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 being...play!

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 Ideas.com

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!

To get TONS of freebies and lots of great ideas for your classroom visit me on Pinterest at: 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

12 Halloween Sites You Don't Want to Miss!

Keep kids focused on learning, even through Halloween, with these fun sites that offer lots of lesson ideas, games and pure fun! Need an idea for reading? Math? How about social studies or science? Check out the sites below and keep them handy!

From Time for Kids
Get great reading material (guided reading maybe?) on all things Halloween, plus free Haloween printables!

From Education World
TONS of Halloween Lesson Ideas here!

I LOVE this website! It has LOTS of short spooky stories for kids to read for lit circles, guided reading etc.  Best for upper elementary for sure!  Be sure to check out all the goodies listed on the right hand site.

From pbsKids
Fun interactive Halloween-themed games and activities such as Cat in the Hat, Nocturnal Hat Hunt, Arthur: Happy Halloween and more.

From National Geographic Kids

This website has it all, animals, science experiments, and even games! There's lots of creepy goodies on deadly spiders and spooky games!


Need some spooky Teacher Resources? Get great ideas for science, social studies, math and art! It's everything you need to make your lessons just a little bit spooky!

For Just some Halloween fun:
This free app allows kids to make a Zombie!

From the NEA
You can't miss with these great Halloween lesson plans from the NEA for grades k-5!

From Teach Hub
Ideas, ideas and more ideas...especial for literacy!!

GREAT Halloween Math Games

From Teacher Planet
Filled with just what you need: clipart, lesson plans, resources, worksheets and more all for Halloween!

Yes, you will probably need some classroom party ideas for that Halloween party!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Ideas for Fast Finishers

"I'm done!"
"Have you checked your work?"
"Really? Are you sure?"
You know it's true. He's a fast worker and knows what he's doing. Now what?

The answer is NOT more of the same. That's a sure-fire way for kids to hate school, especially kids who need lots of stimulation. If they've just finished a worksheet, they don't need three more just to eat up their time. Kids have a "junk" sensor when it comes to that sort of thing. If that kid is excited about learning, curious, and loves new things then that Fast Finisher file had better be filled with really good "stuff".  Below are some of my favorites...kids love them too!

1.  Put up three or four centers within the room each week just for fast finishers. These centers should take some thinking to accomplish. It may be a small project for social studies, science, or reading.

2.  Offer task cards. They can be kept in zip-lock bags and kids enjoy them. Use task cards that are a big challenging and may have to be visited three or four times to complete. If you need a FREE set for mental math, pick up this freebie in my store:  Mental Math Thinkers

3. Ask students to do book and movie reviewers, type them out, find a picture to go with it online, and post under a "Don't Miss!" section of the bulletin board.

4.  Create a "What's the question" bulletin board.  Put the answer to a math problem on the board and students figure out the question. There can often be numerous correct questions. Ideas include:  the answer is 12 more raccoons, the answer is three sides and three vertices etc. Post the different questions to allow students to see how others think about the problem.

5. Allow students to do mini ressearch projects on things they are interested in. Ask students to write three questions that they would like to know the answer to. Then start researching the answers. This activity could go over a week...easily. Be sure to teach a short lesson on narrowing the topic as this is critical.

6.  Provide fun enrichment activities such as a science activity, scavenger hunt, math puzzle etc.

7.  Provide an "I'm done" jar. Write a number of activities on large craft sticks (write a letter to a friend, find five words that start with "ch",  draw a picture using only shapes, write a note to your teacher, etc.) Students pull out one stick and do the activity.

8.  Science center for investigation

9.  Make a file folder game on whatever you are studying

10.  Clean out your desk

11.  Do a computer based learning game (this is always a favorite!)

12. Allow the student to do an individual project of their own choosing.

13.  Read.   It has been my experience that this one is always a winner!

14.  Provide number and logic puzzles. There are a nunber of kids magazines with number and logic puzzles. Cut them out, glue to cardboard and laminate. Students can use a dry erase marker to do the puzzle, then clean it off.

15.  Make a map of a magical land. This can take as long as needed, even weeks.

16.  Write a journal entry: If I could go anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

17.  Write and illustrate three math word problems

18.  Write a story using at least 5 different emojis

19.  Provide a listening center (story or music)

20.  Sometimes students just need down time, provide something they can "fiddle" with such as something with sensory appeal, smooth rocks, sand-filled balloons, squeeze balls etc. This is also very good for ADHD students

21.  Have a lego center (this is great for any age!)  keep a building going and students can add to it over the week.

22.  Have a "chat" corner where early finishers can go to and talk quietly.

23.  Write a letter to your future self

24.  Draw a picture, "What people will wear in 100 years"

25.  Make a popsicle stick jigsaw puzzle....put 7 (or more) sticks together side by side and draw, color a picture, then put it in a zip lock bag for other students to put together.

Do you have any other ideas? If so please add them below!

Be sure and follow me on Pinterest at: https://www.pinterest.com/janbernard10/ 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

10 Simply Amazing Math Websites

There are times when only a great math website will do! They teach, review and reinforce math concepts in a fun and entertaining way that keeps kids engaged! Here are ten of my favorites! There's even one for any virtual math manipulative you need! By the way, all are free!


This site, called "Maths Fun" is perfect for k-8th grade! If you have parent volunteers who want to come into your room, but you don't know what to do with them, this is the perfect site to ask them to use with students. It is perfect to extend learning for the more gifted math students, or remediate those who are behind. Some lessons go through step-by-step, others are review. Every strand of math is represented. This is truly math made easy!


If you need an engaging game or activity for centers or extra practice, you can't miss with this website called "Interactive Sites for Education".  The games are beautiful and very engaging, plus they cover a variety of ability levels.


If you just want great games for math fact reinforcement (by grade level) don't miss "Hooda Math". The games are fun, and keep the kids' attention.


To really make math make sense, kids need to use lots of manipulatives. However, we don't often have all of the manipulatives we need for a particular concept.....PROBLEM SOLVED! Be sure to visit the "National Library of Virtual Manipulatives" for ANYTHING you need!


Research tells us that students who do best at higher level math are students who don't do math just to get the right answer, but to solve a problem! With that in mind, this TedEd site has a number of riddle videos to show students. They will need to really struggle to figure out an answer....but that is what math is all about...the struggle and joy of discovery! This will elevate math class to a whole new leve. Best for 4th and up. 


You can't miss with PBS! This site has videos and interactive resources available by grade level. I love it because it allows kids to look at math in real life situations too! You need to create an account, but it's free. Look on the left hand site and choose your grade level.


"Johnnie's Math Page" is full of games by grade level, plus teacher resources. There's LOTS here so you are bound to find just what you want for centers, or for reinforcement.


"ZooWhhiz" may actually be the prize of all the ten listed here! Not only does it cover math AND language arts, but it automatically adjusts to the child's level and takes them from there. PLUS you can monitor their progress. It's perfect to send home for parents who want a great program that kids will love....and is perfect not only to reinforce students who are having difficulty, but also for elevating students who are ready to move on. It is from Australia, and since they have one of the highest literacy rates in the world (16th highest, the United States is 99th) , well...enough said! It is free, but you need to sign up. Seriously, this one is amazing. 


If you aren't familiar with "Coolmath4kids" don't miss checking it out now! If you need a game (cute and easy to play) that really zeros in on math concepts, this is the site for you! Covers addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and fractions for all elementary levels.


Games, Games, and more Games! That's what you'll find (by grade level) on Math Playground! You're welcome!

If you have a favorite math site you use in your classroom, please add it below! We all love to share!!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Using Math Fails for Critical Thinking

What's the Problem?

Here is a scary statistic, up to 60% of our STEM (science, technology engineering, math) majors in college end up dropping out...because of math. There are lots of theries on why this is happening. They go from  grade inflation, to students not receiving a good foundation. However, there is another theory that seems much more likely to me! That theory says that math is taught in the United States as a series of problems that have a specific method to reach the right answer. The goal is a perfect grade. That's not how life works! It's not how science works, and it certainly isn't how engeneering or technology work! Math is actually problem solving. A 100% on a test doesn't mean a student can figure out a real life problem that involves math.

Who's Succeeding?

Kids who take part in math clubs and competitions learn how to solve peroblems they have never seen before. Instead of looking at math as something to do to get a perfect score, it's solving problems for the pure joy of finding the solution. That gives kids real pleasure, and a feeling of accomplishment. That's especially true when it takes a few days (weeks) to puzzle over a problem and finally find the solution. Back to the kids who were in math clubs and competitions, they seem to survive the change from high school to college math much better than kids who were at the top of their math class, but never took part in the clubs or competitions. It seems the "tyranny of 100%" caused these new freshmen to give up too easily when they didn't do well. The truth is, if a kid is getting 98% or 100% in math all of the time, it's too easy.

What Can Elementary Teachers Do?

Math thinking takes time. The skills students need to solve complex problems, break them down into small parts and approach from many angles without getting frustrated takes time and practice to build. That has to start in the elementary grades.

There are tons of ways to give problems to kids that are real puzzlers, but a great way to start in second through fourth grade is with pictures. A fun way all kids love, is finding mistakes adults make. Sometimes it takes a lot of thinking to even realize there is a problem! Give your students one of these pictures before math class begins, and allow students to struggle with it. Some will get it right away, others will have to think.  That's good! Ask students to write down their answers and keep them to themselves. Print out the picture, so you can keep it up all day. Some students will puzzle over it. That's good too. The next day, discuss the answer and how students came to solve the problem.  That discussion helps students who struggle to learn stategies.