Sunday, July 23, 2017

First Week of School: Back to School Book and Lessons

Do you ever get tired of starting the year in the same way with the same activities? I do and am always looking for new ideas. Well, I stumbled upon a GREAT new "back to school" read aloud that I have never used before. I'm super excited to try it out with my new crop of third graders this year. It is the perfect book to start the year out with, yet really has nothing to do with kids going to school. 
It has to do with Calvin and Calvin can't fly. 
So I guess it does have everything to do with kids going to school. I know so many of my kids may be walking into their new classroom door feeling worried and unsure of their abilities. They'll be thinking about all the things they CAN'T do. Reading this book will help ease their minds. 
This fun story is called, Calvin Can't Fly (The Story of a Bookworm Birdie) and is by Jennifer Berne.  Calvin is a starling and can't fly because all he wants to do is read. 

Calvin is not your typical starling he is different from the others. 
I love that this book will help me to initiate a conversation about respecting and appreciating individual differences. The first week of school is all about getting to know each other and the very beginnings of relationship building. We will be talking about how it is OK for Calvin to be different and for all of us to be different. 
We'll read how at first, the other starlings made fun of Calvin....
I love the language of this book...I will be sure to stop and talk about some of the vocabulary on this page. It is a quick read aloud but meaty, it's filled with great stopping and talking points. 
 Calvin heads to the library where he spends much of his time with his beak in a book. 
When it's time to migrate, Calvin is in trouble!
I like how we can talk here about how although we all have our favorite subjects and activities, we need also need to spend time learning other things too. 
Here is one of my favorite pages: 
The other starlings do not leave Calvin behind! They figure out a way to help him. 
Another great talking point for the classroom. I want my kids to know that although there will be times they are facing hard learning and they may not get it right away, we will work together to make sure everyone learns all that they need to. We will leave no one behind. 
Well, the birds, including Calvin, start on their journey but run into a problem and guess who has the know-how to save the day?  
Yes, Calvin learned all about hurricanes from reading books! He teaches them and they take cover. 
Calvin ends up learning how to fly and the story concludes with them flying off as one big happy family.  This is a fantastic book to use prior to launching your reader's workshop time. 
It hits home the idea that reading is enjoyable and also how we can learn so much from books. I want my students to feel as though they don't need to wait for me to teach them what they are interested in. They can teach themselves just by spending time with a book!
I started creating materials that I plan on using along with this book. I think I'm going to lead my kids through the writing of their very first book response using this book. I made this one page booklet for us to practice doing what good readers do...we will "Prepare for Reading", "Think Before Reading", "Ask and Answer Questions", "Identify Problem and Solution" and "Describe the Character". 

I plan on doing this all together with lots of discussion. It will serve as my training session. 
I also created a blank response booklet that my kids will attempt to fill out on their own later during the second week of school. I like my students to do some sort of book responding at least once a week on a book that they choose during independent reading time. 
After reading this book, I want my kids to spend time getting to know more about their new classroom family. I'm going to have them play this simple book inspired game. They will simply spin the spinner and move their "Calvin" to a question that they will answer. 
It will give me an opportunity to watch my new students working with a partner and taking turns speaking and listening to each other. Afterwards, they will fill out this "post play" form to tell what they learned about their new friend. 
During writing time, we will talk about how, like Calvin, we all have things we can do well and things that are still hard for us. Third grade gets tough fast. I want my kids to feel empowered and not ever give up on themselves. We will celebrate our talents and talk about goal setting as students write about themselves using this sheet: 
It fits inside this Calvin booklet. Sometimes kids need a break during that first week of school. Having them create a quick craft gives them that mental break while allowing me to check out their fine motor skills and their ability to start and finish a project. 
Plus it can be displayed with the title: We Are Going to Soar in Third Grade. Then kids can read about other kids and hopefully make more connections. 
Once I started creating using the themes of this book, I could not stop. 
I think I may do a whole day with Calvin in mind. 
Here is a math page that is also inspired by this book. It will give me a glimpse into what kind of math thinkers they are. The problems are ones that they should have been exposed to as second graders. I included a checklist for students to use after completing each problem. 
I teach my kids to take responsibility for their own learning. 
Part of that is knowing what is easy or hard for them and then focusing on it. 
Again, like Calvin, not everything is easy for us and that is OK. 
We may end week one with a quick and simple STEM activity to allow them an opportunity to work in a cooperative group. I want to see them in action. I can learn so much about my new students by observing them in situations like this one. They will work on designing and creating a contraption to get Calvin from a starting point to his migration destination. I will simply put out a sampling of recycled materials and see what they can come up with. Working alongside each other is the best way for them to bond and building relationships with their new classmates. 

I am including this set in my TPT store if you are interested in trying any of these activities out yourself. Check your school or public library for Calvin Can't Fly. It is an easy book to find!
Click the link below: 

Do you have a favorite Back to School Book? I'd love to hear. 
Share below or email at

Back to School Graphs: New Friends and Their Favorites

Summer is not so much a season as it is a melody, 
that tune of contentment we hum as the days begin to beautifully blur. 
Sarah Ban Breathnach

So true, summer brings with it so many simple joys that if we are not careful, can go unnoticed. 
We went to the mountains last week and found a quiet spot in the river to swim and sit. 
I could not have been more content than I was swimming in the flow of that cool mountain water. 
Simple abundance exists all around us. Noticing and appreciating each day's gifts can unlock the fullness in our lives. Aren't we lucky as teachers to be able to shed thoughts of school and work expectations for a short while. 
Sweet sweet summer....but then I went to Target. 
Have you been recently? 
They are clearing out summer and filling it in with back to school stuff. 
Stealing my joy. 

It seems earlier each year. I know many who are beginning to plan for the next school year. 
I have a friend who does and says it is because she wants to be kind to her "future self". 
She says planning now helps keep her sane in September. 
How about you? Are you a planning ahead or planning to procrastinate? I'm usually the latter of the two. For those of you who are thinking of the next school year, I am posting some "Back to School" files to my Teacher Pay Teacher store. 

The beginning of the year can be a challenging time for me. I want to devote enough time getting to know my new students yet there is always the push to get right into the academics so we don't get behind at the start. Does anyone else deal with that? It sometimes feels like we don't have the time to ease into the much to teach in one year's time.

To deal with that, I have attempted to combine some "Getting to Know You" type activities with some of our third grade reading and math objectives. We work on graphing right at the beginning of the year. Third graders need to be able to use data to create picture graphs, bar graphs and line plots. 
Here is a file that allows students a chance to survey each other to find out more about one another at the same time they are getting practice in making and analyzing picture graphs. 

This set includes 14 different "Getting to Know You" survey questions, tally charts, symbols and graphing papers. Third graders typically deal with the symbol of a picture graph equaling more that just one. Having to represent data with the symbol equaling 2 or more raises the rigor and requires students to cut the symbol. Having to cut the picture graph symbols out and gluing them onto the graph helps to slow students down and forces them to think about how many symbols they really need. 

You can check out this set by clicking the link below. 

Do you have favorite "Getting to Know You" activities? Would love to hear!

Classroom Library Book Worm Jar: Freebie

Happy Friday! I've got a freebie for you this morning. They have cute jars at the Target One Spot this month. I picked up one with a red lid for a new Book Worm Jar for my classroom. I added a label to the front and will stuff it with book worms (gummy worms)  when we go back to school.

I am also working on a new Book Nook sign for my classroom. I am adding some new reading spots this year and wanted to include them in this rotation poster. 
I will add clothespins with names of my students on this chart. Students are assigned to a special "book nook" during independent reading time. I just move clothespins down each day so students get a new one each time. 

Walmart carries great little plastic rocker chairs for a really cheap price! My students loved them last year so I added a couple more to our collection. 
Check the stores now and in another month when stores discount their dorm room items. I have found great book nooks for cheap prices during these sale times.
I found these "recliner" chairs at Target years ago and they still work great!

I know how important it is to have my third graders spend as much time possible reading quality texts on their level. I try to create a quiet, comfortable and peaceful environment for our reading time.
I've changed up my classroom library set up  a bit and now it will be organized by both genre and leveled readers. I started this last year and really liked it. 
When I go back in the fall, I will add more letters to these baskets. 
I like having books also organized by genre since that is something we teach in third grade. 
By this age, kids really start knowing what they prefer reading.

I also showcase books along our reading wall. These are "Teacher Pick" books that go along with our content area studies. Students tend to grab up these books and I love that since it allows them an opportunity to learn more and dig deeper into the standards that we teach. These kids become science and social studies experts and can add much to our content area discussions based on what they learn on their own during independent reading time. 

We also take turns reading to these cute bookworms that we keep in our class library. 
Third graders still go crazy for stuffed animals. If they want to read to them they need to keep reading the WHOLE reading time. Book worms only want to visit with students who are reading...ha! 
Yes, believe it or not, third graders are NOT too old for this!

Before reading time I pick a "Mystery Reader".  I tell my students I picked one of them, but will not tell who it is. The idea is that I will keep a close eye on that person for the duration of our reading time. If  that person remains a productive reading and do "real reading" the ENTIRE time, they are announced as a "bookworm" and get a gummy worm prize at the end of the reading block.  If they don't stay stuck in their book,  they are not announced but I will go to them individually and talk to them about what I saw and how they can make it the next time. 

I've added the Book Worm Jar label to my TPT store as a free item.  
You can check it out here:

 So how do you encourage productive reading during your sustained, silent reading time? 
I would love for you to share!
Comment below or email me at

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Reason for Rules: First Week of School Activity

Planning for the first weeks of school can be the hardest to do. I so want to jump right into the instruction, but also get the importance of spending time establishing classroom expectations. I have created a set of materials that will allow me to introduce the importance of rules while still getting right to the teaching of reading and thinking skills. 

I'm going to start our discussion of classroom rules by showing this silly video clip about rules

We're going to talk about WHY we need rules in our schools. Here is where I plan on introducing the thinking skill of identifying causes and effects. I'll use an anchor chart to help record some of our thinking. Kids need to buy into the idea that rules are established for a reason, that they are not for the teacher, but rather for kids.  I want students to establish a sense of ownership in the forming of our classroom so I will have them take over the brainstorming and writing of the rules after we have spent time thinking and talking about the subject.

I like using these jumbo post it notes to make my anchor charts reusable.
Did you know you can also use adhesive spray to make your laminated anchor charts sticky? 
Spraying this makes the area temporarily sticky so you can adhere paper to the chart. 
Elmer's Fast Tack Spray Adhesive

 I laminate anchor charts so they can be left out and reused as we go through the year. The idea is that once introduced, we will continue to identify causes/effects as we learn about all kinds of other topics. 


I love using literature and poems as ways to introduce and reinforce topics we are learning about. 
Here is a cause/effect poem that we will read and glue into our poetry journals. 
It reinforces the idea that rules are created for a reason and without them our school would not be a fun or safe place. 

Students will further develop this cause and effect thinking by matching actions and outcome cards. 
Third grade students are certainly old enough to begin thinking about how consequences follow actions. We will spend time talking about how we must use our third grade self control to stop ourselves from making unwise choices.

I work hard to promote the idea that students are the ones in control of much of  what happens to 
them in school. Situations will arise and they will have to make decisions on how to respond. This game will give them practice in understanding that positive reactions will lead to positive consequences. 

Students draw cards and read the situation. If the action is a positive one, the player moves forward the number of spaces indicated. If the action is negative, they move backwards. 
I like getting the students to play games during the first week of school. It keeps them from just sitting and listening to me talk at them all day and gets them working and playing with their new friends. 
I like walking around and watching them interact with each other. I learn a lot about their personalities!

We will go on to brainstorm, write and post the rules students decide on at the end of the week.
I have put together a set of materials I will be using during our first week. 
I have added this file to my TPT store. 
Click the link below to check it out!

What "First Week of School" activities do you have planned to help you establish rules? 
Would love to hear!
email or comment below!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Freebie Friday: Creating a Reading Strategies Board

Hello Friends! Are you basking in the realization that we have time to stop and breathe again? 
I am. 
I spent the first few days of break doing absolutely nothing. Now I am feeling the itch to get something done. Do you have a list of summer "to do's" to do?  
I have written down what I want to accomplish and love the feeling of checking things off as I go. 

One goal I have is to clean out my computer and delete files that are cluttering up my computer space. What a job! It will be awhile before I can cross this one off my list. I am spending a little time daily doing this and am sharing some files on my TPT store. 
I've just added the strategies that go along with my CAFE board.

Unfortunately, I am unable to claim that I truly utilize all of the CAFE system in my classroom. The CAFE system was devised by the team of Gail Boushey and Joan Moser aka "The Sisters". These are the two same geniuses that designed the Daily Five system.  
You can check out their book and blog here: 

My county has adopted and is utilizing the Benchmark Literacy Program so that really limits my time. I have needed to tweak things to get everything I want to fit in my language arts block of time. Although the real intent of the CAFE board was to be used for an assessment program, I do not use it in that way. For me, the CAFE board serves as a way of recording and reminding students of the reading skills and strategies they have been taught. I often reference it as a way of "activating prior knowledge" before beginning a reading minilesson. It begins as a blank and empty board and by the end of the year it is filled. I hold them accountable for the learning that we have done!

I use this board in conjunction with my students' reading journals. This is also a place that we glue in notes and record our learning. 

Cooking With Comprehension: Create a Comprehension Notebook

I have added the strategy cards shown on this board to my Teacher Pay Teacher store. 
Click the link below to check it out. 

Reading Strategies Board

I will continue adding free files on Fridays. I'm hoping this promise to you all will keep me motivated to do my file decluttering this summer. What is on your summer list? Would love to hear! 
Email me at or comment below.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

End of Year Activity: Welcome Third Graders!

It's feeling like school should be out when the thermometer in your car is reading a hot 90 degrees! Yes, it is feeling like a VA summer..more hot weather in the forecast for next week too.

It has been a weekend filled with the typical end of the year paperwork.
I am happy to say I am working on grading my very last stack of assignments for the 2016-17 school year!
I am looking forward to spending the next five days with my kiddos before I send them forth to fourth! Before I let them leave, I'm going to have them write some advice to the third grade newbies who will be taking over their spots in a matter of months. I did this last year and got a kick out of the advice they thought they needed to pass along. I kept these papers and put them on the desks of my students on the first day of school.  It turned out to be a nice opening activity and a good way to jump into third grade procedures and expectations.

I've also had my students write letters to the new group in the past. Here is this option if interested:

I've added these to my Teacher Pay Teacher store. You can check them out here if interested: 

I'll be starting a new feature this summer called Freebie Friday. I'm determined to go through my computer files and get things out and uploaded.
So be sure to follow my TPT store or this blog so you know when things get posted. 
Enjoy your final days with your third graders!