Sunday, March 26, 2017

Placemat Bookmarks

Have you noticed all the plastic placemats that are popping up in stores lately? There are so many beautiful patterns to choose from! The dollar store usually has a seasonal assortment. These placemats are made of a thin sheet of flexible plastic that happens to be the perfect material for a nice, sturdy bookmark! The best part is that one placemat will make about fifteen bookmarks, which works out to be about six cents per bookmark. Of course, if you decide to add ribbon like I did, you might spend a whopping ten cents per bookmark. It would be hard to beat that price for something so durable that could last for years. I made these bookmarks as a little surprise for my students. It's the little things that count, you know? If you would like to make a set of bookmarks, just pick up a few colorful placemats. Grab some ribbon and a hole punch to make them extra special. You will also need a pencil, ruler, and a pair of sharp scissors. See the photos below for all the details.

When shopping for your placemats, be sure to purchase the ones made of flexible plastic, not foam. I selected spring designs, but just imagine the possibilities for other seasons. I will probably snatch up the apples and pumpkins just as soon as they become available.

Head on over to your local craft shop for some ribbon. Get the skinny, 1/8 inch ribbon. You will need about 24 inches (in length) of ribbon per bookmark.

I tried to cut my bookmarks on a paper cutter at first, but that did not go so well. Maybe you will have more success if your blade is sharper. Instead, I just used a ruler and pencil to mark 2 inch strips on the back of the placemat.

It was easy to cut through the placemat with a pair of sharp scissors.

Once all the long strips were cut, I then cut each one in half. My bookmarks are 2 inches wide and 5 and a half inches long. Of course, you can make them any size you like.

Punch a hole at the top of each bookmark. I used a rectangular hole punch, but a regular circle shape would work as well.

Cut your ribbon into 8 inch lengths. I used three, 8 inch pieces for each bookmark. When folded in half, the three pieces look like six strands of ribbon. Be creative with your color combinations. Mix the colors or make solid tassels.

The following pictures will show you how to attach the ribbon. First, gather three strands of ribbon and fold them in half. Insert the folded ribbon through the hole from the front of the bookmark.

Use your finger to make an opening in the folded ribbon. Bring the loose ends of the ribbon over the top of the bookmark and through the opening.

Pull the ribbon tight. Then, trim the top if you would like.

Repeat this process for each bookmark, until you have a nice variety of color combinations.

Tah-dah! Now the job is complete.

Be sure to save one for yourself! :-)

Also, check out these reading resources that may be useful in your classroom.      

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!