I love called "Turkey Protests." It is based on the mentor text My Lucky Day by Keiko Kasza where a pig convinces a wolf not to eat him.

The idea of the lesson is to write from the point of view of a turkey convincing humans not to eat you.  The lesson includes ideas, student samples, and graphic organizers for you to print out.  While doing this lesson, I like to also look at other persuasive texts or discuss things like examples of persuasion in media or billboards. Think of Chick Fil A and the cows convincing you to eat chicken.  You could draw posters of turkeys saying "Eat Beef" or "Eat ham."

We are going to use the interactive Persuasive Map at Read Write Think to help us.

I also am planning on doing the disguise a turkey assignment.  Even though it is meant for younger grades, my fifth graders have always enjoyed it in the past.  Here is a link to a free one on Teachers Pay Teachers. My students will write a paragraph describing their disguised turkey. You also could write a biography of the disguised turkey or a creative story about the disguised turkey. You could incorporate the disguised turkey into the Persuasive "Don't eat me" assignment.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Text Suggestions on Hurricanes and Teachers Helping Teachers

Happy Election Day (or what remains of it).  I have been watching the election results and dozing.  It is so hard to sit still at the end of a day and stay awake (even when it is important).

I just wanted to share a quick post on hurricanes in case you are trying to help your students understand Hurricane Sandy.  I am going to share some text suggestions on hurricanes you could use with your students.

First, I wanted to mention an opportunity if you are looking for a way to help out teachers who have been affected by the hurricane.  By now, you are probably aware of this, but I want to pass it on just in case.  Laurah at the ESOL Odyssey is sponsoring an opportunity for Teachers to Help Teachers.  She has put in a ton of work into organizing this, and it makes me proud to be a teacher when we work together to support one another. There is a form you fill out to choose an item from your store to donate to teachers in need.  You also can blog about it and link up to the linky party to show your support. Many teachers have lost a lot of their materials, and this would would be one way you could help them rebuild.

My students have been studying fast changes to the earth, so we had already been discussing earthquakes, volocanoes, and tsunamis.  We are working on discussing Atmosphere and Air and about to begin our discussion of weather.  As it fits in with the rest of these discussions, I am adding some additional discussion of hurricanes.

Last week we watched this video on Hurricanes from Brainpop. We also watched a Discovery Education video on how hurricanes are formed.  Here is a link to StudyJams and some videos related to weather.  Here is a Magic School Bus episode on Air, which we will watch as part of our discussion of atmosphere and air. 

Now, some text suggestions on Hurricanes:

Looking at several texts on hurricanes is going to give us some opportunity to practice some of the 5th Grade Common Core Reading Informational Standards.

RI 5.5 Compare and contrast the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in two or more texts.

RI 5.7 Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently.

RI 5.9  Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

We will start by discussing as a group what questions we might have on hurricanes.  Some examples might be:
How are hurricanes formed?
How are they detected?
What can people do to prepare?
What kind of damage to they cause?
How do people rebuild?
What makes hurricane conditions more dangerous?

We will then read one book together and make a 2 column chart for questions and answers. Students will then practice the skill on their own by reading some books independently and putting questions and answers. I may even have some students read about hurricanes and other students read about tornadoes, wildfires, tsunamis, etc. for some variety.

Magic School Bus has a a book called Inside a Hurricane.  My library had multiple copies of the book, so I am debating if I want to do this as a read aloud or have them read it in small groups.  I may use this one as the read aloud. This would be narrative nonfiction as it presents nonfiction information as a fictional story.

Hurricanes: Earth's mightiest storms is an exemplar text for Common Core. It has a lot of historical information on Hurricanes and a lot of pictures. I am actually debating on using this book as the read aloud as well since it is an exemplar text and would be a good book for finding answers to questions. This might be one some students would struggle to read independently as the information is more dense.  By having students read with questions in mind, it gives them an intent for reading.
Do Tornadoes really Twist? Questions and answers about Tornadoes and Hurricanes is a book that is structured as basically questions and answers.
I actually would like my students to read all three books.  We may do one all together and then they can read the other two in stations or groups. We will then compare/contrast the structure of each book.  For each one, I will have them write questions and see if they can find the answers. We will discuss the differences in how the information is presented and if one structure we felt was more effective than another.  This would also be a good opportunity to discuss text features for each text structure.

At the end, they will use the information from all three books to write about what they learned about hurricanes, integrating information from multiple sources.

We may extend this skill by having them the next week each read a book and an article on different types of storms/natural disasters.  I will have them use the same process of writing questions and answers.  They will then write a short presentation/speech on what they learned to present.  I think having them speak on what they learn will be more engaging when there is some variety to the topics.  We will probably just discuss as a group what we learned about Hurricanes.  I may even have them research ways they could try to help efforts for Hurricane Sandy, such as donating to the Red Cross or have them see if there are places to help/donate to kids that have been affected. How are you discussing hurricanes in your classroom? How are you using the Common Core Informational Standards?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Last Minute Election Resources and Text Suggestions

One of my primary goals as a blogger has been to share texts and ideas to incorporate Social Studies and Science with Literacy.  I love Literature and feel that it should be integrated into all learning experiences. Having your students read nonfiction is so important in this digital age, as so much of what we read in our daily lives is nonfiction. I am going to try to be more consistent on sharing text suggestions for Social Studies and Science topics, as well as technology resources that apply.

Everyone has been sharing great Election resources and products.  We have been discussing Native Americans and the US Regions, and my students have been doing book club units with My Side of the Mountain and Island of the Blue Dolphins. As a result, we have not had much time yet to discuss the Election.  I wanted to start discussing it some today, but I was sick. We are going to spend most of tomorrow looking at some Election Resources and possibly the rest of the week. is a great resource I came across a couple weeks ago.  It is completely free and has great lesson ideas for Reading and Common Core. Here is a link to some passages they have on the election.

ReadWriteThink has some lesson plan ideas related to the election.

While at home sick today, I was researching the exemplar texts for Common Core.  One of them is So You Want to Be President. I checked it out from the library tonight, and we are going to read it tomorrow. 

Here are some ideas for using with this book:

We also are going to read The Kid Who Ran For President over the next two weeks as a read aloud. There are some resources for this book on TpT.  I will probably just use my graphic organizers that are tied to Common Core.

Another cute book is Off and Running by Gary Soto.  It is about two kids who run for class president.

I made a Live Binder of all the fabulous resources other bloggers have been sharing.  In case you are last minute like me, hopefully you might find something helpful.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

An Amazing Giveaway and Gratitude

Today we had a great day!  This was fabulous because yesterday was crazy.  The kids had a great Halloween party, but I was so tired at the end of the day.   Today my students worked really hard. We had some great discussions, and they worked independently when they needed to without causing too much disruption for others.  I had someone tell me one time that teaching gifted students is easier because they are more motivated.  This is not necessarily true.  Gifted kids can be so creative and absolutely amaze you when they apply themselves.  However, they also can be very emotional and sensitive.  Often, they also are used to things being so easy for them, that once something is challenging they fight it with everything they have.

Anyway, I am just happy that it was a good day!  In fact, I am thankful.  This month I plan on doing a gratitude journal with my students.  How do you bring up the subject of gratitude in your classroom?  This weekend I am going to work on my gratitude journal and maybe some other ideas for gratitude in the classroom to share. I would love to have guest bloggers do some posts related to gratitude in their own lives or classrooms.  Let me know if you are interested.

I hope you stop by the amazing giveaway going on at Miss V's Busy Bees.  I am thankful for her enthusiasm and great ideas.
 Miss V’s Busy Bees

 There are five giveaways with absolutely tons and tons of prizes from lots of bloggers.  One prize is $15 credit to my TpT store.

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