Thursday, March 16, 2017

Tap into the Power of Literature Circles!

Have you ever thought:
I can't do literature circles! They eat up too much time!
Literature circles are just too loud!
I wouldn't know where to start!

Yes, literature circles do take time, and it isn't a quiet classroom activity. That said, everything about literature circles taps into how people (especially kids) learn.  Here are just a few things literature circle do to help students comprehend text better. 

How Do Literature Circles Help Students tap Into Skills?

1.  Literature circles put the fun into reading. Humans are social beings, and the opportunity to talk comes naturally (a little too naturally for most!).  Literature circles takes this human need, and uses it to promote learning. If it's fun, kids will do it gladly!!

2. Literature circles give a framework for student centered inquiry.  Students take turns doing one of five jobs (tasks) in the group. This group of tasks model the strategies students need to learn and internalize as they read material on their own. 

3.  Through cooperative learning, literature circles help students make sense of the text. Students can begin to rely on each other for finding ideas in the text that they may have otherwise missed. Literature circles help kids learn how to use each other as a resource, and ultimately become independent learners.  Students in a literature circle have an opportunity to participate in the conversation. Because it is a small group, and not the entire class, some of the stress of speaking out is taken away for shy students. 

4.  Students can make their own choices about their learning. Groups can choose their own book to read within a group of two to three books selected by the teacher. As students become more proficient in the process, many teachers may want to allow groups to choose their own book from all available. Students also choose the questions that will be discussed by the group after reading. This helps guide students' reading as they go through the text.  At the beginning of the Literature Circle process, brainstorm with the class a list of questions that are appropriate for each genre of book. Copy this list and provide to students. Be sure to advise students that ALL questions cannot be asked, so choose the ones they feel are most important for the particular book.
      Choices are important! If students have some choice in the matter, it leads to greater engagement and higher motivation. This is particularly important for struggling or reluctant readers. 

Where Do I Start?

(Note-putting students into groups: At the beginning of the process I suggest teachers group students, however as time goes on, and students are more proficient at the process, teachers will find that students love the process even more when they can choose their own group. I have to say that many teachers just jump right in, and allow students to make all of the choices right away. I'm reluctant to do that, as I feel gradual release leads to greater success.)

a.  Introduce students to the concept of literature circles by explaining that literature circles are groups of people who read the same book, then meet to discuss what they have read. Explain that each group decides upon their own book (I strongly suggest teachers choose two different titles for each group to vote on. If given too many choices at the start, it's a bit overwhelming). They then decide upon a group of questions that will be discussed about the text when they meet. Make sure each student has a list of these questions. 

b. Introduce the rolls (or tasks) used in literature circles. This is the key. By using the rolls in Literature Circles, students begin to internalize the steps readers use to make sense of the text. You may call them different names, but the job should be the same. Allowing students to choose their task is helpful. I don't allow student to choose the same task twice in a row. If there is a conflict over tasks (they tend to like the drawing task) just do "rock, paper, scissors" as the deciding factor.

1.  Discussion Leader: This person asks questions about the text that was read. If he or she decides to throw in questions not previously decided upon, that is fine.

2.  Investigator: This person selects sections in the text that support answers. It is a good idea to stress to students that not every answer must be supported, but most should be. This is a big job.

3.  Summarizer: This person writes a short summary of the day's reading after the discussion is completed.

4.  The connector helps the group connect the ideas they have read about to the outside world, and to other books that have been read.

5.  The Word Wizard looks up unfamiliar or important words in the text. He or she find the definitions to the words and reports back to the group. Only one or two words need to be looked up, or the word wizard will miss the entire discussion.

6. The Illustrator: This student can do a sketch, diagram, flow chart or a cartoon to show somethingfrom the day's reading.

What Do Teachers Do During Literature Circles?

1. Go from group to group listening, taking notes and monitoring the ability of students to contribute to the discussion. This can be part of a daily assessment.

2. Help students monitor their own learning by giving them a premade form (or discuss) the following questions:  What are the most important ideas you learned about in today's reading? How well did each member contribute to the group within their assigned roll? What did you think was the best part of today's Literature Circle? Is there some way you think today's group could have gone better?

How does this all work? MODEL, MODEL, MODEL!

The first and second literacy circle sessions should be for demonstration purposes only. Choose six "guinna pigs" for each group and use a book all students are familiar with. Go through the process as the class watches. Since it is a book that has already been read (such as a read-aloud) all students can get the idea. As students run into difficulties, model how questions are asked, words are looked up and so on. During the modeling process, the teacher will actually preform many of the tasks, or talk students through the process. It is vital that students know exactly what is expected. I like to ask a student in the model group to act out in some way. Then we discuss with the group and class how to deal with a student who is not doing his/her job, or who is disruptive. Before beginning the process, have ideas ready for students to use. The key is to have students prepared, know the perimeters of the activity, and be ready to learn. Take the time needed to prepare students, and you will never teach without literature circles! They work!!

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Sunday, March 5, 2017

Solar System Resources

My Kids ALWAYS loved the solar system unit! I'm sure yours do too! It isn't just enough to read out of the book, they need hands-on activities to understand the tremendous distances in space, and games and videos to grab their attention and never let it go!! This is one unit that can ignite not only an interest for a lifetime, but a career in science as well! I hope you and your students enjoy the great resources below.

1.  ProTeacher Directory
This is a great place to come for ideas and activities to inspire kids. Ideas for planet advertisements, planet postcards, moon phases and more.

2.  Scholastic
There are great lesson ideas here of's Scholastic). Some are based on books, some are activities without a specific book.

3.  More Scholastic!
This site is FULL!  Get study jams, activities for reading and writing, and much, much more!

For center time, or group work don't miss these great out space games and activities!

NASA Space Place
Lots of great games that come straight from the source....NASA!

Interactive Sites for Education
13 Terrific games/sites!!

I've saved the best for last!!  The one thing that is really hard for kids to understand about space is the tremendous distances involved. I've done this activity with my third graders and they are absolutely amazed. We did it in a long hall, and to get to Pluto, we had to go right out the back door. This is my most favorite space don't forget it either!! I didn't write it, by the way. It comes from Family Astro.

Hope you and your students enjoy these fun resources.

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Force and Motion

The one science area that seems to give teachers the heebie jeebies is physical science! It doesn't have to be that way. There are so many great hands-on lessons, activities and games out there that will make not only learning more fun, but teaching too! Have a look at the great resources below, and take a deep breath. That force and motion unit could just become one of your favorites!!

1.  LOTS of lessons...You don't have to reinvent the wheel!

Great lessons (complete) from Utah

                                                           Science-3rd Grade


If you need lessons, PowerPoints and so much more check out:



From Idaho Public Television:



2.  Need some hands-on activities? Check these out!

This is a fun one called 19 Fun Ideas and Resources for Force and Motion

These StudyJams are activities on simple machines, gravity, inertia, acceleration and more!

If you want great hands-on activities for your classroom, you can't do better than Steve Spangler!!

3.  Games make learning fun! Add these to centers, or for early finishers!

20 games here!


Great games on pushes and pulls, friction, gravity, magnetism and more.

This is a fun one called "Forces at the Unfair"

I hope these links help you with your unit! If you have other ideas to add, please add them below!

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Need a Force and Motion resource? check out Force and Motion Task Cards and More

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Reading Instruction!

Instructional time is precious to all of us! It seems there is always something infringing on my time. One day it is a special program in the gym, the next it's a fire drill. Then there are the daily time eaters to contend with. So, it's imperitive that every minute of teaching time be used to the fullest. That's especially true with reading instruction. It doesn't matter if it's a whole class lesson, or one to a small group, instruction needs to follow solid research on what really works. What does work? Below are seven teaching habits that have been shown, by research to increase reading comprehension. I know we all use most of them, but take a look and see if there's one or two you could add into your instruction. They really do make every minute count!

1.  Monitoring comprehension 

As kids read they need to be able to "catch" themselves when meaning is lost. They need to know when they don't understand what is going on, figure out what they don't understand and use strategies to fix the problem. Teachers can use story maps, summarizing activities and think-alouds as part of their instruction to help with monitoring comprehension. 

2. Metacognition

This just means that students learn how to think about their thinking. Questions teachers use before, during and after reading help to set a purpose, monitor understanding and check the student's understanding after reading. Keep a list of questions for both fiction and informational text in your lesson plan book or guided reading book to keep them handy. Metacognition is critical for successful reading comprehension and needs to be taught to most students.

If you would like questions for before, during and after reading informational texts, you can download a freebie on another post of mine at: Here Comes Guided Reading: Freebie

3. Use of Graphic Organizers

When students use a graphic organizer it forces them to dig into the text. They help kids make connections between concepts and how they are related, help students see the differences between fiction and nonfiction, and help them write good summaries. There are LOTS of free ones on the Internet. Here are a couple I like: Graphic Organizers from Edhelper   and Graphic Organizers from Education Place

4. Text Questions

Answering text questions gives kids a reason for reading, focuses their attention, helps them think as they read, helps them monitor their comprehension and review what they have learned. Teachers can use questions such as: right in the text questions. The answer is explicitly given in the text. "What color was the sky?"  Questions that are in the text, but require thought. "Why was Jack feeling sad?" Questions that require students to use prior knowledge, "How do you think Henry felt when he was lost his dog? What in your life helps you understand how he felt?"

5. Generating Questions

This one takes some very explicit instruction. Teaching students how to ask their own questions about the text involves teaching them how to make questions about the main idea, the plot, the theme and so on. By making up their own questions students not only realize if they can answer their own questions or not, but helps them understand if the really do understand what they are reading.

6. Story Structure

Research tells us that when students receive instruction in story structure, they improve comprehension. so keep instructing and reviewing  characters, setting, events, problem and solution.  Story maps helps with this.

7.  Summarizing 

A student who can summarize understands the text. It helps students decide what is really important in the story and put it in their own words. Only a reader who fully comprehends a story can do that. Summarizing helps students identify the main ideas, decide what is really important in the story, and remember what has been read.

There are a number of ways to teach these 7 habits:
Modeling for students
Direct instruction
Guided practice

Happy Teaching!!  If you have any other ideas please add them below!

Adapted from Reading Rockets: Seven Strategies to Teach Students Text Comprehension by C.T. Adler


Monday, January 9, 2017

Valentine Math Freebie

I love Valentine's Day at school.  It's the one holiday that's calm. Sigh. It's also a great time to use a liitle "love" to get the content across. Below is my Valentine math freebie that meets third grade standards. It includes a grading key and the Common Core standards met.  It's also very good for fourth graders who need review.  Don't miss the lesson link to Teacher Hub for great ideas in writing, reading, printables and more.

Need some great lesson ideas for Valentine's Day?

Have a Great Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Horrible Homophones

OMG! Homophones! If there's one thing that can give kids fits, it's homophones! Oh! And teachers too...homophones can drive any teacher straight up the wall.  I don't know how many times I've said, "What? How can they still be using the wrong homophone? I just taught it last week?" Sure, I would teach a number of them in my "homophone lesson",  but as Yoda would say, "Remember them, they didn't."

Time for a change. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expectiing a different result.  On my quest for a little sanity it was time to change how I taught homophones. The first thing I had to realize was how important it is for kids to learn how to spell homophones. It's not optional.

Why learn homophones?

1.  Knowing how to use homophones helps kids learn how to write and analyze different kinds of figurative language, that includes wordplay such as puns and idioms.

2. Many high-frequency words are homophones (knew, new) (to, too, two) (there, their, they're)

3. The idea of reading and writing is to convey meaning. Knowing the correct spelling for the meaning of the word is crucial to understanding and comprehension.

4. Knowing how to spell homophones gives students a sense of accomplishment.

5.  Kids are usually enthralled to learn about homophones. They're interesting. Use that interest to help them play with words. The important word!

6. As kids grow into adults, using the wrong homophones is a literary faux pas.

My Experience

Luckily, at the same time I decided to change how I taught homophones, my school started using Sitton Spelling. This program turned teaching spelling on its head. I had always been a poor speller, and I finally understood why after going through the program. Homophones take a special place in the Sitton Spelling program. One set of homophones are addressed at a time, then reviewed every week multiple times in writing, games, and evaluations. For third grade I focused on the "to's" and the "there's".  There wasn't a day that passed that one of the homophones wasn't addressed in some way. It's that repetition that was the key. Short, constant repetition and holding the kids responsible for spelling the "to's" and the "there's" correctly. was key. Yes, we did move on to a few other homophones the second half of the year. But they also got the repitition treatment. That much repitition can be a real drag unless there is lots of variety and fun to it. So, to make that repetition more fun, try some of the strategies below. They work!

Number one tip: Teach only ONE homophone word first. Really focus on that spelling, using it in sentences, and demonstrate using it correctly. Once students feel proficient with that spelling, homophones of the words can then be introduced. It's like giving kids some ground to stand on before moving on. 


1. Add a homophone word wall. As you add homophones, add them to the word wall with the definition. Ask students to draw a small picture of the homophone's meaning and add the word and the picture in a homophone section of the reading or writing notebook.

2. Ask kids to write silly sentences using all of the homophones in a homophone set. i.e. "My sister wanted to go too when I went ice skating two days ago."  Ask students to get into groups of three and check each other's spelling of each word, then post them on the board or wall.

3. Play the "Shake It" game.  Start saying a list of words. (go, dog, shop, this, to,) When you say a word that is a homophone, students must shake a body part. Ask a different student each time to name the body part that should be shaken for the next list.

4. As students learn a number of homopones, play Homophone Old Maid. Divide students into groups of four students each. Use 20 homophone pairs you have studied to make playing  cards. Cut out rectangles in the size of playing cards and write a homophone on each card. Then make four old main cards to add to the deck. Have students take turns choosing a card from the student next to them. When they get a match (or a word and an old maid card) they call out "homophone" and show both cards. To actually win the match for the two cards the student must make a sentence using each homophone correctly. When all cards are used (there may be some left over due to old maid cards) the student with the most matches wins.

5. Ask students to use the homophones you have covered and make a fill-in-the blank for another student to answer. They provide the homophone choice at the end of the sentence. They must also provide a grading key. For example: 1. I went ____ the store. (to, too or two)

6. Create homophone riddles. "What do you call a  pony with a sore throat?  A hoarse horse."

7. Have a contest to see which student can put the most homophones in one sentence and still have it make sense.

8. Make a crossword puzzle that gives clues for the homophone used and students must fill in the correct homophone. There are many crossword puzzle makers for teachers such as: Puzzle maker  There are lots out there.

9. Play Homophone Memory. Write all of the homophones you wish to review on index cards. Students turn the set upside down and take turns turning two up at once. They may keep any set they match. The student with the most matches wins.

10. Play a homophone relay race. Divide the class into two groups. Have one person from each group come to the board. Say the homophone being used, then read it in a sentence. The first student to write it on the board wins the round. The team with the most points wins.

11.  Play Homophone Pictionary.  Again, divide the group into two teams. Choose a word that is a homophone. Show it only to the students at the board. The first to draw a picture the gets the correct response from their team wins the point.

12.  Hand out the same copied article, newspaper advertisement, etc.  Ask students to find any and all words that are part of a homophone set. The other homophone does not have to be in the article.

Now for some fun online games! Free of course all from Turtle Diary

This is a fun one for fourth graders and up. A homophone is given and students shoot the matching homophone. 

This one is a simple activity that asks student to identify if two words are homophones or not. 

In this game the student must eat the homophone before the lizard does!

I hope these ideas come in handy while you teach homophones...all year long of course!
If you have other games or ideas please add them below!


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

10 Thanksgiving Content Activities, sites and Lessons Kids Will Love!

I don't know about you, but during the holidays my kids are always just a little nutty. It helps SO much to have activities, books, lessons and even good bulletin boards on hand that go along with the holiday. It's like harnessing all that excitement and putting it to a good educational use! Below are some of my favorites. I hope you enjoy them to!

Let's start off with a great place to get lesson plans (already done....bless them!) on everything Thanksgiving. Includes reading a chart, videos, investigating the first Thanksgiving, Indian folktales, the Mayflower and so much more!

These terrific lesson on the First Thanksgiving are for grades 3-5 and from Scholastic. The site includes ALL of the materials you need (free) and covered 15 Common Core State Standards! This is seriously one great set of lesson plans!

This site from TeacherVision has everything you could want! There are tons of lessons that are both content, and some just for fun! They cover reading and language arts, Native Americans, slideshows, printables, lessons plans and so much more! This one will give you great content lessons for the entire month!

Scholastic has its act together...for sure with this site! It is perfect for fourth and fifth graders and includes teacher's guides!

For the Native American people's perspectives on Thanksgiving don't miss this great site! 


No one is really sure how the turkey got its name, but...there are a few stories!
a. Christopher Columbus thought that he was in india, so he thought the bird was a type of peacock. He called it "tuna" which is eacock in an Indian language. The turkey is actually a type of pheasant.
b.  The name the Native Americans gave the bird is "firkee", and that sounds a bit like turkey.
c.  Or...a turkey makes a "turk, turk, turk" noise and that may be the origin of the name!

1.  Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey as our national bird instead of the bald eagle
2.  45 million turkeys are sold at Thanksgiving
3.  It takes a turkey 4=5 months to grow to maturity
4.  Only tom turkeys (the male) gobble
5.  Turkeys are the only breed of poultry that are native to the Western Hemisphere
6.  Turkeys can see in color, and have great hearing (even though you can't see their ears)
7. Domesticated turkeys can't fly, but wild turkeys can fly over short distances at speeds of up to 55 mph
8.  Wild turkeys often spend the night in trees
9.  The red fleshlike thing that hands off of a turkey's next is called a wattle.

Great Thanksgiving books for kids

1. The Mayflower and the Pilgrims new world by Nathaniel Philbrick. Students will understand the emptiness of coastal Massachusetts that greeted the Pilgrims, and find out how they learned to live with the Native Americans.

2.  My all time personal favorite is "Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving" by Dav Pilkey. A class's trip to a farm, just before Thanksgiving, ends up with a turkey on the bus!

3.  To teach second and third graders what life was like at the time of the Pilgrims, you can do better than "Magic Tree House, Book 27: Thanksgiving on Thursday". Jack and Annie are whisked back to the time of the Pilgrims on the eve of the first Thanksgiving. 

4.  "Thank You Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving" by Laurie Halse is the story of how Sarah Hale helped make Thanksgiving an official holiday. 

Thanksgiving Activities

1.  Make a Thanksgiving book mark

2.  Coffee filter turkeys: I did this almost every year with my kids. Give each kid a coffee filter, markers and a paper plate. Have a spray bottle handy for each table (or group of four of five students). They can color the filters as they wish, but all areas of the filter should be colored in some way with no white showing. Next put the filter on the paper plate and spray lightly with the spray bottle. The colors will run and mix.  I lay out a large sheet of bulletin board paper to then put the wet coffee filters on. Let dry overnight. Then make a turkey body and glue to the front of the coffee filter (which becomes the tail).  This makes a great cover for a Thanksgiving greeting card too. Just glue the finished turkey onto the front of the card. 

3.  Make a Thanksgiving cinquain poem.  Make a word web of things students see, hear, taste, smell or do at Thanksgiving. If students are not familiar with conquain poem they go like this:

One word (title
two words (describe the title)
three words (action)
four words (feeling)
one word (the title again)

It might look something like this:

Family dinner
Hustling,  bustling, laughing
Happiness is smiles wide

4.  After reading a number of books about what it was like in the time of the pilgrims, ask students to write five days worth of diary entries that a pilgrim child might write about their day. 

Here are some great Thanksgiving bulletin boards/decorated doors I found on Pinterest. Love them all!

From My Classroom

This one just goes to an image, but it's an awesome door decoration!

Everything's better with minions!

And finally one more door!

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

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