Monday, July 25, 2016

Planning Out A Planner

I'm linking up again with Tara's Fourth Grade Frolics and Monday Made It. 
Visiting her site always leaves me feeling inspired. You must check her out!
Another way to get the creative juices flowing is to head to your local craft store. 
This weekend I made my way to the Michaels.
I spent FOREVER just wandering around that store. 
And here is what I found.... the Create 365 Happy Planner. 


This planner was so cute!  Loved it!
I loved the calendar layouts, the colors and sayings. 


I was so tempted to grab it,  but have a template that I use for lesson planning that includes all the details that I need to incorporate when posting plans. It will be so much easier to use that instead of handwriting all my plans into this one. Lesson planning is one of my least favorite school tasks...I need to keep it as simple as possible. 
So I decided to use the Happy Planner as inspiration and create my own cover and add divider cards. I figure a nice planner makes the job a bit more enjoyable, right? 


Once I started with these beautiful papers from Liana Scrap, I could not stop. 
Check out her sets of digital papers here



I put together a file of what I created and am sharing it free in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. 
You can find it by clicking the link below. 

So what do you use? Are you an Erin Condren fan? Happy Planner? 
Would love to hear!
Email at 
or comment below!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Word Wizards: A September Vocabulary Unit

Hello Friends! 

It is too crazy hot here in VA for my normal outdoor activities so I am stuck inside and  thought I'd hammer out a quick post on another flip from the 2015-2016 school year. Those who have followed my blog for awhile know that I am big into vocabulary instruction and believe that the direct and explicit instruction of words can make a huge difference in comprehension and overall reading achievement. 

My first go to book on this topic has been Isabel Beck's Bringing Words to Life. 
In it, she discusses how to build "robust" vocabulary practices into your day.
This little book made a big difference in how I approach the teaching of words. 
Along with Isabel Beck's book, I have been so inspired by the book, Word Nerds written by 
Brenda Overturf, Leslie Montgomery and Margot Smith. 
I love this book! 
The authors of this one are real teachers working with real students. 
They crafted and developed, tested and tried this vocabulary approach with the children in their classrooms.

This year I devoted time and effort into getting this vocabulary approach in place.
The kids were hooked and LOVED working on these word wiz activities.
This hands on and kinesthetic approach helped support and engage my active learners.
Everyone benefitted. Students were not only expected to know the meaning of the words, but also learned how to use these words in their everyday speech and writing.

We had an area in the room that we used as our word collection spot. These two pocket charts purchased from Target held our words, meanings and sentences for the two weeks.
I decided to introduce five tier two words a week and we worked with those words for two weeks. It may seem like that is too much time to devote to five words; however, the beauty of this plan is that those five words increase to about 40 words when you teach students the related words, synonyms and antonyms of those five initial words. The connection of words to words is a powerful and meaningful way to build a child's vocabulary. 
So, how did this work?
One day one, I introduced these five words by simply decoding and reading the words by themselves first. Then I displayed a cloze sentence and students helped to determine which of the five words would best fill in the blank. After figuring that out, I would tell the students the child friendly definition of the word. This began the explicit and direct teaching that is widely recommended by experts in reading instruction. 
The word with the sentence and meaning was left up and displayed for the week. 

On day two, the students began recording our learning about these words in their Vocabulary Journal. 
We wrote the word and its part of speech in the center of the page and defined it using a "child friendly" definition that they could understand. 

On day three we would revisit each word, discuss how the word could be used and created a meaningful illustration of the word in our journals.  We also came up with a gesture or movement that would represent the word. 
On day four, we reviewed definitions, examples and gestures and expanded our knowledge by linking the word with other related words, synonyms or antonyms. We recorded those in the next box of the journal. 
Finally on day five it was time to practice using that word in a 7UP sentence. A seven up sentence is one that contains at least 7 words. The idea here is to expand our sentence writing by adding adjectives or adverbs that will make our sentences more meaningful. 

So after the course of one week, the students have had MANY exposures to the word in directed learning experiences. 

The second week is devoted to working with these words in different contexts thereby increasing their exposures to the entire set of words. 
Word Nerds encourages the use of lanyards so that students can actually wear the words around their necks. At this point all words- the five initial words plus synonym, antonyms and related words are put on cards and worn.  So for a class of about 20-24 students, everyone is wearing a different word. In bigger classes, some words have to be worn by two students. I picked the more difficult words to double up.
I picked up my sets of lanyards pretty inexpensively at Oriental Trading Co. and they held up well. 
You can check them out here: 
I purchased the clip that attached to the lanyard and held the word at my local Walmart. 
Also very inexpensive. 

I started out giving students the printed copy of the words on lanyards but soon decided to challenge them by having them write the word and decorate it to depict the meaning of the word. 
This really forced them to stretch their brains and think in a creative way. . 

Another brain stretching activity mentioned in Word Nerds is to have students color the background of the card in a color that matches the meaning of the word. 
Here someone colors in the word "parched" with the color brown signifying the parched means dry. 
I always have students defend their color choice by explaining why the chose it. You can learn a lot about how well your students know their word through this explanation. 

The "Word Nerd" approach involves LOTS of communication and conversation. 
Students are very engaged and are learning from listening to one another talk about their words. 

After students have their card ready, it's time to have some fun with our words. 
Students meet up with another student, greet and introduce themselves as their word and teach the other student all about themselves. 
It goes something like this: "Hi, my name is Motionless."  
The other students replies with, "Hi, how do you do, Motionless?"
The conversation continues, "I'm great, but I'm very still. I don't move at all...not even a muscle."
"Let me demonstrate." At this point the student uses the gesture to teach the other child the meaning of the word and has the child "mirror" the movement. 
The idea of mirroring is a "Whole Brain" practice which worked great with my students this year. 

Then the students would switch and the other would lead the introduction. 

Later in week two we would also play the "Link Up" game. Word Nerds calls this activity "Scramble".   Wearing a word, students would form a big circle in the room.  They would be given a chance to survey the students and words and then on the command: "Link Up", students would find other students who they could connect with. They may link up because they were related words, synonyms or even antonyms.  We would go around the circle and explain who we were with and why. 
Again, more conversation and more exposures. 

We often began our reading workshop with one of these quick activities as a way to "warm up with words". 
I also built in vocabulary practice sessions during reading station time. 
I used an approach similar to "The Daily 5" to manage my students while I was working with guided reading groups. One of the rounds students would go to would be a Working with Words station. I would simply leave a set of vocabulary cards, a Win a Word spinner and some markers and dice and students would play a word game. Here they laid out the cards to form a game board and moved their markers around the board if they could successfully complete an activity based on the word they landed on. 

At the very end of the week, students would be asked to do a written response to show their understanding of the words introduced through the two week cycle. 

Finally, the words would be written on post it notes and added to our Vocabulary Vault so students could refer to them throughout the year. 

I've begun putting the actual words I teach into documents that I can share with you all.
The first set of words are ones I like to teach in the beginning of the year because they relate to
citizenship and the second set includes words that are connect to our focus on healthy mindsets.
As the year goes on, we focus on more tier two words. These are words chosen because they appear in a good number of third grade texts and students can use them in their everyday conversations. 

I am offering my September word set in a Teacher Pay Teacher file that you can access by clicking the link below. 

Also be sure to check out the book Word Nerds! There are so many great ideas included in this book.
You and your students will love trying them out!

I just love hearing from others...please share your vocabulary ideas in the comments below or by emailing me 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Monthly Mindset Messages

SO, what are you doing with your summer? Without shame I will say I have been doing a lot of nothing and enjoying every lazy minute of it.  Isn't it just great to have time again? 

Along with just "chillin", as my kids would say, I am enjoying doing all the things I don't always get a chance to during the school year.  Like cooking, baking, gardening, hiking, exercising, blogging and how about just thinking. Wow, it has been so good to be able to have some relaxed time to just sit and to think, to reflect, to mull things over. 
I've been thinking about my past year. It was a tough one with many obstacles to overcome. But with challenge comes opportunity...a chance to grow, learn and develop new skills. 
There were many days that I felt so overwhelmed and began doubting my abilities. I see now that I needed these moments of weakness, they helped to propel me into action. With the help of some super supportive friends, I became determined not to throw in the towel and give up on myself and these kids. My difficulties forced me to seek out and try new techniques to deal with the needs of a large group of students who were struggling for a variety of reasons. So together, my students and I learned a lot. I tried many new teaching practices, strategies and interventions. Some worked for me and some didn't. So my next set of posts will be my flips and flops of my 2015-16 school year. 

Let's get started with a BIG flip.  Last summer I  read up on the research that has come out on "healthy mindset" thinking and decided to make a deliberate shift in the manner in which I praised and encouraged my students. Boy, oh boy, not only did my students need to hear and develop this thinking, but so did I. 
Here are the key concepts we worked to develop: 
1. Intelligence and skill can be developed
2. The brain is malleable
3. Doing challenging work is the best way to make the brain stronger and smarter

There is compelling evidence that suggests that promoting healthy mindset thinking in our classrooms will make a significant difference in the academic success of our students. 
Check out this article from Mind/Shift Blog:

There are more and more resources available to help you weave healthy 
mindset thinking into classroom conversation. 
This year I began using Classroom DoJo as a way to monitor classroom behavior. This was so fun and engaging for my third graders!
Along with a management piece, they have these fun little videos that are geared towards developing a positive approach to dealing with school and learning. 
Check it out...

These little videos are great to use a springboard for a classroom conversation about healthy mindset thinking. I will definitely use them again. 

Khan Academy has also teamed up to develop lesson plans on these topics.  

Last year I created a classroom display that highlighted some healthy mindset language. 
I found it so helpful to have these phrases out in the open where we could refer to them as we needed to.  We "trained our brains" to take a positive approach to challenging work. My struggling learners really benefitted from it. They soon didn't need me, they were reminding and encouraging each other. 

This can be found in my TPT store: 

A person's attitude plays such a huge role in how much progress they will make. I KNOW that to be true. I want my students to tackle challenging work fearlessly and develop a resilience that will help them achieve all their goals.  So next year I will take it a step further and introduce a Mindset Message each month.  We will post it and focus on developing that particular mindset for the month as we work and learn. 
I've created a packet of these posters which I will post on my calendar board. 

I've added this set to my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. 
Click the link below to check it out 

I'd love to hear if you have made the shift to promote a healthy mindset program in your class. 
How are you doing it and how is it going? 
Please share!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Monday Made It: Scratch Off Prize Tickets

I'm super excited about linking up with Tara at Fourth Grade Frolics for Monday Made It. 
There are tons of inspiring ideas on her blog! You must check her out!

My plan is to prepare birthday bags for my students before September this year. That didn't get done last year and so kids just got an extra prize from the our class toy store....not too special. 
 Kids love getting a birthday treat, no matter how small. 
Target has such cute stuff at their One Spot this year. I grabbed a few things and for under 10 dollars, get to give students a little birthday treat that I know they will be excited about. 
 I'll share the actual completed birthday bag at a later post. 

But one of the things I will add to their bag is a Happy Birthday scratch off prize ticket. 
These are easy to make and kids LOVE them. 
Here is an example of my birthday ticket.  It will be a NO Homework Pass, because no one should have to do homework on their special day, right? 
So let's get to it....
to make it a scratch off ticket you need: 
clear tape 
silver acrylic paint
 dish detergent (any kind)
a ticket

First step is to cover the ticket with the clear tape. 
You don't have to cover the entire ticket, just the scratch off part. 
Kids will turn them in to redeem their prize and I want to reuse these, so I did cover the whole thing. 

You then squeeze out a puddle of paint into a container.
I just used a plastic lid.

Then you add just a couple of drops of dish detergent. 

Mix those two ingredients well.  

Finally, you paint over the prize with the mixture until you can no longer see the words underneath
Let it dry well. 
Kids will be able to easily scratch it off to reveal their prize. 


I also have created some to celebrate other classroom accomplishments. 
I left the prize blank so I can write in different ones that I think my students will be excited about. 

Check the link below for a free file of these scratch off tickets. 

Have an awesome Monday!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Back to School Poems: Setting Up a Poetry Journal

I got this super cute mug from one of my students at the end of the year. It sums up how I have been feeling lately. I am celebrating the fact that it is summer and am enjoying all that this season has to offer. 

We just returned home from this beautiful place. 

We had lovely weather and took gorgeous sunrise walks on the beach. 


Now that I am back, I am focusing some of my free time on planning a bit for next year. 
One of my projects involves writing poems and follow up activities for the poetry journal. 

I finished up a Back to School Set to begin our year with. 
My students cut and glue the poem on one side of a journal page and then illustrate their "Mind Movie" or visualization on the other side. 

Another option would be to have students complete and glue the follow up on the other side. 
This poem has to do with recess. I feel the need to conserve time and make math connections whenever I can. Since we also begin the year with our graphing unit, I will have my students work on surveying classmates to find out their favorite recess activities and then they will construct a graph to report their results. 
I love it when I can connect reading and math. 

Another poem that I love using is "Open Up a Book". I use it to introduce the types or genres of books we will be reading in third grade. Each stanza of the poem relates to a different genre. 

Afterwards, students can survey friends to find out what kinds of books they like to read. 
This time, they will create a bar graph to share the data. 

I like using "Third Grade Pro" to begin our year. This one gives great advice on how to have a great third grade year.  We will follow up this one with a "Back to School" problem solving practice. 

These poems and math activities, along with others,  are included in "A Pack of Poems" bundle in my TPT Store. Click the link below to check it out.

I will be working on a Fall set next. Are there other poems you would be interested in?
Please let me know if you would like me to share math or science poems next.
You can comment below or email me at