Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Compare and Contrast

Compare and contrast is, in my opinion, one of the easier text structures for kids to work with. If they get good practice early on, it becomes easier and easier for students to look for similarities and differences.

Students should first learn what these two words mean. I am a very visual person and like to have posters/printables/displays for my students to look at. I made these simple posters to hang in my room so they could refer back to them as needed.


These posters really helped my students with remembering what each word meant.

I also taught my kiddos that if they look for signal words, they can tell if something is being compared or contrasted.
I would post a larger version of this poster as well as shrink it down to fit in my students journals. If we ever had a few extra minutes, I would have the students review these words either individually or with a partner.
I found some videos on YouTube that you could also show your kids. I'll be honest, some of the videos on Compare and Contrast are BORING! There was one that I thought would be cute with an elephant and giraffe and they both had computer-generated robot voices. Talk about wanting to shove a pencil through your eyeball! These videos are probably best for older grades and if you can get past the Nightmare Before Christmas-ish graphics, are pretty good. These are posted by McGraw-Hill Education.

The core is all about comparing and contrasting: two books, two authors, two ideas, etc. Most people like to use a Venn Diagram but those drive me a little batty. There just never seems to be enough room to write lots of detail.Soooooooo, I decided to make my own. I tried to make some for each topic in the core.



I personally like the boxes better because it gives students more room to write.
Besides comparing and contrasting books and text, I wanted something fun for students to be able to do. I created a simple game that gives students extra practice on comparing and contrasting. I created three game boards and an answer sheet for the kids to record their answers.
You can play in many ways. My favorite was to have the kids lay the cards face down, choose two, and compare and contrast the cards they picked. You could also put them in a stack and have them draw two. Or give a card to each student and have them wander around the room until you say stop. Then they find a partner close to them and compare and contrast their cards. I could go on, but I'll spare you.
You can click on the picture above or the link below to get the game boards and recording sheet!
How do you do compare and contrast in your room?

Monday, December 1, 2014

10 Must See Christmas Art Projects!

 I LOVE art projects. I want to make everyone that I see. I scoured Pinterest and found some really cute winter/Christmas art projects for your classrooms. If you make any of these, I'd love to see them!

1. Fingerprint Christmas Lights: Super simple but very cute!


2. Chalk Christmas Lights: I like that this one gives students the ability to try a new medium.


3. Winter Cardinals: These look really pretty!


4. Christmas Ornaments: I really like how this stands out on the black background.


5. Snowman Perspective: I love this different take on the snowman. It is a great way to teach students about perspective.

6. Snowflakes: This is a fun list of 30 different ways to make a snowflake.


7. How to Draw a Santa Face: Easy, step-by-step instructions. I also found one for a penguin (it also has a bunch of cute penguin crafts).


8. Gingerbread Craft: Cute for younger grades.  


9. Snowmen: This would make an adorable bulletin board!


10. Nutcrackers: This is a really unique Christmas art project. You don't see a lot of nutcracker art. (The link goes straight to the blog, not the actual art project and I couldn't find a search button!)


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Text Structures: Um, duh!

Have you ever walked out of a training thinking "Um, duh! Why can't I ever be as smart as I want to be?!?". That was me a few weeks ago. I was able to attend a training through my State Office of Education with Ray Reutzel. He is a guru on all things education and has spent many years doing in-depth research on a myriad of topics. I was lucky enough to be able to hear from him on text structures.
(He has a whole website full of good information that can be found here: Early Childhood Education.)
Text structure was always something that I briefly covered as a secondary point to whatever lesson I was teaching at the moment. I figured it was pretty self-evident and the students would pick it up as we went along. NOT THE CASE! I also confused text structures and text features in my head sometimes! Most of you are probably smarter than me and didn't make the same mistake. Students need to be able to decode the text structure to improve and build upon their comprehension.
The Journal of Education Research is publishing an article in 2015 called Developing the Information Text Structure Survey that found that TEACHERS could only correctly sort reading passages with different text structure 33% of the time. That's a problem! How can we teach our students to recognize and comprehend text structure if we can only figure it out 33% of the time? That statistic made me uncomfortable and it also made me want to prove him wrong!
 The IES What Works Clearinghouse K-3 recommends that we teach students to identify and use the text's organizational structure to comprehend, learn, and remember content. Text structures mostly follow a predictable pattern (with the possible exception of descriptive text). If students can begin to see how the text will go, they can make predictions about what to expect and increase their comprehension.

So this sounds all nice and pretty but what does it mean? Well, first, what are text structures? There are five main categories:
* cause and effect
* compare and contrast
* sequence
* problem/solution
* description

Text structures refer to NON-FICTION or INFORMATIONAL text only. Narrative text is different. Text structures need to be taught explicitly with good exemplar texts so that students can clearly see what is happening in the text. I created a Language Arts Graphic Organizer set that has over 70 graphic organizers to choose from to meet the Common Core standards as well as all the different text structures. (I will go more in-depth on that pack later!)

This video explains text structure nicely. It breaks out sequence into another category (chronological) so it talks about 6 text structures. It's only 4 minutes long.

In an effort not to make this post 5,000 words long, I will be breaking down my thoughts into several blog posts. Over the next few posts, I will be talking about the different types of text structures (including giving a list of good exemplar books for explicitly teaching each text structure) and showing you a rubric that can help you find good exemplars of text structure yourself. (Dr. Reutzel found that teachers who used this rubric increased their accuracy of identifying text structure from 33% to 97%.)
Hopefully this series will be as helpful to you as it was to me!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

6 Awesome Veteran's Day Activities


Veteran's Day in on November 11th. This is an important holiday in my patriotic family. My dad served in the National Guard and my brother-in-law is currently serving in the Army. I have seen the personal sacrifice that they have made. I have seen the sacrifices that my mom made and my sister currently makes. I think this day is crucial for our students to know and remember. Because of this, I have scoured the internet to find some important, easy, and fun activities to do on this day.


1. Flag and Thank You Banner: I really like the flags mixed in with the thank you notes. This would be a good one to hang up in the hallway.


2. Veteran Anchor Chart: I really like this anchor chart. This is a good one for younger grades to do altogether. My only problem is that I couldn't draw a soldier and have it look that cute! It really focuses student attention on why Veterans are important to us.


3. The Wall by Eve Bunting and other books. I think we can all agree that anything by Eve Bunting is good. The illustrations match the story being told in a beautiful and touching way. If you click on the picture or the link above, it will take you to a list of other books on Amazon.


 4. Veteran's Day Waterfall Book I LOVE this idea. Very easy and very hands-on. This blog post only has pictures of her class making this so I decided to make my own labels. If you want to download the FREE VETERAN'S DAY WATERFALL LABELS just click on the link. If you need help creating a waterfall book, click here.

5. Lots of Veteran's Day Activities: links, links and more links!


6. I like to have more printable type activities to mix in with my other activities so I created a Veteran's Day Mega Pack.

I feel like this teaches students important parts of this holiday while also practicing other valuable skills. Let's face it, we don't have all the time in the world. The more we can kill two birds with one stone the better.

Hopefully these few ideas really helped you for this holiday.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ways to Make a Number Art

Today I have a fun and easy art project that incorporates math/numbers.

First, you start with a number. I chose a single digit but you could really pick any number (even decimals or fractions!). I also used a font on the computer but you could hand draw it or cut it out of paper.

Second, you draw lines around the number that give you fairly large size boxes. You can do as many lines as you want. The more boxes, the more practice with different facts.

Third, you then fill in the boxes with ways to make that number. In the example above, I used only multiplication and division but the possibilities are endless. You could use addition (1+8, 6+3), subtraction (10-1, 19-9), exponents, equations or more. Each box is just repeating the same fact over and over. I really have found that this repetition gets the facts into the kids brains. The more they write it, the more they remember.

Fourth, you can decorate it! I used colored pencils but you can use markers, crayons or even watercolors. These look really cool when hung up in the hall together.

How would you use this in your room?

If you enjoyed this bright idea, please consider joining me on FacebookPinterest or Tpt for more great ideas.

For more bright ideas more than 100 different bloggers, please browse through the link-up below and choose a topic/grade level that interests you. Thanks for visiting!


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Halloween: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year


I LOVE Halloween! It is my absolute favorite holiday. That is an old picture from Halloween where I was dressed as a chef and my daughter as a lobster. I love dressing up in costumes. I love the decorations. I just love it.

It was also a lot of fun to celebrate it in my classroom. I would decorate my room and surprise the kids with hanging skeletons and scary spiders. However, time in the classroom is very limited (duh) so I had to find a way to celebrate Halloween while making it educational. My solution? Halloween printables! This way, I could keep up with our learning but have it Halloween themed.

My graphic design skills have (hopefully) improved since I first started teaching so I will spare you blurry pictures of boring worksheets. I revamped what I had my kids do to make it more visually appealing.

Now if you are not addicted to clipart and fonts like I am, then you can just pull out a blank piece of paper and get the same effect!

Here are some of my favorites:


Can I just say death to rounding? Yikes! Some kids picked it up liked it was candy. With others, it was like that time I had a C-section and the drugs wore off too soon. PAINFUL! This activity was another way to get my kiddos to round.

This maze is intense! The kids have to really pay attention and know their multiples to solve this correctly.

I compiled all of these (and more) into one easy to use packet if you are interested. It's 100 pages of awesome!
I also had a request to make a version for grades 1-2 so here you go!



Sunday, September 28, 2014

Parent Teacher Conferences: 10 Tips and Tricks


It's getting to be that time of year again. Parent-Teacher Conferences (PTC's). I have to say that I love PTC's. Working at the school that I did, it might be the only time I ever saw and actually communicated with the parents of certain students. Yes it meant long days at the school and trying to find a nice way to say "YOU WANT TO SEE PROGRESS?!? TRY WORKING WITH YOUR CHILD AT HOME!!!", but it also meant that parents and I were coming together to try and help their child become better.

(Let's all admit that conference's are also a time for parents to give you lip service about how much they have/do/plan to/promise to work with their child. Okay, now I can move on.)

My first year teaching conferences scared me to death. Here I was a 22 year old having to face parents and talk about their babies struggles and strengths. There are a lot of Mama and Papa Bears out there who are fiercely protective of their children and I didn't want to say the wrong thing. I would always wonder:

-Have I prepared enough?

-Am I brave enough to tell "Jason's" mom what needs to be said?

-Will it even matter?

-Am I wasting my time?

-Will parents even show up?

-How can I tell these parents, who work three jobs and speak little English, that their child is very far behind?

In an effort to help other teachers who have this struggle, I want to share some tips and tricks I learned along the way. (There is also a great handout from the Harvard Family Research Project that says some similar things.)


1. Send out invitations, reminders, reminders, and more reminders

Parents are busy. My school was a school that had a lot of immigrant and refugee families. Many worked several minimum-wage jobs. Even just one job is hard when you have kids. The more reminders you can send out, the better. Do it at LEAST ONE WEEK before conferences so you can reschedule/rearrange parents who can't make their conference. As much of a pain as rescheduling is, it's better than having no-shows where you are just sitting there by yourself in a room for fifteen minutes wasting time.


2. Prepare, prepare, prepare

Make sure you have everything you need for each conference. You only have a short time to talk to these people. You want to come off looking prepared and professional with everything in order. You don't want to waste precious minutes looking for an example of a student's work while the parents stare blankly at you. I have a folder for each child in my filing cabinet. I would put examples of good (and not so good) examples in there so when conference time rolled around I had things ready to go. I also used math journals in my class and those were easy to grab from student's desks to show their work.

Make sure you also have all the papers for each child together: report cards, attendance sheets, any Special Education information, library book late notices, etc. Then, put them in the order you want to talk about them. I also had my students fill out a reflection sheet. We would end with that, talking about goals the child had made for the future so it ended on a positive note no matter how the conference went.

Finally, create an agenda or list of important issues you want to make sure you hit on. This will help you cover everything you need to.

3. Send out reminders

Did this already? Do it again.

4. Set up a warm environment

Another teacher in my school was really good at this. I would just pull my guided reading table closer to the door with adult-sized chairs around it and all my papers neatly stacked. Then, I went into her room and felt stupid. She had covered her table with cute paper on the top, set out a small bowl of candy, moved the small plant from her window to the edge of the table and sprayed her room with something yummy smelling (the last couple years I plugged in a Scentsy warmer to make the room smell better. Don't tell the fire marshall!). This really warmed up the place and made parents feel comfortable talking about their child.

5. Start and end with the positive

This is their baby. As hard as this child may be, as low as this child may be, this is their baby. Start with something positive to say about this student. Sometimes it might be "Hey your kid didn't throw a desk today! Score!". Then, end with something positive like "Those are great goals you made for yourself! I know you will work hard to reach them!". This also makes the student feel loved and appreciated.

6. Use concrete examples

Examples, good or bad, really add to the conversation and show parents what you are seeing in the classroom. I had one mother who was in total denial that her 8 year old could read or write more than a few short words at a time. She said that he did it all the time at home. Well, I whipped out his guided reading notebook and showed her his handwriting, sentence structure and spelling )which was basically something like: TBWEXTIOSS. That not only gently made her face reality, but also gave us a starting point to start making goals for the future. Good examples help a child and parent feel empowered.


7. Listen attentively to concerns, take notes, and ask questions

This is an opportunity for parents to tell you about their child and ask for help. I have found that doing the above three things really starts a conversation about a child. If a parent sees that I am taking note on what we are talking about, it helps to reassure them that I will follow through with what we have discussed. Parents are more likely to put in effort if they feel you are.

8. Seek collaborative solutions and make an action plan

Once the lines of communication are open, come up with solutions that the parents can get behind. For example, I had nine different languages in my last class. Not all of the parents could read or speak English. When their child was trying to work on reading, we decided that the child would read out loud to their parents. This helped the parents with their English as they looked at easy children's books, and helped their child with reading. Did they mess up some of the words? Probably. But as long as the book was on the child's level, I found that it worked pretty well.

Wow I'm long winded. I promise I'm almost done!


9. Establish lines of communication

Set up a plan for how you can communicate with parents. Some of my parents changed cell phones every three months when they couldn't pay their phone bill. With these people, I knew to send notes home stapled in their child's planner. Some prefer email. Some text (be careful about that one. I never felt comfortable doing that.) Whatever the best way is for you and for them try it. Don't be afraid to change it up if it isn't working for you. Make sure to communicate positive behaviors as much as possible. I set up a time once a week where I would call 3-5 student families with something positive that their child did that week. It was one of the best parts of my week because phone calls from school usually mean something bad. Getting a positive call made the parents so happy!

10. Did you send out a reminder? Do it now!

If you liked the forms and letters I used, you can find them by clicking on the link. There is also an editable version included where you can type directly into the forms.

Parent-Teacher Conference MEGA Pack

What are some tips and tricks you have found useful?

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