Sunday, February 26, 2017

Student-Generated Questioning

Here's a strategy that is so easy to implement, yet will yield tremendous results for your students in the area of reading comprehension. I have been using this strategy {with great success} in my small reading groups this school year. You can use it to promote deeper thinking with any fiction reading selection.

Higher-level questioning has been an important focus with my students. We have been "thinking about thinking" so to speak. Our book talks have revolved around questions that require the reader to think beyond the basic text.

Recently, I had an epiphany about reading comprehension questions. Why do the questions always come from the teacher? Who says that it's the teacher's job to assume complete control over the book conversation? Why am I doing all the work, when my students are fully capable of asking intelligent questions about the novels we read? For me, the best ideas come out of desperation, and that is exactly where this idea came from.

Together, my students and I brainstormed a list of "question starters" that would activate thinking. We talked about the difference between low-level and high-level questions. We set a ground rule that if the answer to a question could be found right in the book, it was too basic for our type of book talk. Then, I made this very simple template to use with my students.

I made an editable {FREE} template to share with you here! Just download the PowerPoint file and then you can add your own student names. This template will work for a small group of six (or fewer) students. Make one copy for each student in the group. I like to use a different color paper for each student. Cut up the center line of each template, and then cut out on each line to create six different foldable openings. Then paste this right on top of a piece of white paper. You will need to paste around the edges, without pasting the "shutters" closed. 

Now, here is how I manage it in my classroom. After reading a section of our novel, I give each member of the reading group a folded question paper. I ask them to write one question at the top of the paper, that will challenge the rest of the group (including me) to think deeply about the reading. They refer to the question starters if needed.

Then, in carousel fashion, the students rotate around the table to each question page. Without peeking at the other responses, they lift the flap and answer the question in the space provided under his or her name. I have a special chirping bird signal that I use to manage the rotation. I try to keep it fast-paced, but still allow them enough time to write a complete thought.

Once the students have responded to every question, we complete a final rotation when all of the answers are revealed. They really enjoy this part, especially reading all the answers to their own question. It gets them excited to write another challenging question next time.

I have found that the questions keep getting better and better! My students are highly motivated to write questions for each other. Keeping all the answers under flaps adds to the suspense and requires each student to complete an individual response. The bonus is that I can easily assess comprehension of the reading for each student.

When it comes to reading comprehension in small reading groups, go ahead and tap into your greatest resource. . .the students themselves! I hope that you will find this strategy useful in your own classroom!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Fortune Cookie Quotes For the Classroom

"At the end of the day, people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel." ~Maya Angelou

For me, teaching has always been so much more than just instructing curriculum. If teaching were a hamburger and curriculum were the patty, then this girl's burger would be dressed with crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, slabs of melted cheese, the perfect amount of ketchup, and of coarse an oversized bun. That's just the way I roll. Let's face it. Burgers are bland without all the dressings, and learning is made flavorful when lots of special trimmings are added to the meat. I bet you share my passion or you wouldn't be reading this post.

I tried a new condiment on my teaching burger this month, and I'd like to share it with you. If you are searching for a way to spread positivity within your classroom, then fortune cookie quotes will be just what you need. Now let's get down to business.

You will want to head on over to my TPT store to grab yourself a free copy of the quote strips. There are 96 quotes, plus a sign included in this download.

Print the quotes on bright, colorful paper. There are three sheets of quotes. I copied three pages of each sheet on assorted colors, which ended up being nine pages in all, or 288 quotes to fill my container. Cut the quotes into strips. A paper cutter makes this job easier if you have one.

Wrap each of the quotes tightly around a pencil to create a coil. Then drop them into a clear container. This makes for a good T.V. time project. You could also search for family or student helpers.

Place the quote container in an easy-to-access location in your classroom. Print and laminate the "Take One" sign to hang near your display. I placed my display right near the classroom door.

Then, establish some rules for how and when your students may take a quote. For example, perhaps they could take one on their way out the door, on Monday mornings, before journal writing time, before a class meeting, etc. Think about what works best with your own program.

Encourage your students to think about and/or discuss the meaning of the quotes. What personal connection can they make with the quote? How might the quote influence their actions? Did it give them a new perspective or change their outlook on life?  Hopefully it will do all of the above. These quotes are meaningful.

I'm actually beginning to think that these fortune cookie quotes would work well in many settings. Does your faculty room or school office need a little pick-me-up? How about your home? Wouldn't it be fun to grab a quote at the hair salon or dentist office? Go ahead. . .share the idea and spread some cheer! Enjoy!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Shoebox Stories

I don't know about you, but I am always looking for ways to get kids excited about writing. I believe this idea came from a Highlights magazine I read as a child in the early 80's. The craft must have made a lasting impression, because the idea recently resurfaced in my brain after all of those years.

Making a shoebox story is kind of like turning a story into a television show. It is basically old-fashioned animation. The story is written and illustrated on a looooooong strip of paper. The paper is then rolled up and attached to cardboard tubes that have been inserted through a shoebox. Twisting the tubes will play or rewind the story just like a cassette tape.

This retro project literally had my students begging for writing time. Oh yeah! If you want to breathe some life back into your writer's workshop, read on and then go ahead and start collecting shoeboxes and paper towel tubes. You will need one box and two tubes per student.

The following pictures will help you to see how I made shoebox stories with my students. The entire process (from start to finish) kept us very busy for about a month. It was time very well spent.

In addition to shoe boxes and paper towel tubes, you will need some rolls of paper. Bulletin board paper would work, but I thought it would be easier to manage smaller rolls of easel paper. I bought my paper at Christmas Tree Shops for $3.99 per roll. It took 5 rolls for 22 students. Of course, I remember taping pieces of paper together when I was a child, but that sounded like a bit of a nightmare with a full class of students.

I highly recommend that you recruit some parent helpers to cut the boxes ahead of time. This job is definitely for an adult because it requires a razor blade. The tubes come in many different sizes, so be sure to trace as you go, using the end of each tube as a tracer. Line up your holes in the bottom corner of each box. Also, cut a large rectangular opening in each box lid. 

Here is what some of our boxes looked like when stored in the classroom. You can see the wide variety of sizes and patterns that helped to make each shoebox story unique. We stored writing materials inside the boxes. Students could easily find their box when it was time to begin writing again.

After making a plan on paper, my students did all of the drafting, revising, and editing on Chromebooks for this project. Upon approval, the stories were printed and then it was time for publishing!

As the drafts came out of the printer, I sized up each individual box and story, and then estimated the width and length of the paper for each story. In some cases, students did come back for an extension. It was easy to add more paper by simply taping two strips together. 

We discovered that it was easier to work with the long paper when it was rolled up, paper clipped, and then gradually unrolled as the story was written. This enabled the students to work at their desks.

It worked out well to have them complete all of the writing first, and then go back to illustrate. I asked them to try and keep the writing about an inch from the bottom of the paper. That way, they would have plenty of room for the running illustrations.

My students were so deeply invested in this project, that they put in terrific effort with very little redirection or prompting. They took tremendous pride in their work.

Once the story was completely written and illustrated, it was time to tape it to the rolls inside the box. I started by taping the beginning of the story to the paper roll on the left side of the box.

Once I had the first side taped to the roll, I just twisted that roll so the story wrapped around it. When I reached the other end, I taped that side of the paper to the roll on the other side. By turning the rolls, you can view the story through the opening you have cut in the box lid.

The children really had a lot of fun with these shoebox stories. They were especially eager to share the stories with each other and put them on display. The finished products were well worth the effort. I hope that you will give shoebox stories a try in your own classroom! Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Where in the World Cups

Year after year I am always so surprised by the number of students who cross my path without knowing exactly where they live in the world. "What is the name of your continent?" "Ummmm, the U.S.A.?" "In which country do you live?" "I know! I know! Pennsylvania!" 


Really, knowing all the layers of this place we call home is a very abstract concept. It can be challenging for many children to visualize how our place in the world is inside another place, which is inside another place, which is inside another place, and so on. 

One year, I searched high and low for a set of seven nesting boxes that would fit one inside the other. I was determined to make a visual that would help my students remember something that I consider to be an essential concept. The nesting boxes were really hard to find. I thought and thought about other objects that nest inside each other and then it hit me. Cups! That would be an easy {and inexpensive} solution!

Now, my students know exactly where they live in the world. We zoom all the way out to the Milky Way Galaxy and then work our way back in to our planet, continent, country, state, and town. Finally, students are required to memorize their home address.

I would like to share a set of editable cup labels with you so that we can all rest easy knowing that our students will be able find their way home from outer space. :-) Be sure to download the file and then open it in Powerpoint for easy editing. Just click to edit each label as needed. Then print and make copies for your students to cut and paste onto some cups. I bought my cups at the dollar store.

If you teach a whole unit on geography like I do, here is another tool you might like to check out. I ditched my old geography worksheets a few years ago and replaced them with this lapbook. You seriously couldn't pay me enough to go back to those boring old worksheets. Now my students actually enjoy learning about geography!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Mason Jar Spray Craft

My daughter and I had some fun with a fall craft last weekend. We are trying to keep in mind that fall is just around the corner despite the fact that we are amid a 100 degree {with high humidity} heat wave here in Pennsylvania at the current moment. This weather is really wacky for September in my area. I sure am ready for some cool, fall air.

You probably already know how much I love spray paint and the dollar store. This craft combines the two into one nifty project that is inexpensive and super easy to make! Snip, snip, spray, spray, tie, and the job is complete!

Decorate your classroom or home. Use them for centerpieces. Give them to all of your friends, relatives, and favorite teachers. Heck, sell these babies at your local craft fair and earn a few bucks! These things turn out pretty amazing!

First, pick yourself up some jars and a roll of contact paper at the dollar store. Also, grab a bag of raffia to tie on the finished jars. Unless you have a million cans of spray paint in your basement like I do, you may also need to swing by Walmart to purchase a few cans of that as well. :-)

Next, decide which kind of design you would like for your jars. Keep the shape fairly simple. We chose apples and leaves for our jars, but I also had visions of pumpkins, bats, turkeys, Christmas trees, snowmen. . .you name it. Print some basic images from your computer or draw them if you are talented. Cut out the computer (or hand drawn) images.

Trace the images on the back of the contact paper.

Then cut out the shapes from the contact paper. My daughter was in charge of this part of the craft. As you can see, she's a dirt-under-the-nails kind of gal. ;-)

Next, remove the backing from the contact paper and slap that sticker onto your jar. Take it outside and spray away! I do caution you not to spray paint in extreme temperatures or high humidity. Luckily, the weather had given us a one-day break last weekend that worked out well for spray painting.

Give all the jars a nice coat of paint. Keep your hand moving as you spray and keep a short distance in order to avoid drips. Try not to pout when bugs fly into your wet paint.

Let your jars sit for several hours or overnight if you are not in a hurry. Then, when the paint is nice and dry, carefully peel off your stickers. Tie some raffia around the top of each jar for a nice, finishing touch!

We added some of these battery operated candles to many of our jars. They are also from the dollar store.

And there you have it! Here are some of our jars in action right in my own classroom. Now, what are you waiting for? Push aside that lesson plan book and go get your supplies to make this super cute and very simple mason jar spray craft! Every teacher needs some time for themselves. Have fun!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Growth Mindset Bulletin Board

I needed a new approach with my hallway bulletin board this year, due to my new teaching position. I'm usually cutting out owls or Minions or popcorn at this time of year, but instead of welcoming a new crop of third grade students, I needed something more general and inspirational for all students. 

I can't take credit for the clever word arrangement. I saw a picture on Pinterest, but the link was dead, so if you happen to know who masterminded the arrangement of these words, please let me know so I can give proper credit. :-)

I received many questions about this bulletin board after posting a picture on Instagram, so here are the details about how it came to be. I am using it as a back to school bulletin board, but it would be a great display at any time of the year for a wide range of grade levels. I hope that you can duplicate it for your own classroom!

I had visions of big, bright letters on a black background for this bulletin board, so I picked up some black fabric and then headed over to A.C. Moore for some scrapbooking paper. I really liked the color assortment in this heavyweight paper and if you look very closely you will notice that it has some raised polka dots that add a nice texture to the display. Of course, the 40% off sign was also very persuasive.

Next, I took the paper squares home and cut them down to 8 and a half by 11 sheets that would fit in my printer. I used PowerPoint to make some large letters as show below.

You can see in the formatting palette that I used the KG font called Behind These Hazel Eyes. This font by Kimberly Geswein is free for personal use and can be downloaded here. I set the font size to 680.

I only wanted the outline of each letter, so I formatted the text by giving it a white fill.

I set the text line to black, which would give a nice line for me to cut. Then I just printed the letters, page by page on the scrapbooking paper. Even with the texture and thickness, it went right through without a problem.

I used a different color for each word. Then I carefully cut out each letter.

Finally, I headed to school and pieced everything together on the board. I started in the middle with the vertical, white word "LEARN" and then worked my way out on either side. The words fit perfectly, but there was a lot of extra black space on the edges, so I found some matching pompoms to use as accents. They were sold in sets of two for $1.99 at Christmas Tree Shops.

Here is a close up of the letters.

Now, here's hoping that my students will do a lot of reflecting, solving, creating, growing, thinking, and learning this year!