Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Change is good, right?

At the beginning of the school year, my husband was offered a new position at work that requires us to relocate. So I am sad to say that I am leaving my current school and my fabulous team. Change is hard, but I don't want my children to grow up afraid to try new things, so off we go on a new adventure!

I'm excited to say that I've been hired at a new school. I'll be teaching a new grade level and a new content area! Next year I will be teaching fourth grade math and science. I am excited but so nervous! Math was my least favorite subject as a child but after teaching third grade math, I can honestly say it makes so much more sense to me now. I love teaching hands-on and using manipulatives. And I love science. The investigations we did in third grade were so much fun....making roller coasters to test forces, testing what material would make the best raincoat, and figuring out what material cleans up an oil spill the best. I am looking forward to new adventures next year!

So as I sit here among 40 boxes of school things in my living room, I'm starting to prepare again...but this time not for reader's notebooks, but now for math notebooks. Stay tuned for new posts but all about math now instead of reading and writing. I'll keep up the old content because those seem to be popular hits on pinterest.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Writing to Inform

Our kids have been waiting and waiting and waiting all year long for us to get to the nonfiction writing unit. The time has finally arrived! We've worked for three weeks and are in the middle of publishing our nonfiction books.

When we began our unit, we talked about thick topics and thin topics. Nonfiction writers write their books to teach the reader, so they should choose a topic that they know a lot about and consider themselves experts on. Thick topics are those that they know a lot about - they could get up and talk and talk forever about those things! Thin topics are those that they may not know a lot about. They may know a few bits and pieces of information, but not enough to teach the reader anything. To start the unit we brainstorm examples of thick and thin topics for us and zoom in on a thick topic.

After choosing a thick topic, we start making notes and jotting down everything we know. We start by working in our notebooks and just listing things, but then we shift to a note facts page and start organizing our thinking. We cut the notes apart into strips, sort them into categories and glue them down to keep everything organized. This is an important part for kids. If students only have two or three notes for that category, we discuss if that category should be included. If students have only 1 or 2 categories of information, we go back and think about if the student truly is an expert on this topic or whether we need to go back and choose a different topic.

(Here's my example - my topic is Disney World)

Once our notes are organized, then we start drafting paragraphs and think about what text features we could add to really teach the reader and help them understand. We talk with partners about what would be helpful and what vocabulary words unique to the topic might need to be explained. We use a planning map to help us jot down what order the information will go in and what text features we might use. 

Then it's time to work on the final copy. We let the kids bring in photographs from home, but all other text features need to be hand drawn. Publishing can take a while for this unit simply because there's a lot to do! But the results are usually fabulous. Here is my nonfiction book that I made as a sample.

front cover

table of contents

text page - there is a definition for the word resort in one of the sentences

text page - the pictures are from a Disney World brochure that I cut up! I added the captions myself. I also included a pronunciation guide in the text.

maps - I drew them myself. I don't include anything in my samples that they can't do.

more text with photographs

a table to organize information

photographs with captions

the back cover - it truly is the Most Magical Place on Earth!


Here's a fun game for skills review called Heartbreaker. I can't remember where I found the idea from, but this is an easy game to create and can be used for all kinds of skills practice. 

To Make The Game Pieces
Come up with three types of game cards - Win __ Points, Lose ___ Points, and Heartbreaker cards. You can write these on heart cut outs, index cards, or scraps of paper. 
The win points cards can have all kinds of number values…2, 17, 146…whatever. The number is up to you. The same goes for the lose points cards. Choose any value…lose 5, 19, 44, 723 points…whatever. The heartbreaker cards have different things written on them, like take half the other team's points, lose a turn, give 100 points to every other team, etc. 

To Play The Game
To play, lay the heart cutouts face down on the table or place them face down in a pocket chart. Then choose some skill to review. Today we reviewed cause and effect. The team that got the correct answer got to choose a heart. They kept a running total of how many points the earned or lost. I also randomly award points throughout the game also (Suzie raised her hand, her team gets 10 points, etc.). You can end the game when you choose. ,When the game ended today I told the kids we'd take the winning team's number of points and have that many extra minutes of recess.

This is a fun game that the kids really enjoy because the point totals can change quickly due to the number value on the cards. Plus the cards can be used for a variety of activities. Tomorrow I'll use the same set of cards for a fact and opinion review activity. Have fun!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

We tweet!

This summer I had the opportunity to attend the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Conference in San Antonio with my team members. We had the absolute best time! I am so thankful my principal made the investment in my team and sent all of us. It was the best bonding experience (my goodness, I am so lucky to work with the people that I do...Mossman Third Grade Team ROCKS!) and we left energized about using technology.

The best session I went to was about using social media in the classroom, specifically websites like Schoology/Edmodo, Facebook, and Twitter. The presenters talked about "Twitter Tuesdays" they hosted at their school. Each class had a twitter account and they used it to communicate throughout the building. Classes might post announcements ("We're having an author's celebration, come and join us!") or even questions ("If the answer is 4, what could the questions be?"). You might also tweet an author and see if they respond. My colleague and I were hooked.

So we are launching into our own Twitter Tuesday of sorts at school. We have each set up twitter accounts and I have my twitter feed on the right side of the screen. Please feel free to follow us! We are looking to meet up with other schools by twitter and get in touch with authors, writers, and other experts. If you are interested in a Google Hangout, we are interested also! Tweet us!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Classroom Library, Part 2

One of my goals for the summer was to reorganize my classroom library. I have spent the past week or so getting my classroom library ready to go for this year. I bought new baskets so everything would match and I brought in a new bookshelf to accommodate everything. Here are a few of the changes I made.

I split my nonfiction up more. Previously I had a science basket and a social studies basket. That was okay but the books went everywhere. Now I split the science into three baskets: plants, animals, and other. I also made a basket for all the National Geographic Kids books. For social studies, I made a basket for people and places and a basket for holidays and history. I hope that by dividing the books into narrower concepts for each basket that the kids will have an easier time remembering which basket the books came from.

 Part of my library is arranged by genre. I didn't have enough baskets last year, so this year I added two more realistic fiction baskets, two more fantasy baskets, and another mystery basket. I also added a basket for graphic novels and a special basket for Bluebonnet books. 

Kids love magazines. My problem was that I had so many magazines that it would take over ten baskets just to hold each magazine. I decided to group them. One basket is all Boys Life. Another basket is Ranger Rick and Ranger Rick Jr. The next basket has science magazines like Ask, Odyssey, and Owl. Another basket has National Geographic Kids. The last basket has American Girl and Discovery Girl issues. The green shelf has other assorted materials (dry erase markers, scissors, notebook paper, erasers, magnetic letters, etc.) but can be emptied out and used for book baskets if needed.

The majority of my classroom library is arranged by series or author. All of the books on these shelves are by author or by series. The series that are more popular (Goosebumps, My Weird School, or Geronimo Stilton) have multiple baskets. I try to arrange the baskets differently throughout the year. As we start the year, I put the less challenging books like Ready, Freddy or Judy Moody at the top of the shelves so they will get plenty of action. As the year goes on and the kids become more confident independent readers, I put the more challenging books toward the top. Typically the top shelves get shopped first.

While I would have liked to put all the books together in one place in the room, it's just not possible without blocking part of the room. I want to be able to see all the kids while I am at the group table in the back. So I kept the section of the library by author and series up front and put the other sections with baskets by genre in the back of the room.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Reader's Notebook 3.0

A lot of the traffic I see on the blog is related to readers' and writers' notebooks. I understand why because I too go searching for information about notebooks! If only there was a strong, meaningful, user friendly example of a reader's notebook out there. There are plenty of examples of notebooks out there but they look complicated and I like to keep things simple. I think readers' notebooks are hard for most of us because it is not something we were taught to do as a child when we were developing our own reading identities. It's hard to teach something when you have a fuzzy grasp on it yourself!

I've taken a few weeks of summer off and tried not to think about school at all. No pinterest, no nothing! But now I'm starting to see the back to school displays going up in the stores and my little teacher nerd heart is starting to go pitter-pat and it's time to start thinking about reader's notebooks again. So here's my thinking about last year's notebooks and this year's notebooks.

Last Year's Readers Notebooks
The reader's notebook has always been a work in progress for me...a hot mess, if you will. Last year I decided to break the notebook up into sections or chapters according to each unit. There was a section at the beginning for a reading log and then after that the notebook was divided into units. This worked well as a more structured step for me and I felt like the notebooks were moderately more successful but not as great as I wanted. Here's the issues I had.
  • Reading log: out the window this year. The kids wrote down what they read religiously every day at the start of the year, but by December, that slowed to a crawl. Few did it at all. This year we are moving to a different strategy for recording what you've read. (Stay tuned.)
  • Organizing by unit made it difficult to find their reading responses. They didn't do much responding independently at all (but hey, that's on me - I need to set up something to hold everyone accountable for that next year), but it was hard to find the responses they did do because it was mixed in with everything else.
This Year's Readers Notebooks
So dividing the notebook into units was a good intermediate step for me because it made me think about what to put in the notebook during each unit. But they didn't respond enough! I want them to see the readers' notebook as a place to respond and show their thinking. Maybe I need to make more of a connection between showing your thinking in math and showing your thinking in reading by writing it down. Anyway, here's the grand plan for this year:

  • Continue with the word READ on the cover of the reader's notebook and WRITE on the cover of the writer's notebook. That made it really easy for the kids to figure out which notebook was which!
  • The notebook will be divided into three (not necessarily equal) sections:
    • Me as a Reader: goal setting, reading identity work, etc. goes here
    • My Work: this is the place where kids will put the work that we do together, whether it's making a concept web or jotting down ideas to share about a read aloud
    • My Thinking: here is where they will write down their responses to their reading. Giving it a separate section should make it clear that responding to your reading is valued and important, hopefully. I don't know if we will call it my thinking or my responding or something else.
  • No reading log at the front or in the book at all. We are doing something different with that this year. Part of me wants to frown on the reading log anyway. There's got to be other ways to gather data that a reading log shows besides having the kid write it down every day. 
  • More reading identity work. This lends itself to learning about genres and other important reading skills. Kids need to know about the kind of reader they are and be able to say the genre they prefer, the types of books they prefer, and why. 
I haven't made the notebook for this year yet. I bought the paper and have the composition book but just haven't gotten to it yet. We're busy enjoying summer!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Classroom Library

One of my goals for the summer is to come up with a new plan for my classroom library. In my opinion the classroom library is the heart of the reading teacher's classroom. A strong library is well organized, accessible to kids, includes a variety of genres, and is constantly updated. I am always thinking of ways to change things up in my library and keep it fresh.

This is the main part of my classroom library. Each of these baskets contains books from a series. Any time I get 3-5 books from a series, I make a new basket. It just makes it easier for the kids to find the books. I have collected so many series of books that I'm running out of baskets. I got these baskets at the dollar store several years ago and haven't seen them since. Now I need more of these baskets and can't find them! For series that are more popular (Geronimo Stilton, Goosebumps, My Weird School, the Fairies and Wimpy Kid come to mind) I use larger baskets. I may take the plunge this year and buy new baskets so that I know I have enough and they all match!

I also have a large collection of magazines. In the picture below the magazines are on the bottom two rows. I subscribe to Ranger Rick, OWL, Ask, Boys Life, Highlights, and Discovery Kids magazines. I also have old issues of Zoobooks, Discovery Girl, American Girl, and Sports Illustrated for Kids, so I have a LOT of magazines to choose from. I like the magazines to face out so the kids can see them. My problem is shelf space. If all my magazines face out they take up way too much room, so I've got to find a new solution. I am thinking about facing out just the newest copies and then putting the older issues in separate magazine boxes. You can cut down cereal boxes and decorate (hello, mod podge!) to save some money and make it look cute!


The rest of my library is arranged by genre. I have baskets for realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, poetry, biography, and others. I also have baskets for nonfiction. My problem with this set up is a nice one to have: as my collection of books has gotten larger, I have added baskets and need more space. Also, my nonfiction baskets are a hot mess. The kids just chunk the books in any basket they please. And that is totally on me - I need to label the baskets better so it is clear which books go in each basket. So my plan for this area is to totally reorganize the nonfiction baskets so they stay neat and "shoppable" throughout the year.

One thing that I do like to do is advertise or display books all around the room using picture easels. You can get these at Wal-Mart or Target in the picture frame section for $6-8. I like to put out picture books that I will be using for read aloud on display or books that I want kids to ask about. In the picture below I have two books out - one at the top corner of each bookshelf. My collection of easels grew throughout the year. I have books out everywhere.

So here's my plan for sprucing up my library next year:
redo baskets for series section
redo baskets for nonfiction and make the topic of each basket more narrow
make a separate nonfiction library area of the room
find something to use for displaying current magazines
make the area more interactive like adding a book recommendation board

What are your plans for your classroom library?