Saturday, September 27, 2014

New Blog Kickoff and Giveaway!

I am thrilled and excited to be a part of a new collaboration group for upper elementary! I have been invited to join eleven fabulous bloggers and TpT'ers to bring you "snapshots" into our classrooms! Take a look at Upper Elementary Snapshots, and you may find some fabulous ideas and resources for your own classroom!

Upper Elementary Snapshots is the name of our new blog.   
Fabulous ideas will be posted every week!
Visit the "Meet the Collaborators" page to get to know a little bit about us.
Check out the "Freebies" page for fabulous items for your classroom!
Be sure to follow so you won't miss any of the wonderful ideas and freebies that we will be sharing!

don't miss out on the fabulous giveaway! 
Win $120 worth of wonderful TpT
items from 12 top TpT sellers!
Your choice from each
of their stores!

Have a blessed day!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A No Prep Lesson: Making Teaching Easier, Not Harder

My school year is now rolling full speed ahead! I always look forward to the feeling that I have when it seems that the students and I are in a routine:  beginning of the year routines are established, the kiddos know and understand my expectations, and daily routines are in place.  Well, I think we have made it there! Yay! 

Now; however, we are busy, busy, busy! Not only am I busy with school stuff, but my life at home is busy, too! My youngest daughter has volleyball games or practice every afternoon.  Both of my girls are showing cattle again, and those shows are scattered throughout our schedules. Sundays for us is church day. Life is busy, but good.  With so much going on, it is hard to find time to create beautiful, showy lessons.  You know the ones I'm talking about.  Those "Pinterest" worthy lessons that are so cute and colorful and take hours of cutting, planning, and preparing.  Well, I want to share how I created a very good lesson that took very little prep. Yes, it is not showy and pretty, but I think it met the needs of my students.

Several years ago, we went through strategic reading training that focused on "before, during, and after" reading strategies.  Unfortunately, last year, we adopted a new reading series, and once again, all of the teaching strategies that we had worked hard to established were thrown out the window.  (You know what I mean.  It seems as educators, we are told and trained to use one technique, but when we finally establish using it, we are told to abandon it, and use something completely different.) This year, however,  I am trying to work to incorporate those reading strategies back into my lessons.  This week we read a nonfiction text (from our reader) about earthquakes.  So, for my "before" reading strategy, I used an A,B, C brainstorm.  You are probably familiar with this.  Usually, the teacher gives the students a handout with the alphabet listed in columns.  The students simply brainstorm and use their prior knowledge to write words or phrases (beginning with each letter) that are related to the reading topic.  For example:  A:  a type of natural disaster   B:  below earth's surface   C:  crisis can be created   D:  destroys, etc.
(A,B,C Brainstorm.  Very creative spellings!)

Unfortunately,  to complete an entire alphabet can take twenty to thirty minutes, so I simply had my students to write only the letters A through J (you could do any amount or set of letters you want such as L through P). They wrote this in their reading journals, and I gave them five minutes to brainstorm.  When time was up, my students turned and talked to their reading partners to share their thoughts.  This is mainly to build an interest and help them recall background knowledge about the subject.  Did you notice that this took absolutely no prep for me?  Nothing to cut out, run off, or laminate!

As we read the text, I simply used the reading strategy, "think, pair, share."  I love this strategy and use it almost everyday. (This was the one strategy that I did not abandon last year.)  I often simply call it "turn and talk."  As we read the text, I occasionally stopped and asked an important question.  Students would look back at the text and "think."  Then they would "share" with their partner (that they were already paired with).  I established partners at the beginning of the year, so my students know who they are working with.  This strategy gets everyone thinking about their reading and discussing.  Once again, very little prep.  I just chose questions that were in my teacher's manual. Very easy!

After reading, I used stick notes for "jot notes."  Our focus during this lesson was comparing and contrasting.  For example, we used the text to compare and contrast tsunamis and hurricanes. Now, I could have taken the time to create a nice and colorful anchor chart, but remember, my theme today is no prep. I chose, instead, to use a pdf version of a Venn diagram to project onto my Smartboard.  The one I used was part of my reading series, but here is a free one that I found online.  I simply projected the Venn diagram.  I gave one set of students "tsunamis", another set "hurricanes", and the final set of students "both".  Each student looked back and read closely in the text to find the information and write it on the sticky note. We then went around the classroom and shared, and students put the sticky note in the correct circle on the board.  This was also a great way for me to assess who needed more instruction with comparing and contrasting. Once again, no prep! Super easy, but very effective!  I must say that I think this lesson was a huge success!  Every lesson does not have to be hard for the teacher.  Sometimes the simplest lessons turn out to be some of the best.

(Instead of making an anchor chart, simply project a pdf of a Venn diagram to make an easy, no prep lesson.)

We have also been learning about compound sentences this week.  I love graphic organizers, so I decided to create a graphic organizer for compound sentences. I chose to use this as a formal assessment following lessons on compound sentences. Not only did this serve as an assessment for me to evaluate my students' understanding, but these graphic organizers turned out very cute once my students colored them, and they will look great displayed on the bulletin board. Now for the best part, I am giving this to you for free!  I hope you enjoy this little freebie! Click on the picture below to download from my TpT store, or simply click here to download the pdf.
Compound Sentences Graphic Organizer

Be blessed!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Bulletin Boards Around My School

I love a cute bulletin board!  It can add so much color, creativity, and interest to a hallway or a classroom!  This year at my school, one of my teacher friends has really outdone herself on her bulleting boards!  The has created some super cute bulletin boards inspired by Pinterest (of course), and she is letting me share them with you!  I just love her bright colors and creative designs!

Paint you own future! I love the little 3D butterflies on this colorful bulletin board! This board really brightens up our main hallway!

You are responsible for yourself.  I love the black silhouettes on this bulletin board.  They really pop against the bright green background.  I also like the message of this bulletin board.

Leadership comes in cans!  Isn't this bulletin board just darling?  As you can see, I work with some very talented teachers! 
Be blessed!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Back to School! First Day Activities

Well, I have now been in school one week, and I must admit, it s going great!  I am totally exhausted, but it is a good tired because I am enjoying teaching so much!  I still get so nervous on the first day of school, but if I can just get through the first week or two, I feel like I am back into a comfortable pair of shoes! 
As you well know, the first day of school can be so hectic:  with paperwork, new students coming in, unexpected interruptions, trying to get to know the students, establishing routines, and so on...  It can also be filled with fun. I want to share with you a few of the activities that I chose to use with my students.

First, I used a fun activity calls 4-Corners Icebreakers from One Extra Degree.  This fun activity helps you to learn about your students and how they enjoy learning while letting them get up and move around.  The great thing about these posters is that I plan to keep them up to use them throughout the year. I plan to use them with questions related to what we are studying.  Oh, yes! I forgot the best part.  This item is FREE!
This activity actually came from one of the first packets that I ever purchased on TpT.  When I purchased this packet, it was called Back to School Bash.  Unfortunately, it is no longer available, but I LOVED this activity.  There are 3 posters labeled "Teacher," "Student," and "Both."  I read scenarios from cards, and students decided whose "job" it was:  the teacher's, the student's or both.  This was a fabulous first day activity!
This page is a fun activity that I used from Beginning of the Year Team Building Activities from Kristine Nannini.  This is another great get-to-know- you activity! No prep is involved for this easy activity.
Finally, here is my version of "A Great Classmate" anchor chart. You have probably seen the original  version floating around Pinterest. This is one of my favorite ways to establish classroom expectations.  I have used this for the past two years, and have been so pleased with the results.  This is definitely a first day activity that I plan to continue to use in the years to come. 
Have a blessed day!


Monday, August 4, 2014

Crayon Wreath and Salsa!

It is time for another Monday Made It, and I finally found time to make something that I could link up! 
 First of all, my hubby and I worked together to make 18 pints of salsa.  He said it was our bonding time.  :)
David Benefield's photo.
David Benefield's photo.
David Benefield's photo.
I have been wanting to make one of those cute crayon wreaths that  I have seen on Pinterest.  I simply used a pizza box to cut a circle and hot glue to glue on all of the crayons.  Then I tied on my initial and made and attached a bow.  This is going on my classroom door!
Just in time for back to school, I have created my Month by Month Writing Prompts, Graphic Organizers, and Writing Papers.  These are perfect for writing stations, student evaluations, practice for prompt writing, and more.  The great thing about this bundle is that I will continue to add each month to this packet.  Each time I add a month, the price will increase, so purchase now and receive the rest of the year FREE!
Don't forget to stop by TpT and catch the Back to School Sale! I'm very excited about all of the items in my check out cart!  Everything in my store is on sale for 20% off! Don't forget to use the code to receive an extra 10% off your purchase!
Be blessed!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Seven Tips for Departmentalizing in Upper Elementary

In our school, 4th grade is the first year that our students exchange classes.  Many students are nervous about this new experience.  To help students transition, my colleagues and I work very closely together to establish routines, and make this new experience of exchanging classes a positive experience for our students.

Here are 7 tips for departmentalizing in upper elementary that we have found helpful.

1.  Establish routines with exchanging classes.  Work closely with your co-teachers and establish consistent expectations of  hall behavior, exchanging classes, lining up, etc.  If students know that all teachers have the same expectations, exchanging class will go very smoothly.
2.  Line up to exchange classes.  Although middle school and high school have bells to exchange classes and students simply leave at the bell, our students are taught to line up on our signals.  They line up and stand in the hall to wait to enter the next classroom.  We (teachers) have become very good at watching the clock to exchange class on time, limiting the wait time for students.  By having students line up together, we can teach students a routine, teach them how to exchange quietly and quickly.
3.  Limit materials that students must take from classroom to classroom.  Have as many materials in the classroom as possible so students do not have to remember too many items.  We keep a set of textbooks in our classroom for all students to use so that they do not have to bring textbooks to class.  Materials such as composition notebooks and workbooks stay in the classroom and are passed out as needed.  In our situation, students only need to bring three things: a folder (for homework and loose paper), pencil pouch (containing crayons, scissors, and pencils), and a book to read.  Make it simple for students to remember.
4.  When it is time to exchange, name everything that your students need.  Say something like, "Gather your pencil pouch, folder, and book to read."  Just reminding students can be a huge help. 
5.  Allow one or two weeks for students to get used to the new routine.  It may not be perfect on the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd day of school, but in one or two weeks, exchanging will become routine for you and your students.
6.  Work closely with your co-teachers to help students know their homework assignments.  Part of our daily afternoon routine is to write homework in our homework journals.  My colleagues and I email one another to let each other know homework assignments and tests days so that we can write it on our homework board and help all students write assignments in their homework journals.  By working so closely together, we enable our students to understand our expectations and the importance of studying and preparing for tests, completing homework assignments, etc. 
7.  Be positive.  Let students know from day one, the positives of being departmentalized. Build an excitement for exchanging by telling your students what your students in the past have loved about being departmentalized.   Some things that my students love about being departmentalized include that the day goes by very quickly and  they love having a different teacher for each subject.
While departmentalization in upper elementary may not be the perfect situation for every school, I absolutely can't imagine teaching any other way.  Definitely, the key to our success has been my wonderful co-workers!  They are truly fabulous! 
Have a blessed day!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Seven Benefits of Departmentalizing

Departmentalizing, changing classes, specializing...whatever your terminology, departmentalizing can seem like a daunting task to an elementary teacher who has never tried it.  For my fourth grade team, changing classes has become part of our fourth grade daily routine, and to be honest, we can't imagine it any other way. Although for many schools, departmentalizing does not begin until middle school, most of my 24 years of teaching upper elementary have been spent in some type departmentalized setting. Since my move to fourth grade about ten years ago, my fourth grade colleagues and I have enjoyed this, and  I have specialized in language arts.

For my co-teachers and I, departmentalizing has several benefits not only for our students, but for ourselves as well.

1.  The first benefit is rather an obvious one. Students are better prepared for exchanging classes in middle school.  By exchanging classes in elementary, students have experience before entering middle school.
2.  Teachers are able to teach to their strengths and become "experts" in their field.  Students benefit from teachers' knowledge and expertise.  I know that I certainly feel that I have become a much better language arts teacher because all of my time and energy is focused on this one area. 
3.  Students are exposed to the instructional style of more than one teacher.  For many students, this can be a benefit. 
4.  Our students each year rave about how quickly the days go by because of exchanging classes.  Perhaps it is because students are more focused in each class, the day is set at a faster pace, or that students have had a minute or two to walk and exchange classes.  Whatever the reason, students enjoy each day's pace. 
5.  Teachers have the opportunity to get to know all of the students in the grade.  For some, this may not seem like a benefit, but I find that it truly is an advantage.  I love getting to know all of the kiddos, plus because all of my co-workers have all of the students, we are constantly talking and discussing ways to help meet the needs of individual students.  Anytime there is a problem or a need, I know that I can go to my fourth grade colleagues for help, suggestions, or advice.  We are constantly working together to help meet the needs of our students.  HUGE advantage!!
6.   Students have an opportunity to release energy.  Just by getting up and moving from classroom to classroom helps students release energy. They then come to each class more focused and ready to work.
7.  Because students are in a class for only one class period, time for discipline problems and behavioral issues is greatly decreased.  Also, because students are up and moving between classes, extra energy can be released which also helps to diminish behavior problems.
Although departmentalizing may not be for every teacher at every school, my colleagues and I feel that it has certainly benefited our students.  Each year, our students tell us that they love exchanging classes.  They look forward to that time each day, and on the very rare occasion that we don't exchange classes, students usually express their disappointment. I think that is a testament to departmentalizing working for us.
Have a blessed day!