Wednesday, April 23, 2014

If It Was Written By Another Author....

One activity I like to do with often with my kiddos is to have them write about the "rules" that a certain author follows. For example, with Dr. Seuss you find rhyming words, very make-believe characters and often times a message. After that I will ask them what would happen if another author wrote that book-what details would change? It is a challenging way to make them think!

This class has been a big fan of Neil Gaiman. We read Coraline at Halloween and since then we've discovered some new favorites including:

One of my new read-aloud favorites! Could have been a story my Dad would tell. :)

My kids loved reading this book. There is some complaint from reviewers that the ending is a little scary because the girl ends up getting sucked up into his hair-but my kids loved it. When I was little my sister and I spent a week at Girl Scout camp. That whole week my sister never brushed her hair that was long enough to sit on--that is the connection I made with this story. Heaven only knows what you would have found in her hair! :)

Anyway, so we were reading Because of Winn-Dixie and I asked my students to tell me what would change if Neil Gaiman had written this story. I thought the one who got it really got it!

The girl would be the dog and the story would say "Because of the Girl".

Gloria would lie about the things she did wrong.

Some [parts] will be scary and some will be funny.

                                                Gloria with scary eyes
Because a big portal [would open] and all the people will come.

Probably if he wrote it he could write they got lost.

Instead of walking into a store she can walk into a pear.

Now this is my little loquacious writer. Basically the gist is the "ghosts" they hear turn out to be real ghosts and they have to hide in a port-a-potty--they held their breath! :)


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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Anxiety-Free Test Prep

I know, you never thought you would hear that I would advocate test prep, did you? I remember reading one of Rafe Esquith's books and being amazed that he does not do any test prep with them-they just know it (although his kiddos are a little older). I wish I could say I don't waste any time on it either, however in today's climate it really does feel necessary-especially when you teach the way I do where things are usually very thoughtful and open-ended, not just all multiple choice. The kids need to practice with that format and wording. Not to mention how to use scratch paper (who would design a test for 1st Graders that they can't write on anywhere but the bubbles!?!). Plus, I have the added bonus of having this one test account for 50% of my teacher evaluation this year. Apparently everything you do in your class for the other 170 days doesn't count as much as this 1 five-day test....that covers all subject areas.....where they are supposed to remember a year's worth of information. But I digress....

I think it's really hard to impart upon the kiddos how important it is to do their best on this test, without making them have a nervous breakdown at 6 years old. A couple of things I'm doing this year so we can review, but maybe a little more stress-free.

1)We have test prep workbooks, however when we do them I let the kids sit anywhere in the classroom. They love it! Some are under desks, one usually sits at my desk--just that one little change makes answering questions more fun. We do about 10 questions at a time and then correct them together, so if they make a mistake, they understand why.

2) We made up some songs this year for another class to motivate them, but I also want them to remember those words when they begin testing. So we sing them every day. One is to Katy Perry's Roar "I used to see the test and hold my breath" and "we're going to hear you passed, better, better than before"!

3) I'm taking a cue from Laurie over at and creating expert groups to review concepts. I am going to have a rotation of groups each day next week and every student will have an opportunity to make an activity and review a concept.

4) I gave my parents a Top Secret Assignment and asked them to write an encouraging letter that the students can read right before they start their test. They can include a family picture or an anecdote from when they were little--I think having those motivating words in their heads will really help.

5) We have several projects that we are going to work on that are challenging activities-but in a different way. They are making self-portraits with describing words, our Gratitude Projects, a papier-mache peach for James and the Giant Peach that we are reading-aloud. Activities that I think they believe are more fun that we can concentrate on once testing is done for the day!

So although no one enjoys test season, maybe we can make it a little more stress-free for everyone! Wish us luck and good luck to all those going through it too! :)

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Making Kids Feel Special

I have shared already that I attended a training with Todd Whitaker this year and one of the things he said that stuck with me most is: "in great teachers' classrooms every child feels like the favorite". It is my top goal next year ---to make this happen with my class (haven't quite worked out yet how to do it). I have given it a lot of thought and am always looking for suggestions. I think I stumbled onto something today.

See on Friday I wrote about the little class egg hunt I did with my students. I hid eggs with privileges typed up inside-take your shoes off, sit in my chair, etc.-it was a big hit! Well, about 6 of the eggs said "eat lunch with the teacher outside". Unfortunately, we couldn't do that Friday because of other activities that were taking place in our picnic area, (I hate to break promises to them)-so we did it today. Can I just tell you how wonderful that was!? Definitely the highlight of my day today! 6 students and me outside on a beautiful day, the students talking to each other, to me. They were talking about what the clouds looked like, how cool it was that a bird landed on the wall of the building. One little girl asked how Ruby (my dog) enjoyed Easter. At the end we were cleaning up to go and my student looks at me and says "that was really special-thank you!". You know what it really was!

I am totally going to make this a regular thing. And not based on the best grades or the best behavior-literally take 6 kids in alphabetical order from my roster and take them outside to eat with them--maybe twice a week until everyone gets a turn, then I'll start over again. I love having the opportunity to make connections, getting to know them a little bit better.

What kinds of things do you do to make kids feel special?

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Egg Drop Success

I like doing group projects with my kiddos because it's something that they definitely could use some practice with. We decided to do an egg drop competition-I asked parents to send in recycled items like cereal boxes or fabric scraps, etc. I chose 6 team leaders and let them choose their teams (some were very wise and considered what materials those students brought to the table :). Then I turned them loose to work on a blueprint for their model.

The next day I let them begin constructing. About 5 minutes in I texted my GT Coordinator to see if she was busy, because I really wanted to share the "buzz" that was happening in our classroom with someone. They were all cooperating together, discussing why they thought this material should go here, why maybe it shouldn't go here. You heard a lot of statements like "I have an idea".They were testing their prototypes--"I think a pair of scissors weighs the same as an egg-let's try it out with that" and then the outcome "I definitely think we are going to lose!"--"then how do we fix it?"-it was really one of those amazing moments.

I think some kids probably came to school today just to see if it worked! They were bugging me all morning, asking when we were going to test them. A majority of them did work and we debriefed afterward to discuss what they learned from the experiment if it didn't work-what would they do differently next time. I couldn't tell you what objective this pertains to or what part of my evaluation it fulfills, but I really think they learned a lot from the activity-if nothing else how to work on a team, which we all know is an important future skill! :)

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Classroom Egg Hunt

I have to work tomorrow on Good Friday-probably the only person in the universe (a bit of hyperbole, I know :). Here in Texas we are not used to winter weather, so when we had some freezing rain our school was cancelled twice. And in their infinite wisdom the powers-that-be decided that we should make them up on Good Friday and Memorial Day. So no more days off for us until summer vacation.

Now I know I'm weird, but I don't like when my kiddos miss school. I don't like for them to miss lessons and I also know it effects our school rating when our attendance drops. I know many parents will have off and will probably want to spend the day with their kiddos. So as an incentive we are doing our own classroom egg hunt. I am so excited to fill the eggs with incentives like "take your shoes off" and "sit in the teacher's chair for the day".  I am going to hide them this afternoon and see if anyone notices when they come in tomorrow morning. 
We're doing an egg drop competition too that I'm excited about and will post the boxes they engineer to put them in! :)

I told them I was making them bird nests for snack and they thought I was kidding!

Easiest snack to make ever!

                                                How cute are these are cupcake wrappers! :)
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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Easter Bunny Partners

I love the ideas Terri over at Engage Their Minds comes up with for using SCAMPER (among other things:) .

We decided to use her idea and I asked my kiddos to come up with a partner for the Easter Bunny with a logical reason why that person would help out. I love that I only had one answer repeated and both kiddos came up with different reasons why!

Do they know me or what?! I would give them projects to do with the eggs. :)

Gingerbread Man

                                       Santa Clause-he can find the best places to hide the eggs.
                     Peter Pan-he can hide them on top of unexpected places or windows or treehouses.

Barney-because he loves people, he cares for grown-ups and kids and even ducklings.

Me (the student) because I can wake him up early

A jaguar because at night he goes fast and so in the morning all the
children will find eggs.

                                        Peter Pan-he can make magic happen to the eggs.
A hummingbird-he can deliver the eggs real fast.

                                      Flash-he can deliver faster than a cheetah
My cousin-because I know he will be funny to him.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Writing Autobiographies

This is an activity I try to do with my students every year. I love to hear them say something like "that's the best thing that happened in my whole life!"--they are only 6 years old. It's actually pretty hard for them to break down the highlights of their life so far. I teach them to look for "small moments"-we go outside and look for something that seems insignificant and they write about it. Last time we did it a student had a ladybug land on her finger, so that's what her text was about.

Then I had them write an outline first. We used the blank hardcover books that Lakeshore sells (they are expensive). But worth it for my little authors!

 I wanted them to come up with a unique title-not just all "Johnny's Life" and "Susie's Life". Here are some of them:

                                            Star of the Show

The King Of Rainbow Cats and Goats

Then I wanted them to start at the begining and talk about anything they knew about their life as a baby, toddler, when they started school and the last page was for their prediction for the future.

They asked if the librarian might put some of them in our school library! :)

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