Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Learning with Peeps {Poetry and a STEM Challenge}

Peeps.  Love them or leave them?  I say love them!  They are cheap and you can have so much fun with them in the classroom. 

We recently used Peeps to have a little STEM fun and to write some poems. Keep reading for the specifics, and be sure to stock up on some Peeps so you can have a little Peep themed fun of your own. :)

This Fun Friday activity was a huge hit with my students! They were given a few materials and were challenged with building the tallest tower they could.   I paired them up, gave them their supplies, and a set forth a few ground rules. 

The supplies: 
  • 12 Peeps (we used the bunnies)
  • 2 plastic straws
  • 6 wooden toothpicks
The rules: 
  • They could cut or modify the straw, if desired.
  • They could NOT cut or modify the toothpicks or Peeps.
  • They would have 10 minutes to build their tower.
  • Their tower had to stand on its own.
The challenge was tackled without hesitation.  The towers were all different, and some weren't very tower-like at all, but the engagement, problem solving, and team work that went on during those 10 minutes were amazing. 

When the challenge was over, I walked from tower to tower and measured each one (that was standing) with a yardstick.  The tallest tower stood a whopping 17 inches high!

I pretty much do this writing activity with my students every year.  After eating a Peep, we brainstormed adjectives and used them to write an adjective poem, build a poem style.

You can read about the process in detail HERE.

And, you can grab the freebie HERE.  :)

So, what are you waiting for?  Go stock up on those Peeps before they are gone!


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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Jelly Donut Difference {Teaching Kindness}

The topic of kindness is a recurring topic of conversation in my classroom.  Our school promotes kindness every day, and several times a year, I look for opportunities to specifically address this social skill.  One of my favorite ways to talk about important skills that relate to character is with the help of a picture book.

I recently shared The Jelly Donut Difference by Maria Dismondy with my students and it was a great way to review this concept.  Keep reading for a few ideas and links to free resources!

If your aren't familiar with Maria Dismondy then keep reading and then head on over to Amazon and grab as many of her books as you can. They are a must when it comes to your stash of picture books!

About the Author
Maria has a background in early education, so she knows kids.  She write books with strong moral messages and diverse characters.  Her characters are likeable and students can relate to them.  That's why her books are so great for teaching things like kindness, empathy, and understanding.  Her hope is that kids will remember how the characters in her stories handled difficult situations should they ever find themselves in a similar position.  And chances are, at some point they may.

The Book
The Jelly Donut Difference is a great book to share with your students.  It has amazing illustrations.  And, the story is one that students can relate to.

Dex and Leah are twins who live next door to an older woman who lives alone.  When they learn more about this woman who lives alone, they decide that they want to do nice things for her so that she feels happy and not so lonely.  I'm not going to share all the specifics because you really need to read this book for yourself.  ;) 

In the Classroom
Like any picture book, you can use this story to review story elements, analyze the characters, and the like, but my favorite way to use these sorts of books is to have my students make connections to the text. I like to use it as a means to promote reflection and understanding of the citizenship skills covered in the story.  This story, in particular, drives home the important message of generosity and kindness and I made that the focal point of our follow up activities.

After reading the book, we talked about the author's purpose.  More specifically, we talked about what exactly it was that the author wanted the reader to learn from the story.  Lately, we've been working to more specific when identifying the author's purpose.   

Then, we talked about some important words.  These words aren't used in the text, but they are all represented in the text. I thought that these words would be appropriate to discuss and then connect to the text:
  • thoughtful
  • kindness
  • empathy
  • compassion
  • generosity
It isn't necessary to use all of these words, of course. I didn't.  I chose the ones that I felt my students would be most likely to understand and relate to the text.  You can grab the anchor chart pieces HERE (the download includes all the words listed above).

As you can see, I put the definition of each word on the anchor chart.  Then, as a group we thought of examples in the text where these qualities were seen in action with the characters.

I left the chart up because I wanted my students to be reminded of these important qualities and because I wanted them to choose one to focus on.  I often task my students with setting kindness goals at school, but this allowed them to try and engage in other forms of selfless action.

I also had my students write a letter to the author.  We are currently in the midst of a letter writing unit, so it seemed perfect!  In the body of their letters, they wrote about what they liked about the story, as well as what they learned from it.  From there, they were free to write whatever else they wanted including asking the author a question or two.  I enjoyed reading their responses and seeing where it led their thoughts. You can grab this letter writing template HERE.  :)

If you're looking to add a meaningful picture book to your collection of resources, be sure to check out The Jelly Donut Difference.  It's sure to be a book you go to year after year.

Happy reading!


This post contains affiliate links for Amazon. By purchasing an item on the Amazon site using these links, I will receive a small commission on your purchase. For more information about my Disclosure Policy, please visit this link.

I received this product for free to provide an honest review.  All opinions expressed within this post are genuine and impartial.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Teaching Students to Write Word Problems

I love word problems.  There I said it, I really do.  Anytime I can squeeze in some extra practice for my kiddos, I do!  I especially love tasking my students with writing their own word problems.  This encourages them to think about word problems more critically than when they simply read and solve a problem.

We recently started practicing this skill in my classroom. Typically, I start this much earlier in the school year, but we just weren't ready to tackle this skill until recently.  Some years are like that, right?  Now that the skill has been introduced, we can practice it each week (and I'm pretty excited about that).
A Few Things You Need to Know
When I task my students with writing their own word problems there are two things you need to know.  
1. I give them a starting point.  Meaning, the activity isn't totally open ended.  I give them an answer, and it is their job to write a word problem to match.
2. I start out by keeping it simple because I want them to grasp the concept and feel successful with something new. I encourage the use of key words, and I encourage them to write straightforward problems without "extra" information.  When the time is right, they will be encouraged to write tougher problems. 
So, to introduce the skill of writing word problems, I use this chart.

And, this mini book (or some variation of it....more on that in a moment).

Here's a look at that chart again. 
Keep in mind that these guidelines work for us because we write word problems based on a given answer.  
Once we go over the chart, we write at least one word problem together, using the mini book from above and the chart to guide us.  Then, I have the students work in pairs to write a second word problem. I check their stories as they finish.  Finally, the students write one word problem independently.  Again, I check it when they are finished writing because I like to help them make any necessary corrections/changes on the spot. 
As we revisit the skill each week, the students will write one story at a time.  Independently.  
I keep it simple at first, encouraging them to use key words, and to stick to simple stories (two statements and a question) like the one shown below.  Once they have these steps down, I will begin to encourage them to add extra information to their problems. 

I love using my What's the Problem? mini books for practicing this skill (shown above, and below).  I made an entire series of these mini books several years ago, and they are still a useful resource.  Did I mention that they are a freebie?  ;)  This one is The Lucky Edition, but I've made one for just about every month of the year.

As mentioned above, the first day that we practice this skill the students write three word problems. After that, they write just a few a week.  We bring the book out as part of our math warm up, or at the end of our math lesson.  They end up writing about two word problems a week.  This gives them continued practice, but they also don't get burned out as easily as they would if we did it   

A Few Final Thoughts
It is always harder for students to write a word problem than it is to solve one.  And, they learn this pretty quickly.  However, they seem to enjoy the challenge of getting it right.  As we say in my classroom, if you don't challenge your brain, it won't grow.  So, bring on the challenge! 
When you're first starting out, you'll notice that some students "get it" very quickly, whereas others need repeated practice with the skill before it begins to click. Some students will need more scaffolding than others, and some will need to be encouraged to write "tougher" problems. I've even changed some of the answers for students who needed to work with either bigger or smaller numbes.  As always, do what's best for your students and differentiate as needed. 

Below are links to the What's the Problem mini books that I've shared in the past.  I hope you can use them.  :)
Have fun challenging your learners!



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Friday, February 10, 2017

So Many Task Cards, So Many Uses

Do you use task cards?  I love these handy little teaching tools because they are so versatile.

Here are seven different ways that I use task cards in my classroom.

Use them as a fast finisher activity
I always have several activities available for my students to use when they finish an assignment early.  I typically rotate these activities, and several times a year, task cards make an appearance.  I simply place the cards into a gallon size zip top bag with a stack of recording sheets.  You can also put your task cards on a ring before placing them in the bag.

Use them in your small groups
When working with my small group of math students, I use the task cards during our time together.  I can place a ring of cards in the center of the group and everyone can respond on their own recording page.  It's a quick and easy way to see how they are doing with the skill.

Use them as a cooperative learning tool.
Pair students up and let them share the stack of task cards. They can help one another solve the problem/answer the question on the cards, or they can solve the problems independently and discuss how they arrived at their answers.


Use them to play Quiz-Quiz-Trade.  Quiz-Quiz-Trade is a Kagan engagement strategy.  Each student gets a task card. Student pair up and read/answer each others cards.  Here's a breakdown:
  • Student A asks Student B to answer the question on his/her card.  
  • Student B answers the question.  
  • Student A lets Student B know how they did.  
  • Student B asks Student A to answer the question on his/her card.  
  • Student A answers, and Student B lets him/her know if they were correct or not.  
  • The students trade cards and find someone else to read their new card to.  
  • The process repeats until the teacher calls time. 
At the end of this activity, I like to go over the cards as a whole group.  YOu can read more about Quiz-Quiz-Trade HERE.

Use them as a center
Once again, you can place the task cards on a ring and inside a zip top bag with a stack of recording sheets and students can use those materials during your centers time.

Use them as a whole group teaching tool
I frequently use task cards as part of our math warm up.  I project one card at a time via my classroom projector.  The students use their personal whiteboard, or a piece of paper that they fold into fourths, to solve the problems on the cards.  It's a great way to check for understanding on the spot, when you use the whiteboards.

Use them to play Scoot.
Scoot is a well loved game in my classroom.  It has been for years!  Simply place a task card at each desk and have your students scoot from desk to desk, on your cue, to respond to each task card.  Don't forget to establish a path of rotation prior to scooting!

 You can read more about Scoot HERE.

Use them to play a game of I Spy
I Spy is another huge deal in my classroom.  The kids looooove it!  I Spy is also commonly called Around the Room.  I place the task cards around the room, and the students go from card to card and respond to each one.  It isn't necessary that they visit the cards in order, they just have to make sure that they visit all of the cards.  As you can see, I place the cards on the floor.  Sometimes, I just don't have it in me to tape the cards to the walls, cabinets, etc.

I like to use this activity as a follow up to our whole group instruction or to review a skill as needed. Sometimes I set out all of the cards and sometimes I set out half of them.  It depends upon the time we have and the needs of my students at the time.  I love that task cards are so versatile! (I may or may not have already mentioned that in this post).  You can read more about I Spy HERE.

Well, there you have it, seven different ways that I use task cards in my classroom.  Who knew that one little stack of cards could be so very, very useful? 

The task cards shown in this post can be found in my TPT store. :)

I hope you were able to take a new idea or two away from this post!



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Monday, February 6, 2017

Sneaky Spinach {A Book to Teach Kids About Making Healthy Food Choices}

I love spinach.  Like, I love, love, love it.  I make my salads with spinach, I saute it (with mushrooms and onions) and eat it as a side dish.  I even blend it up in my smoothies.  So yummy! Spinach tastes good and it's good for me (and you!).

Now, in case you're wondering why I'm blabbering on about spinach on a teaching blog, it's because I have a fun new book to share with you. Introducing, Sneaky Spinach!

About the Book
Sneaky Spinach is a sweet story about a little boy named Nick who refuses to eat his vegetables.  His favorite foods are basically anything classified as junk, and he's always sick and sluggish as a result.  His mom tries to convince him to eat his veggies, but he just won't do it.  Enter the spinach!  One day, some spinach leaves sneak into Nick's morning smoothie.  That day, he had more energy.  Each day, more and more spinach leaves sneak into his smoothie.  He gains more energy each day, and starts doing better in school.  When Nick eventually finds out that he's been eating spinach, and learns that it is helping him do better in school, he decides that he wants to add spinach to his smoothie every day.

About the Author
The author, Alexis Schulze, is the co-founder of Nekter Juice Bar.  Nekter is a restaurant and life style brand.  She helped found Nekter to fill a need for natural, pure juices. Their juices are unprocessed and do not included any added sugars or artificial flavors (as they should be).

When Alexis wrote this book, her aim was to encourage children and families to make healthier food and lifestyle choices. I love this!  Everyone can always use a good reminder to make healthy choices.  She also donates $4 of each book sold to the Festival of Children Foundation. How awesome is that?

In the Classroom
I shared this book with my students as a read aloud, and they really enjoyed it!

They giggled when the spinach sneaked into Nick's smoothie each morning.  I used the book to review cause and effect (during the read aloud).  It's perfect for making those kinds of connections.  After the reading, we talked about making healthy choices and why it's important to eat foods like fruits and veggies.  We recently had a chef come to our class and teach us about another super green food (kale) and we were able to connect this book to some of the things the chef taught us.

 There are a million different ways you can use this book in the classroom. But, here are my top three:
  1. Share it as a read aloud (like I did).  Read alouds should be purposeful, and this text definitely has purpose.  We should always be looking for ways to encourage our students to make healthy choices and as we all know, sometimes messages like this click best when a book is involved.
  2. Integrate it into math.  After reading the book, follow the recipe in the back of the book and make your class a smoothie.  They will get practice with measuring, and they can taste for themselves just how tasty a smoothie with spinach can be.
  3. Use it to teach cause and effect.  At the beginning of the book, Nick eats poorly and is always sick.  Each day one more spinach leaf than the day before sneaks into Nick's smoothie and he experiences a new type of success. n Students could use these details to identify cause and effect in the text.
For more ideas, download the free reader's guide HERE.  :)

Happy reading!

I received this product for free to provide an honest review.  All opinions expressed within this post are genuine and impartial.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Easy Ways to Teach Grammar

Our language is made up of all kinds of words and there is so much to learn about them. Nouns, plural nouns, irregular plural nouns, collective nouns, possessive nouns, verbs, past tense verbs, irregular past tense verbs, adverbs, and so much more!  Whether you're introducing a new skill or looking to review a previously taught skill, there are so many different ways to share this content with students.
What follows are some of my favorite ways to teach and practice the various language skills included in the standards.

Picture Books
I love, love, love using picture books to introduce or reinforce a new language skill.  Picture books always capture the students' attention, so why not capitalize on that and use a book to help share a new language skill. There are tons of great books out there.

I love this Grammar Tales series!  I purchased it several years ago through a Scholastic book order, and I've been using them ever since.

I also love this series of books.   The illustrations are great and the content is thorough. Random tidbit, I purchased these through a vendor who used to sell books at our school on a weekly basis, but you can find them on Amazon. This link will take you to the Adjectives book, but if you scroll down the page a bit, you will find more titles in the series. :)

I also love Ruth Heller's books.  They are great for providing students with visuals when teaching parts of speech.  I usually check these out from our school library.

Tip: Check to see what your school librarian has on his/her shelves.  You might be pleasantly surprised at the variety of books available in your building.  :)

Hands-On Partner Activities
Once I introduce a skill, I like my students to practice it, but I try to look for opportunities that give them hands-on practice.  Task cards and match up games are just a few of my favorites.

When a skill is brand new, I like to set out task cards around the room.  I pair the students up and let them work together to answer the questions.  They enjoy working in pairs, and it's also a good way for them to learn from one another.

The game pieces shown in the above picture are from my Collective Nouns unit on TPT.
Match Up games are always fun. When we use them, I have the students make their matches and write them down.  Once they do that, they can use them to play a game (or two) of memory.  They love this!  And, it makes for another good time filler/review activity once they have experience with how to play/the skill being practiced.

This game is from my Plural Nouns unit on TPT.

Whole Group Activities

I Have, Who Has is one of my favorite whole group activities. Read more about this activity HERE. This amazing game can be used with any skill, in just about any subject area. What I love about this game is that it can easily be used to fill a small chunk of time.  Got 10 extra minutes one day?  Play I Have, Who Has!  You can review important content and it's fun!

You can grab the free game shown above by clicking HERE.

Quiz-Quiz-Trade (a Kagan strategy) is another favorite of mine.  Sometimes, I call this activity a "mingle."  It gets the kids moving around. It also gives the students an opportunity to interact as they read to one another.  You can read more about Quiz-Quiz-Trade HERE.  This game is also a quick one.  It lasts as long as you want it to last, making it the perfect time filler or warm up.

The game pieces shown above are part of my Arrrsome Irregular Verbs pack on TPT.

Another variation of a match up game, is Find Your Partner. Give each student a card with your content printed on it.  Their task is to mingle about the room and find the person whose card matches their card.  For example, someone with a singular noun written on their card would try to find the person with the plural form of their word and vice versa. The version shown below requires the students to match a phrase to its collective noun.  This activity is great for quickly reviewing content at the beginning of a lesson, and it gets kids up and moving. 

The game pieces shown in the above picture are from my Collective Nouns unit on TPT.

P.S. You don't need fancy cards like the ones shown!  Grab a marker and some index cards and make your own! I do this often and it's just as effective.  :)

Mad Libs
Mad Libs are the best!  The kids get a total kick out of them, and they are super quick (and fun) way to quickly review parts of speech. It's also a great way to encourage students to think of interesting words.

I remember my own second grade teacher sharing them with my class way back when.  Every day before lunch, we sat on the carpet and completed a hilarious story.

I like to start with Mad Libs, Jr. and work my way to the original Mad Libs.

This year, we have access to You Tube at school! It's been blocked for years. This has been a game changer, and a welcome change.  It's the little things, friends.  Now that we can use that site to show videos, I do.  With that said, it isn't always easy to find exactly what you're looking for and I don't show videos every day.  I show them when I find something of value. It's a nice way to mix things up.

Playing a video at the beginning of a lesson makes for a quick review of previously learned material.  If you show it at the end of the lesson, it could make for a great recap of that day's objective.
Tip: Be sure to preview any videos you show ahead of time.

I wish I had a mind blowing tip for how to search for amazing videos on You Tube, but I don't.  I just enter my search terms and look through the results.  However, there are a few channels out there that you might find helpful. :)
  • The Grammarheads have lots of videos to choose from (but some aren't really grammar related).  The videos themselves aren't anything super exciting.  I mean, you definitely aren't watching a big budget music video, but the songs are great!  I like the Contractions song.  And, the Their, There, They're song.
  •  The Grammaropolis channel has some fun videos.  They are mainly short cartoon videos. Some are full length songs and some are just short clips (no songs).
  •  You can also find several School House Rock videos. I remember watching these when I was young.  I'm dating myself, but I'm OK with that.  
I hope you loved these easy ideas for teaching grammar in the classroom.  Be sure to grab the I Have, Who Has freebie, and pin the post for future reference.

Looking for some resources with hands-on and engaging activities to teach grammar?  Below are some resources you might find helpful.


This post contains affiliate links for Amazon for your convenience. By purchasing an item on the Amazon site using these links, I will receive a small commission on your purchase. For more information about my Disclosure Policy, please visit this link.

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