Category Archives: Uncategorized

Book Ballots – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom Part 1

“Oh, it’s Book Ballots! Quick. She’s going to start the timer! You read the blurb for Artemis Fowl and I’ll read Al Capone. Then we’ll talk and figure out what to vote for.”

That is not a bad conversation to overhear as the students file back in from lunch. Book Ballots is one of those strategies that takes just a few minutes, focuses students’ minds on books instead of lunch and recess, and gives you a wealth of knowledge about your readers. This is a great strategy for “Getting to Know Your Readers”, one of our 10 themes for building a more literate classroom. It also helps you “Sell Books” and “Connect Readers”. I love it when a strategy meets several goals! Here’s how it works.

This is what students see as they file into the classroom after recess.

  1. This makes a great transition. While the kids are at lunch, grab two books that you think will appeal to most of your readers. Set them on the chalk tray and draw a t-chart with the question, “Which book do you prefer?” Boom! You’re done prepping!
  2. As the kids file into the classroom, have them gather around the chalk tray. Set a timer for 5 minutes. (The first time you do the strategy, don’t set the timer because you will explain as you go along. But after that, limit this to 5 minutes.)
  3. Tell the kids they need to vote for which book they would prefer to read. They have to vote, and they can’t put their name in the middle. They have to commit to one book or the other. Students will start buzzing about the books and you’ll start listening.
  4. Here’s where you get to know your readers. In a short few minutes, you are going to get answers to questions like:
    • Which readers have a definite preference right away.
    • Who makes book decisions based on the cover.
    • Who grabs the book and makes a more thoughtful decision based on the blurb or reading a sample of the book.
    • Which genres students in your classroom gravitate towards.
    • Who chooses books based on what their friends are reading.
    • Which students have no idea how to choose a book and hang back.
  5. You will get answers to those questions by observing your students. With such a short time to choose, they will have to rely on their go-to strategy. Over time, students will learn strategies for choosing books by watching each other. You will see new students reaching to grab the book, and knots of students gathered around, listening while one student reads the blurbs. You’ll hear quick comparisons between the books, and notice that students start to pay attention to author and genre as a strategy for choosing books.
  6. As you can see in the photo, I have magnets with my students’ names on them that I use for this strategy. The magnets are also used for attendance and lunch count in the morning, so they do double duty! If you don’t have magnets, you could also have your students write their names on sticky notes or on the whiteboard. You could even just have them line up on the side of the room next to the book they prefer.
  7. When the timer goes off (and I have to admit, if the conversation is awesome, I have been guilty of pausing the timer on my phone. 🙂 ) I make sure every student has voted. Then, I “randomly” choose one student for each book and ask, “Would you like to read this book, or gift this book?” My students understand that “gifting” a book means they pass the book to another student who reads it and then has the responsibility of returning it to the Book Nook.

This simple strategy accomplishes a lot in a few short minutes. Two students walk away with a new book to read during Independent Reading time. Other students walk away with a book to add to their Wish List. You walk away with knowledge about your readers that helps you choose read alouds, match books to kids for Guided Reading/Book Clubs, purchase must have books for your Book Nook, and help kids find great books for Independent Reading. It really is an easy way to Get To Know Your Readers.

I use this strategy several times a week during the first month or two of school. As we get into the school year, I taper off and bring in other strategies (more on that in future blog and video posts!) By the winter time, I probably use this strategy once every week or even once every two weeks. It’s a good strategy to bring back if:

  • You’ve gotten some new students in your class and you want to know how they think about books.
  • There are books in your Classroom Library that you think your readers will love, and they aren’t finding them.
  • You notice some students are not finding books easily and you want to learn why.

For more simple strategies to Get To Know Your Readers, check out these posts:

  • Reader’s and Writer’s Surveys
  • Reading Conferences
  • Quick Reads

And be sure to check out this video which gives you more information on using Book Ballots in your classroom!

Using Google Forms Escape Rooms

In the past year and a half, I have grown to love Google Forms. They are so versatile – you can include text, videos, photos… There are tons of different ways to ask questions, and they save me time because they are self-grading. What’s not to love? I use them for all the time. For more information on how to use them, be sure to check out this blog post.

One of the things I most enjoy creating with Google Forms is Escape Rooms. I used paper Escape Rooms in my classroom before discovering the digital version, and I will never go back! Escape Rooms are so fun and engaging for kids – they forget they are learning! The key advantage of Google Form Escape Rooms is no prep. With the paper version, you have to print, cut, laminate, assemble, distribute…. You get the idea. Once a digital Escape Room is created, there is NO PREP! Just assign it through your Google Classroom, put the kids in groups, and away they go! For more about assigning Google Forms in Google Classroom, check out this blog post.

Of course, an Escape Room is only as good as its content. My bestseller, Escape from the Lab uses texts and videos to teach students about the states of matter and to increase their comprehension skills of non-fiction text. It is a straightforward Escape Room that includes all of the information that students need to escape. Each section has a new lock, and the answers to the questions give students the code. I labeled this Escape Room B for Beginner because students do not need to solve difficult riddles and crack codes to be successful. Use this type of Escape Room if you haven’t done them with your students before or if you want the focus to be only content, and not include the extra layer of codes and ciphers. If students get the right answers to the questions, they will also have the codes and solutions for the riddles. These Escape Rooms are a similar challenge level – the content is on grade level, the codes are simple and all the information is clearly presented to the students.

If your students are more experienced with Escape Rooms, I just finished creating Escape from Ireland, an adventure about the stories of Ireland. It’s perfect for St. Patrick’s day! The focus is on reading comprehension, so students read embedded texts and answer questions about them. The Escape Room includes a biography of St. Patrick that you can download for free on TPT! It also includes a retelling of the Legend of Finn MacCool, a fictional story about the Leprechaun King and 3 short descriptions of famous castles in Ireland. When you put those texts together with the storyline of the Escape Room, kids will be doing a lot of reading! The codes and riddles require some background knowledge, so this is rated I for Intermediate. I have filled this Escape Room with high quality photographs of Ireland, interesting texts and opportunities for critical thinking and problem solving. Plus, there are leprechauns and magic! What’s not to love!

Another type of Escape Room adventure is the choose your own adventure style. This is by far the most complicated type of Escape Room to create. It is not straightforward because the students make decisions during the activity, and each decision leads down a different path. These are incredibly engaging for for the kids, and I find that they play them over and over because they can have a different outcome each time! Escape from Plymouth Colony and Adventure in the Chocolate Factory are both this type of Escape Room.

Want to learn how to create Escape Rooms like these? Become a follower! I keep writing blog posts and videos about tech and ELA! In the meantime, check out this free YouTube video on using Google Slides Task Cards with Whiteboard.fi.

Assigning a Google Form in Google Classroom

Google Forms have become one of my go-to strategies for distance learning. I embed instructional videos in Google Forms for asynchronous instruction (for more on that, check out this blog post) and I use them for formative and summative assessments. I also use them to create digital Escape Rooms, which my students love! (Check out this blog post for more on that!) With the help of Google Forms, BOOM Cards, and Whiteboard.fi, I have a fairly good idea of what my students can and can’t do, which helps me plan instruction.

This blog post will walk you through how to assign a Google Form in your Google Classroom. We’ll start with a video tutorial, but read on for screenshots and additional tips. In the video, I am assigning Deiondre’s Homework, a Google Form about decomposing fractions. The resource can be purchased on my TPT store, and includes 3 Google Forms and an embedded instructional video.

I hope the video was helpful. You can find more tech videos for students and teachers on my YouTube Channel.

Now, let’s walk through the process of assigning a Google Form in Google Classroom one more time. This time, I am going to assign a Google Form on Equivalent Fractions. You can also purchase this at Ms. Cotton’s Corner on TPT. The resource includes 3 Google Forms, one of which includes an embedded video.

Step 1 – In the Classworks tab of your Google Classroom, click create and choose assignment. You can also choose Quiz assignment if you prefer.

Step 2 – Create the assignment. Give it a title and description and set the points and due date. Then, Click Add, and choose Google Drive. When you purchase the resource from TPT, they will automatically create a folder called TPT Purchases. It will be there unless you have saved it in another folder.

Step 3 – Choose the Form that you want to assign from your Google Drive. I always Toggle Grade importing to the “On” position. Then, once the students complete the work, all I have to do is import the grades with one click. Easy breezy!

Step 4 – Use the Assign button in the upper right hand corner to finish the assignment. You can assign it immediately or schedule it for the future. I often schedule a week’s worth of assignments on the weekend. It is very easy to reschedule if I find that the kids need more or less time than I planned.

And that’s it! Whether you are flipping the classroom, going paperless or teaching distance learning, Google Forms are an easy and effective way to provide instruction and assessment. Click below to purchase either of the resources featured in this blog post.

Deiondre’s Homework – Decomposing Fractions

Finding Equivalent Fractions

Decomposing Fractions – Digitally!

My school continues with our digital learning adventure. Today I want to share with you a lesson I recently taught that went well. I’m happy to say, these are becoming more common as I get better at reaching my students through Zoom. This is a lesson I like so well that I will teach it again – in person!

First, what do I mean by decomposing fractions? I have to admit, when I moved back to fifth-grade after19 years at various other grade levels and educational roles, I did not know about decomposing fractions. Had never heard of it! Thankfully, my neighbor teacher was happy to fill me in.

Decomposing a number means breaking it into pieces. For example, in first grade students should have learned to break 10 into 2 and 2 and 3 and 3. Decomposing is important because mathematicians and scientists need to be able to think flexibly about quantities. This skill will be vital for student success in later grades. Even after students finish school, a person’s ability to do mental computation depends on decomposing numbers. With all the research on how fraction understanding predicts algebra success, decomposing is especially important with fractions.

This examples decomposes three thirds into unit fractions.

The first thing I did was create a video in Powtoons which reviewed this concept for my students. Decomposing fractions is a fourth grade standard, but learning was so disrupted last year that I wondered if they knew how to do it. Check out this preview of the video on my YouTube Channel (you can purchase the whole video, along with three Google Forms on TPT). I assigned the video through Edpuzzle, a free website that I use to help me track students’ progress through videos. For this assignment, I asked students to watch the video BEFORE class, and I paused the video on Edpuzzle to ask a question mid-way through. That data helped me know, even before I began teaching, that decomposing was not a skill the kids were comfortable with yet.

During  our Zoom, we used Whiteboard.fi to practice together.  This is another free website that I rely on frequently during math class because it allows me to see the students’ work, but they can’t see each other’s work.  I even use this website for assessment! These images show some of the fractions we decomposed during this Guided Practice portion of the lesson. On Whiteboard.fi, you can send an image to every student very easily. Feel free to download these images and use them if they are helpful!

Once the students understood the concept, I asked them to complete Deiondre’s Homework #1 for homework before our next class.  This is the first Google Form in my resource, which you can find on TPT. The resource includes 3 Google Forms. Deiondre’s Homework #1 includes the video which students had already watched. Because it is embedded in the Google Form, they don’t have to visit YouTube. Students watched the video individually and completed the Google Form asynchronously. I got the results immediately, which is one of my favorite characteristics of Google Forms! I then analyzed the results to plan instruction for the next class.

Luckily, decomposing came pretty easily for many of my fifth graders, even though I think it was a new idea with fractions. Their experience in lower grades with decomposing whole numbers transferred fairly easily. Based on my analysis, about 2/3 of the class had grasped the basic concept of decomposing fractions. They spent their class time completing these BOOM Cards in breakout rooms with a partner.

These BOOM Cards are for sale on TPT and the BOOM Card website. Grab a set now!

I worked in a small intervention group to practice decomposing some more, and then assigned that group Deiondre’s Homework #3. I chose #3 because that Google Form uses number lines and also emphasizes the unit fraction concept, which three of my students needed to practice.

Finally, I used Deiondre’s Homework #2 as a formative assessment.  Using some free tools, two of the resources from TPT store and three 45-minute Zoom sessions, my students all gained proficiency in this vital skill, which we will continue to build on as we dive more deeply into fractions. You may find that this instructional sequence works for you, or that you use all three for practice and a different formative assessment.  The resource is flexible enough to use in many ways!

I am working to digitize my Fraction-A-Day resource, and it should be done by the end of the week. I will be using that as a follow up to help my students continue to build a solid understanding of fractions.

I hope this lesson sequence is helpful to you and to your students.

Happy teaching!

Susan

Changing the Orientation of One Google Slide

Maybe you have been doing what I have been doing lately – a crash course into all things Google! If so, I can’t wait to share this tip that I just learned!

Often when I create Google Slides for my students, I need some of them to be portrait orientation and others to be landscape. Because Google Slides is meant as a presentation platform, that just isn’t possible. But, we teachers need it to be so much more! We need kids to drag and drop, underline, insert, and interact with the slides. AND we need the slides to go the way we need them to go. Here’s how I’ve solved that problem.

First, since my students need to interact with the slides, they know NOT to use the slides in Present mode. When I’m teaching them, I DO use present mode. This work around WILL NOT work in Present mode, but it is awesome for students.

  1. Create the content you need. In my classroom we are working on grammar, so I’ve created this Grammar Adventure for my students. As you can see, most of the slides need to be Portrait orientation, but the brochure about Tikal really needs to be Landscape.

2. I created the slide in Portrait orientation by creating text boxes and images, and then rotating them.

3. Then I downloaded the brochure as a png. Making it a png means the content is locked and no one can edit it – not you and not your students.

4. Next, I created a new blank slide. I inserted the image of the brochure I had just downloaded. Don’t make it a background, insert it as an image. It will fill the entire slide. You are probably thinking, um, yeah, it looks just like it did a minute ago.

5. Now, the work around. Rotate the image. It will hang off the edges of the slide.

Rotate the image, making the orientation Landscape.

6. Go ahead and resize it to cover the entire slide. Now it will really hang off the edges!

The slide will fill more of the student’s screen. If they use Present mode, the edges will be cut off.

7. That’s it. If you want to see a video of this, check it out here!

For other great tech tips for you and for your students, be sure to follow me on You Tube. I regularly post tech tips and instructional videos.

And I have tons of awesome print and digital resources on TPT, including this resource, Grammar Agents – the Quest for the Missing Mayan Medallions! Follow me so you find out about all my newest resources and insights to grow your teaching.

We are all Connected – Building a Virtual Community

It is so important to build a sense of community even though we are not together in the same classroom right now. This summer I spent a lot of time brainstorming and thinking about how to do that. One of the best projects so far has been this art project.

Before school started, we passed out Chromebooks and school supplies to the kids, and I used that opportunity to give each student a copy of this art project which I purchased on TPT. I also included a self-addressed, stamped envelope and asked the kids to follow the directions, and then mail the art project back to school. About half of the students reported that they mailed it on the second day of class, so you know they were excited!

Once I received the art project back, it was very easy to assemble them and laminate them. Since we are not in school, I wanted to put the project on display somewhere the kids could see it. So, I found a local coffee shop with a big wall facing our main street. They were super gracious (thank you Moe’s!), and let me hang up the artwork.

This project was such a great way to start the school year. The kids were excited to share themselves with each other, and the opportunity to share this message with our community was really meaningful to the kids. The project also gave them a sense that we are a team and that we do big things, together. Plus, they think they are famous now! The response from the parents and community has been really positive, too. I think the message really resonates with the adults during these difficult times. It did take some time to assemble and laminate the project, but I think it was well worth the time because the payoff has been huge. I feel like we are well on our way to building a vibrant, connected, virtual community.

Winning Week One – Day 1

There have been millions of texts written on how to launch a school year successfully. Really. Google it. Millions!

So, why do I feel the need to write my own? Well, I’ve been doing this for awhile, and I don’t exactly follow the rules. In fact, we don’t even talk about the rules on the first day. Yep, we don’t talk about the rules. In the many, many years I’ve been doing this, I find that the vast majority of students are well behaved on Day 1. They are trying to impress you. After all, you are going to be a big part of their life this year, and they know that a good first impression is important. I think we should learn that from our students, and worry more about making a good first impression on them. Here’s how I try to do that in person. Or, check out this blog post about how I did that during distance learning.

First, I greet every student at the door with a smile, a high five, a hug…. Whatever they need. I will do that every morning for the rest of the year and it’s best to set that expectation early. Also, many kids are nervous, and your smile goes a long way toward making them feel welcome and bringing down the affective filter a bit.

When they walk into the classroom, they encounter desks with no name tags, but lots of books stacked on them. I ask them to choose a spot where they can learn well, choose a book and start to read. My first act as their teacher is to express confidence that they know themselves as learners and are going to be able to manage their own behavior. I do the same thing whether it’s a kindergarten class or a fifth grade class. Then, I let them know the most important thing we will do this year – read. We will start every day with the most important skill – reading. Now they know what I value, and they will automatically value it because I do.

That first independent reading time is full of opportunity. I notice what kind of book they choose. I see who immediately starts reading and never looks up from the page. I learn which students need to talk about a book to process it. I get a sense of the stamina of the class. After about 15 minutes, I know so much about my students. Then, I tell them that if they have found a wonderful book that they would like to continue reading, they should keep it, and I show them the check out procedures and where to keep their books. If not, no worries. Just put the book back in the pile.

Now it’s time for the first group activity of the year. School has been in session for less than an hour, and I want them to know that we work together. It is their group task to sort the books into groups that go together. I store books in my classroom in a variety of ways – by author, by genre, by topic…. Every year the system changes slightly because the kids come up with it. After all, the system has to work for them. This is our first stab at figuring that out. I make labels and use velcro to attach them to the tubs, so it’s really easy to change labels. Students will likely work for about 30 minutes on creating the system. In that time, as a class, we will probably categorize about 200 books. This is the beginning of a process that will take us several days, but in the end, the kids will be independently able to find, check out, and return books. And that saves me time all year! For step-by-step about how to do this in your own classroom, click here!

Now that the kids have learned that I expect them to make good choices and keep things organized (and remember, I have not said that to them at all. I have just shown them my expectations), I want them to know that I am interested in getting to know them, and in sharing myself with them. So, we play Two Truths and a Lie. I start with two true statements about myself and one lie. The class tries to guess which is the lie. They almost never do….. 🙂 Then I give them their own sheet to fill out, which you can download for free on my TPT store. Over the next few days, we work our way through what they have written and find out who is good at lying (just kidding, we find out all kinds of cool stuff!). We usually do 4-5 per day, so it will take us that first week to read everyone’s.

At some point in the day, and every day for the first week, I want to surprise them. While they are at recess or lunch, I set up a little surprise. On my stool I set a box. It is wrapped, and just to be extra mysterious, I cover it with cloth. I choose some really dramatic music to play. The theme from “2001, a Space Odyssey” is a great choice. As the students file in, I start the music. Even if I stream from You Tube, I don’t turn on the video. I want all eyes on me, and that’s not usually too difficult because I start dancing. Yep. And I’m no dancer. Mostly they watch because I’m so bad. As I dance around, I throw the cloth off the box, then rip off the paper and toss it too. Trust me, the kids are totally transfixed. Clearly, something in this box is pretty special! Inside the box we discover – layers of tissue paper! As I toss those around the room, all eyes are upon me. Then, as the music builds to a dramatic finale (you may want to practice your timing!), I gasp with joy, and then triumphantly hold up – a writing journal! As I bestow (no, I do not pass these out, I bestow them, as befits a great treasure!) the writing journals upon each fortunate student, they can’t wait to get started. Trust me. Every student has something to write about – the crazy teacher in room 205! (By the way, in their end-of-year reflections, this is always someone’s favorite day of fifth grade. The crazy teacher throwing tissue paper even beats out the field trips!)

The Writing Journals are revealed!
The Writing Journals are revealed!

After we write, I give them their first homework assignment of the year. Take those journals home and decorate the cover with at least five things that they love. I show mine, which has pictures of my kids on the cover, graffiti art about favorite books, places I’ve traveled recently, music symbols, and other things that I love. The kids have a week to get their cover decorated, and when they bring them back, we have our first writing conference. They tell me why they chose the things on their cover, and I get to know them a bit more. We also have built in topics to write about! I cover each journal with clear Contact Paper to make sure the pictures etc. don’t fall off during the year. For an update on how I’m doing this digitally, click here!

You are probably wondering about math. Of course I do math on the first day! My goal with math on the first day is always to awaken their curiosity and build the idea that math is creative and we have to be flexible. This year, I used a lesson from Jo Boaler’s Mathematical Mindsets, Grade 5. Her first lesson on using numbers and symbols flexibly is just what I want to start the year right. We first watched a brief video from her website, You Cubed, about the importance of struggle in math. Then, I asked the students to look at images of squares grouped in different ways. This was our first Number Talk, and so I guided students through our procedures. Again, I’m not talking about the rules, but I’m setting expectations, and because it’s the first day, students are willing to go with it. Seriously. They do. This activity showed students that there is more than one way to solve a math problem, and the images lower the affective filter and make it approachable for all students. Not bad for day one!

Once in my 25 years of starting this way I had a student misbehave in a pretty disruptive way. Other students talk or goof off. It does happen. I don’t mean to imply that students are perfect robots on Day 1. Of course they aren’t! I gather data on the behaviors they will default to and that helps me plan which behavior focused mini-lessons I should teach, which rules we are likely to need and which students are likely to need more attention from me than others. Day 1 is key for gathering data to inform my practice. Most misbehavior on the first day can be handled with a Pull-Aside – a quiet, private chat with the student where you let them know that they need to reset.

For me, this is a pretty perfect first day. We have gotten to know each other, and we have worked together to create the most important learning space – the Book Nook. We have collaborated at least twice, but also had quiet, independent reading and writing time. We have engaged in interesting reading, writing and math work, and the teacher did something just a little crazy! When I do this well, students leave the classroom at the end of the day tired, smiling, and curious. On day two, they show up eager to see what will come next. Hopefully, they will still be wondering that on day 179!

Keep reading about Day 2 to find out how I keep the learning, and excitement, going!

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Wander Words

As you know, teaching vocabulary is near and and dear to my heart. And I love to do it in a playful way whenever possible. I’m always trying to figure out a fun way to engage my students in word play, and Wander Words is the newest craze in my classroom.

Wander Words is pretty simple. The word “wanders” around, and students have to decode it. The word can start anywhere, and can travel horizontally or vertically in any direction. Each word comes with a sentence to give context. For example:

Everyone knows that Ms. Cotton’s favorite cookie is a _________.

Students would connect the letters to spell Snickerdoodle.

I’ve been using these cards in my classroom to help students step up their writing by using more scholarly transitions, and they are having a blast!

This is a really fun activity that exposes students to lots of Tier 2 words. I’ve created sets of task cards, with and without QR codes, that give students practice with lots of great scholarly words. My March 2020 freebie is a great set of these cards to practice scholarly transitions for writing. Be sure to download them today!

You can get other Wander Words Task Cards in my TPT store. Click to go straight there!

STEM adventure!

I am really fortunate to have a principal who supports me in attending a national or regional conference every year. This year, my whole team got to go to the regional NSTA (National Science Teaching Association) conference, and I was really inspired to jump into STEM! I had dabbled before, but the conference helped me see how to take the next step. What I really wanted was something that tied to my required curriculum, and also intentionally taught my students about Engineering Design Principles. I was looking for something more than an opportunity for kids to play around with cardboard and gadgets. Here’s what we did.

Students built background knowledge with a Gallery Walk.

I decided to incorporate required social studies standards about Native Americans, required math standards about subtracting and multiplying decimals and required science content about climates. We began with a Gallery walk including maps and pictures of traditional Native American Homes. Students worked in teams of 4 to look at a group of 2-3 pictures and record things they notice and things they wondered. After a few minutes they rotated to a new group of pictures. We also read an article about the First Americans to arrive that focused on the land bridge theory and the ways different cultures adapted to different climates. I wrote the text at three different levels so that all of my learners could access the information. We used a close reading protocol , so spent three days working with the vocabulary and ideas in the text. You can get the text and the Gallery walk maps and pictures in my TPT store here.

After my fifth graders had developed an understanding that people have adapted to different environments by using the available resources, we learned about the Engineering Design Process. We had gone through it before, but I created these posters so that my students could begin to internalize the steps. (The posters are free on TPT!) Then I put my students in groups of three. (I use an Excel spreadsheet to randomize the groups.) Each group randomly chose a climate card and a lifestyle card. The climate cards match the standard climates (Mediterranean, Tropical, Tundra, Arid, Temperate). They have two choices for lifestyles: permanent and nomadic. The challenge is to build a shelter that matches the climate and the lifestyle. So, a group might be building a permanent shelter for an arid climate, or a temporary shelter for a Mediterranean climate.

After we had explored the challenge together, each group got additional research materials: a short description of the climate including some of the natural resources, an analysis of each available building material’s Pros and Cons, and a list of the cost of each resource. The cost varies by climate because some resources are more difficult to get in different climates. The groups took a day to take notes from their research materials.

Then I guided students through the Engineering Design Process using the Student Guide. They completed the first few steps together, and then I met in a five minute conference with each group. The conference is essential! I used that as an opportunity to make sure that each student was involved in the planning process and understood the essential content about the climate.

Many groups had designed a traditional native home based on what they had learned about, and had not taken into account the climate and/or the lifestyle. For example, one group had chosen the tundra with a nomadic lifestyle. They initially planned to build a tepee, which was great for a nomadic lifestyle but a tepee in the tundra is not a suitable match! By meeting with that group, I was able to ask questions that helped them uncover that difficulty and they changed their design. Flexibility is a key attribute that I try to teach my students any chance I get!

Then, it was time to build! I gave students one hour to create their shelters. The next day I gave them one hour to test their design and improve it. All of the groups improved their design, so I felt really good about that! The final day of the project we invited parents and key staff (like my principal – always good to let him know that his PD dollars paid off!) to come to our presentations. Two students presented while one student from each group rotated to see the other groups. Then we switched, so after 3 rotations, everyone had seen the other projects. Each student left feedback for the other projects and then the projects went home.

Each student turned in an individual reflection, budget and self-assessment of their Habits of Mind, which I used to grade the project. I did grade the actual shelter, although you could. I focused my grading and feedback on the individual analysis of the features of the building and the individual student’s assessment of the design.

My students really loved this project, and so did my parents and my principal. I loved the way we brought together essential content and Habits of Mind like flexibility, innovation and problem solving. I purchased or found these materials for this project: clay, pipe cleaners, styrofoam, cardboard, hemp string, leather remnants and glue. My total cost for the class was under $20.00. All of the resources you need to complete this project are available at my TPT store. If you try this project or have suggestions for how to improve it, please leave comments.

Poetry Slam

One of my favorite fluency exercises is called Poetry Slam. It gives students a chance to read lots of great poetry AND practice their fluency at the same time. And kids love it, especially boys. Yep, boys love poetry. Here’s how to implement Poetry Slam in your classroom.

First, find a poem you love. Rhyme helps, but isn’t necessary. This year, I started with It Couldn’t Be Done by Edgar Guest. This is a great poem for teaching about perseverance and grit, so it was a terrific way to start off the school year. I read the poem to the kids, and then I spent some time teaching the kids about the poem. We talked about the stanzas, the rhyme scheme and the theme. This free Poetry Glossary might be a useful tool as you do that.

I then had the kids read the poem chorally. We generated a list of criteria for fluent reading. I then asked each student to take their copy of the poem and read it to the wall. This is a protocol I have the students use often. They spread around the room, facing the wall, and read. They don’t have to read loudly because the wall bounces their voices back to them, and they can hear themselves reading. Afterwards, I ask the students to reflect on their own fluency, and they write a goal for themselves on the bottom of the poem.

Then, I issue the challenge. How many times can you read this poem in the next two days? Five? Ten? Twenty? Every person that they read the poem to signs the back of the poem. They can get more than one signature from each person.

The next day, we read the poem again and talk about it further. Sometimes I have the students respond to the poem on the second day. They might answer questions or work with vocabulary. And, I energize them about getting more signatures! Usually, by that point in time, some kids have 3-4 signatures. A good poetry slam is ten signatures. I know that by the next day, someone will have fifteen or twenty.

This is such a fun activity, and it takes hardly any time. Many kids are highly motivated to practice, and they spend time reading at home, to their bus driver, to the cafeteria ladies…. Anyone who will listen. Little brothers and sisters are usually especially supportive, and it helps them hear some great poetry too!

« Older Entries