A Back to School Unit: The I Am Journey

How do I show up in the world? How do I want to show up in the world? What do I want to give and receive out of life?”

Joy Thomas, on the Crixeo website

On the first day of school, and the first week and the first month…students and teachers are busy getting to know one another through a variety of activities. But it’s also important for students to get to know themselves! In this post, I will share with you a few ideas that will serve as both a way for you and other students to find about each other and for students to explore themselves as individuals, learners, and citizens of the world. I call of these activities the “I Am Journey.”

The first idea is a super fun activity I did with my 5th and 6th graders during the first week of school! I can’t remember where I got the idea from (this was 23 years ago!), but I found directions for you online on how to create these. Using butcher paper and markers, I had students help each other to trace their body outlines, and then cut it out. Next, they created a “Me Collage”, adding in words, designs, photos, and illustrations of who they were as a person, and as well as their favorite hobbies and passions. The students presented their Me Collages to the class, then we hung him in the hallway. Check out some of their creations below!

 

While working as a Gifted and Talented Facilitator, I used a poem format that I’m sure many of you are aware of…the I Am Poem! I chose this poem because my goal for the year was to help students develop a sense of identity and become self-regulated learners.  I then discovered a unit in the Autonomous Learner Model book by George Betts, called “Journey Into Self.”  The same publisher also has another unit called “Journey Into My World”. I decided to build my year-long theme around this concept and to launch the theme, I had students create visual I Am Poems!

To start with, I created an I Am Poem for myself to serve as a model for the students, then walked them through the creation of their own poem, using THIS template. You can find many variations of this same template online.  Here’s a sample poem that one of my students created. Next, I had students use copyright-free images they found online (that’s an entire lesson in and of itself!) to turn their poem into a visual I Am Poem. Most students used Google Slideshows, but some used other media such as a movie with music. Another student used Glogster to create her visual poem.  You can check out some of their presentations HERE; many had their photo on the initial slide and throughout the poem, so I had to delete those for student privacy. Below are some images from their presentations.

The classroom teacher for my 5th grade GT students wanted the students to create math goals in their Advanced Learning Plan, so I had them all create a math version of the I Am Poem.  Then, at the end of the year, I had all of my students complete an End of Year I Am Poem to reflect on their learning throughout the year. Many added in this update to their original Google Slide presentations. Here are some examples of what they added about their learning during the past year:

My younger students did something called an I Am Story.  Click HERE for an example by one of my students and HERE for the template.

And here’s an idea I always wanted to do, but never got around to it…creating an “I Am” Wall with the students’ names and the first line from their poem!

I Am Wall

I hope that you will use the “I Am” poem with your students! Let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments below!

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Travel and Teaching: Washington D.C. Part 2

IMG_1087Here’s the second post in my Travel and Teaching series (check out the FIRST one) about how teachers can bring their own travels back to their classrooms and enrich global and cultural awareness in their students. In a blog by Kay K. from Educational Tours, she writes “…[travel] promotes cultural understanding and encourages open-mindedness during key formative years.” Even if your students can’t travel, or have not traveled much, they can learn so much about other places if their teachers share their own experiences.

My first visit to the Washington D.C. area was an incredible learning experience for me! While there, I kept wishing I had a class full of students I could share all of this with, as I did in the past. Fortunately, I have been able to use my experiences on this trip to create some learning activities for my tutoring students and readers of this blog!

Arlington Cemetery

Arlington Cemetery…WOW! When I asked my elementary and high school tutoring students if they had heard about this place, most said no and none had visited there. So wrong! All students need to know about this beautiful, historic cemetery and the sacrifices our American soldiers have made for us over the last few hundred years. We were able to see the Kennedy gravesites, the gorgeous cherry trees in full blossom and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Below I shared a professional video of the Changing of the Guard as we were on the wrong end of the viewing area to get a good video. The one thing that impressed me the most about seeing this ceremony was the incredible respect and silence the hundreds of tourists had while watching this…even the children. Very amazing and moving! While walking through the cemetery I tried to read as many gravestones as I could; these people deserve to be remembered and I’m sure many Americans have ancestors buried here.  Below are some teaching resources for your students; feel free to use my photos as well (I have captions on all of them so you can explain them to your students).

Arlington Resources:
My Photos of Arlington
Kiddle Info on Arlington
Ben’s Guide Info on Arlington
Ducksters Info on Arlington
Kiddle Info on Robert F. Kennedy
Info on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Info on the Kennedy gravesite at Arlington
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Facts for kids: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Video of the Changing of the Guard

IMG_0077National Archives Museum

We were so fortunate to be able to visit this incredible museum before hours and with just a few people! My stepson was re-enlisting in the army and this time, his ceremony was held in the rotunda of this beautiful place. Along with our family, and his wives’ family, there was just one other soldier re-enlisting, his family and the commanding officers of the two soldiers. This was an extremely moving ceremony to watch, especially as the soldiers vowed to uphold the Constitution right in FRONT of the actual document! We also had a tour guide who told us about all the documents on display, as well as the beautiful murals above them. We were not allowed to take photos, but they had an official army photographer who took pictures of my husband and me in front of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights! Needless to say, this teacher/history geek was in heaven!

Mount Vernon

Another exciting first for me…visiting the home of our first President! We had not planned this trip in advance and we would have had to wait three hours for the tour inside the home, so we will plan to do that on the next visit. However, we still able to walk around the home, see the recreated gardens and farm buildings, visit the slave quarters and the museum. I think one of the hardest things to teach our students is why our founding fathers had slaves, especially since they espousing freedom for all. Here’s a resource to help with that topic,  another and one more.  My favorite area of Mount Vernon was the front porch with the gorgeous views of the Potomac River. Thankfully, this view has been protected with no hotels, restaurants or other commercial buildings in sight. I found out later that this protected view took a great deal of effort and contributions!  I can just imagine George, Martha and their family and visitors sitting on the porch and enjoying this vista.

My Photos
Mount Vernon Official Website
Info and resources for teachers
Info and resources for students
Primary Sources
Dusksters Bio on George Washington
Ducksters Info on Martha Washington
Kiddle Info on Mount Vernon

Miscellaneous Washington D.C.

Sadly on this visit, we didn’t get into the White House or the Capitol Building…but for sure on the next visit! But here are some teaching resources for you and your students!

IMG_0146White House
(Can you see the sharpshooters on top of the White House? The security is crazy there!)

Kiddle Info on the White House
Fact Monster: The White House
American History for Kids: The White House
The White House history
The White House history in photos
Secret Service facts for kids

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The U.S. Capitol Building
U.S. Capitol Building
Kiddle Info for kids
Education resources for teachers and students

 

 

 

That’s it for this blog…until next time! Please post any comments or questions below!

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Persuasive Writing Project: What Famous American Needs a National Monument?

In my last blog post, I shared resources for helping students learn about our nation’s capital and national monuments, as well as a new TpT product I created, inspired on my trip to Washington D.C. I have been using this activity with a few of my tutoring students, and it’s going SO well! I hope that you will get just as excited about this idea as I am and consider using this in your elementary or secondary classroom next year!

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 7.07.46 PMI first started out showing a presentation (the TpT product) to see if they recognized and knew what the monuments were for and who/what they honored. Next, I showed my students photos of some Americans who do NOT have a national memorial and may deserve one (this is also in the presentation).

Famous Americans without monumentsI had my students choose one of these individuals or groups I had on a list (see right) or they could also choose someone of their own choice). Next came research to find out what these people did to make them worthy of our acclaim. To save time in our hour-long tutoring session, I linked some Newsela articles and web pages from kid-friendly sites such as Ducksters and Kiddle. After researching and taking notes, I let the students choose to do either a persuasive writing piece or presentation to convince others that this person or group deserves a monument!

Finally, I plan to have the students design the memorial, using online tools/apps, drawing or building. (I will update on that later!) I also love the idea of using Legos…this idea came from a recent blog from Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher!

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One of my students chose Katherine Johnson, the famed NASA “computer” whose work helped astronauts get to the moon.  She is using this graphic organizer on the left to research. Another student chose the female codebreakers from WWII and chose to not do the organizer, but still is taking notes in an organized method (photo on above right).  This student and I are beginning our tutoring sessions with code-breaking activities; some from the Kid’s Zone on the CIA website and some Crypto Mind Benders from The Critical Thinking Co.  He brought one of his school papers to show me that he had written his name in code and his teacher figured it out! Check out our photos below:

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To help him with his thesis statement for his persuasive presentation, I had him use a graphic organizer from ASCD that I’ve used with students in the past. It is such a simple, visual way for students to craft this statement. I first modeled for him as if I was doing my research on why Sacagawea needs a national monument. Our thesis statements actually ended up more like opening paragraphs, but that’s okay. He got the idea!

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I am so excited to see what my other students do with this activity; I plan to have more do it over the summer, so watch for further updates! My next blog will continue my “Travel and Teaching” theme, with more resources for students to learn about our nation’s capital and another TpT product to go along!

In the meantime, be sure to check out this National Monuments presentation and activity in my Teachers Pay Teachers store (and please follow me on TpT as I only have six followers…)

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Our School Wide Star Wars Day

A long time ago (well two years ago today), in a school far, far away (actually about a 30 minute drive), my students and I planned a school-wide Star Wars Day for May the 4th!  Enjoy our photos and hopefully this will give you some ideas for your own classroom or school Star Wars Day! May the 4th be with you!

During my last year before retirement, while working as a GT Facilitator, my entire theme for my gifted and talented students was Growth Mindset. Check out this past blog on how I used this theme throughout the year. My students and I were all big Star Wars fans, so I led them through some project-based learning to plan and carry out a school-wide Star Wars Day! I gave the reins to the kids and had them meet with the principal to get permission, plan with the building engineer for what we would need for the day, and create presentations, a trivia game, and morning announcements promoting the event.  Check out the slideshows below to see all we did! And a HUGE thank you to my former students who helped me plan and carry out this day!

Planning

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The Big Day

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Star Wars Day Fashion

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Be sure to check out my Pinterest board on Star Wars in the classroom!

A huge thank you to George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars saga, and founder of the George Lucas Educational Foundation (Edutopia)!

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Travel and Teaching: Washington DC: Part 1

“What one learns in a classroom is just a very small part of learning process . The real learning starts when one crosses borders and travels miles for the real knowledge.” – Vivek Sahni

One of my passions, besides teaching, is travel! I have always believed that the classroom is not the only place to learn; in fact, I’ve learned some of my most lasting lessons while traveling. Back in my classrooms days, I brought back my experiences and lessons to my students so they could experience more of their world as well. I did this in a number of ways: through slideshows, displays of souvenirs and photos, and research activities on people and places. While working as a GT facilitator, I would post photos of my travels on Edmodo or Google Classroom and give the students challenges where they had to find out information about whatever was in the photo. I offered digital badges to those students who would complete the challenge first. I am still doing this with my tutoring students; when my husband and I took a two week trip to Italy in 2017, I left all of my students with some reading, writing and research activities on Italy.

Last week, I finally made it to Washington D.C.!  I can’t believe that someone who loves traveling and history, and has gotten to be this old and has never been there! I was also passionate about teaching my students American history and government! We were headed there to attend my stepson’s army reenlistment ceremony; it was going to be held at the National Archives Museum in the rotunda (more on that in my next blog!). I began planning in earnest to visit the places that my students (and my own daughters) and I had read about or seen in photos and movies. I have provided photos and links below that you help your students learn about these places and people. In addition, my visit has inspired me to create some learning activities for my tutoring students, and you will be able to use these activities with your students a well (more at the bottom of the blog)! Off we go to our nation’s capital. (All photos are by me unless otherwise credited.)

First, some general resources for you and your students on Washington D.C.

Our first day was spent on the National Mall. We, unfortunately, chose to go there on not just a Saturday, but on a day when the cherry blossoms were in full bloom! The crowds and traffic were insane, and to get anywhere on the mall, you had to walk quite a bit. But we managed to see several sites and loved learning about them with an audio tour from Atlantis Audio Tours. Here’s what we saw on the mall, with links for you and your students:

IMG_3594Washington Monument:  The Monument was closed for repairs…but I didn’t mind…just seeing it was amazing!

  • A lesson from the National Park Service in which students can see and analyze primary sources, as well as learn about the qualities of a leader and why George Washington was chosen to have a monument built in his name, as well as design their own monument for a leader of their choice.
  • Here’s a Reading A-Z book on this monument, appropriate for 1st/2nd grade.
  • ReadWorks article

 

World War II Memorial: Another amazing place to visit! In the audio tour, we learned about the features of the memorials and the significance of the bronze wreaths and rope connecting all the state and territory columns. In addition, there are famous quotes, engraved on the walls, from Franklin Roosevelt and others about this war.

  • Five lesson plans from The Friends of the National WWII Memorial, featuring “a culminating activity called, “World War II at the Memorial” connecting the lesson directly to features of the National World War II Memorial addressed in the lesson.

 

Lincoln Memorial: We arrived here with tired feet after starting at the Washington Monument, and slowly climbed the crowded steps.  But it was all worth it when we turned around to view the iconic view toward the Washington Monument, the same one Martin Luther King, Jr. saw during the “I Have a Dream” speech.

Jefferson_Pier_and_Washington_Monument
Jefferson Pier photo from Wikimedia Commons

The Jefferson Pier:  I know, you’re saying…”The what?!” But this is actually quite interesting and we would not have known about it except for our audio tour. This little nondescript marker (almost looks like a “mini” Washington Monument!) once had great ambitions of marking the prime meridian of the United States…if Thomas Jefferson had had his way! From the website Adventures in DC website: “He (Jefferson) had it located on the southern bank of Tiber Creek due south from the center of the White House and due west from the center of the U.S. Capitol. The creek no longer runs through the National Mall, but the stone remains.” Boats used to dock near this marker (the Potomac at that time came up near this point) to unload materials for building the Washington Monument. This poor little marker never became the U.S. Prime Meridian as our country chose to use the more standard Greenwich Meridian.

There were several memorials we were not able to get to, either due to time or exhaustion…but here are some teaching resources for them:

Jefferson Memorial:
Ben’s Guide Information
10 Fun facts about the Jefferson Memorial
YouTube video about the Memorial
Ducksters: Thomas Jefferson Biography

Martin Luther King Memorial
Ben’s Guide Information
Ducksters: Martin Luther King Jr. Biography

Korean War Memorial
Ben’s Guide Information
Duckster: The Korean War

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
Ben’s Guide Information
– Ducksters: FDR Biography

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Photo by Jan Anttila

Cherry Blossoms: We saw some spectacular cherry blossoms around the D.C. areas…and not just at the National Mall! The history about these famed blossoms is quite interesting; here are some resources!

National Monument and Memorial Challenge: I wonder how many of our students across the country, who have not been to the DC area before, know about all the memorials for famous Americans…not just those on the National Mall, but many more located around our country.  I created a visual challenge in Google Slides for my students to see how many they could identify and if they knew who that famous person was. In this presentation, you have a photo that shows the monument with no label, and then one with the label.  At the end of the presentation are photos of some famous Americans who do NOT have one. I am having some of my students choose one of these persons, research them and then write a persuasive piece about WHY this person deserves a memorial. The students will then have a chance to design the memorial using whatever medium they would like. This idea is based on a lesson idea from the National Park Service.

This National Monument product is ON SALE on Teachers Pay Teachers, Here’s the LINK! If you like these materials, please let me know in the comments or in TpT reviews.

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Photos by Jan Anttila

 

 

 

Lessons from Vincent

The loss of our beautiful grandson has made me reflect on the lessons he can give to classroom teachers who have special needs students in their classrooms.

I’ve been off the grid with my tutoring, consulting and blogging the past few weeks as our family suffered an unimaginable, sudden tragedy…the loss of our six year old grandson, Vincent. Within a week, he went from his usual winter cold to serious issues, strokes and surgeries. He passed away a few days later with his parents at his side. But from the moment he was born and diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, this boy began teaching his lessons…lessons that I wish I had known when many years ago when I had a student with Down Syndrome in my class.  Back then I did not know much, if anything, about how to help and teach these children. While I did have help and support from the wonderful special education staff at my school, I wish I had known more and had done more to establish a relationship and teach her. Now because of Vincent, I know. I would like to share with you some lessons that may help not only teachers, but any caregivers who work with special needs children.

Encourage a love of books with ALL students: As a retired teacher, of course I had hundreds of children’s books in my home and tried to encourage all three of our grandchildren to enjoy being read to as well as reading on their own. But it was Vincent who truly developed a passion for books. At first he would grab a book and bring it a family member to have them read aloud. However, he lost patience with that and began choosing books to either look at on his own or read. He especially loved interactive books and books that made noise! He would “read aloud” the book with a great deal of expression, while turning pages and looking up at his listeners to see their reaction. He obviously had been watching his caregivers and teachers closely as they read aloud and wanted to emulate their enthusiasm.

Vincent’s Lesson:  If you have special needs students in your classroom, make sure they have access to many books are given opportunities to hear books read aloud and let them read to other students. Have the students in your class also work with them on the alphabet, phonemic awareness and phonics skills. Help them discover a love of words!


Celebrate the joy of music with your students!  Besides books, nothing made Vincent happier than music and dancing. When he was at our house, we turned on the party songs and he would rock out; Such a joy to watch him!  But he especially loved singing with microphones. We have our own karaoke setup at our house and during karaoke parties, he would go up to the person singing, grab the second mike and start singing along. His teacher at Turman Elementary in Colorado Springs shared an adorable video of him at school picking up laminated models of coins and singing the money poem/song. Once the song was over, Vincent wasn’t…he kept picking up more coins and singing away!

Vincent’s Lesson: Make sure your students, no matter the if they are special needs or not, are given opportunities to sing, dance and listen to music (and sing into microphones!). There are so many ways to integrate music into lessons and activities!

Love unconditionally: Of course we teachers care about all of our students. However, every teacher knows that there are some children that are much more challenging than others. Life was not always easy with Vincent; he had to be constantly supervised and kept busy and occupied. It’s important to set rules and expectations with special needs students, and have consequences for inappropriate behavior, but every student must know that you care unconditionally for him or her and will help and support them no matter what. I know Vincent felt that from his family, teachers, and friends, and we all felt that from Vincent. Vincent loved everyone…his parents and brother, his dog, all of his grandparents, his cousins, his relatives, his parents’ friends, his teachers and other caregivers, our friends, my family…everyone. Vincent loved life and emulated joy and happiness.

Vincent’s Lesson: Special Needs students need to have teachers who love them unconditionally and share their joy and happiness in life and learning!

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Learn from your students: Vincent’s mother began teaching him sign language at an early age to help him communicate with the family and others. When he began schools, she shared this strategy with his teachers and after care staff to help them communicate with him as well. Last year he received an award from the after school program; he had been their first Down Syndrome child in their program and as the Director of the program stated in her comments at his service; he demanded they do more, be more and learn more (sounds like our Vincent!)  The award he received was an American Sign Language award to thank him for opening their minds to learning sign language. Here is a LINK to more information on using sign language with Down Syndrome children. 

Vincent’s Lesson: The adult teachers are not the only ones who can teach others. Watch for opportunities to learn from your students and have them share their knowledge and skills with others. 33422539_1682169635192723_3695909595470888960_o

Finally, I would like to thank the teachers and staff of Turman Elementary School and the Deerfield Community Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Besides his incredible teachers and para in his SSN classroom at Turman, he had an incredible caregiving staff at Deerfield’s After Care program. They not only took are of him after school every day, but on his off-track time. Their love for Vincent was apparent when so many of them came to the hospital to support Vincent and his family during that last difficult week. They shared so many priceless stories, photos and videos with us! Even more staff from both places attended his service. As teachers, our students and their families are very special to us and that was apparent the past few weeks. Vincent touched so many lives!

For more information on how to support special needs students in your classroom, please check out the following links:
Strategies for learning and teaching Down Syndrome students
Supporting the student with Down Syndrome in your classroom
5 Tips for including students with Down Syndrome in a general education classroom
Down Syndrome resources for educators

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Sharing about Shared Reading: Part 1

Shared reading can be a powerful collaborative method to help students become proficient readers, and it can be used in all content areas!

Shared Reading is the second in a series of posts about Balanced Literacy elements in the classroom. In my last post, I wrote about Read Aloud with a Purpose, where the teacher reads aloud short pieces of text for a specific teaching purpose. Beside modeling reading behaviors, the teacher also thinks aloud about the text. Shared Reading is the next step; the teacher and class come together to read aloud and discuss text projected on a screen or chart paper. Shared reading is NOT the same as choral reading, which used to be common in classrooms, but now is most often used for fluency and expression practice.

In the gradual release of responsibility model, shared reading falls under “I do, you help” or “We do.” For struggling or reluctant readers, this is a powerful way to help them practice their reading skills without being singled out. The teacher’s voice leads the way, and the students join in. Depending on the text used, shared reading can be a powerful classroom community building opportunity.Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 8.31.32 PM

The Nuts and Bolts of Shared Reading

  • The text should be chosen in order to teach a specific reading strategy or lesson
  • The text should be enlarged via chart paper, document camera or laptop/projector
  • Students and teachers are reading together from the same piece of enlarged text; students should NOT have their own copy. Students can too easily drop out mentally from the lesson if looking at the text on their desks.
  • The text should be tracked by the teacher or the student, using either a pointer (if text is on a screen or chart paper) or with a pencil or finger (if under a doc camera).
  • The teacher’s voice support needs to be heard; this helps make the text accessible to all readers.
  • During and/or after the shared reading, the teacher and students can discuss the text and/or the reading strategy being used.

Also, the same piece of text can be used all week long for different teaching purposes. For example, on the first day students can respond to the text; the second day, a specific comprehension strategy can be discussed, and on another day, unfamiliar vocabulary can be addressed. The text is read aloud each day by teacher and students to assist with fluency skills.  Check out the sample week long plan below and click HERE for a blank copy!

Shared Reading.ppt

Texts to use in Shared Reading

  • Poems and song lyrics: These types of text are perfect for not only fluency practice, but for many lessons on theme, style, vocabulary and inferences. (Stay tuned for my next blog on shared reading lessons using song lyrics!)
  • Content area text from textbooks, journal, articles: Avoid using the entire piece as a shared read; instead, use carefully chosen excerpts to make a teaching point or to focus on a comprehension strategy.
  • Test and assignment directions: How many times do students start on something without bothering to read the directions? By doing a shared read, students cannot avoid these, and through discussion will have a good understanding of what they need to do.
  • Cartoon strips: Depending on the cartoon, many comprehension strategies, such as inferring and context clues can be taught after a shared reading.
  • Content area vocabulary words (each used in a sentence): This helps students understand how the words are actually pronounced and the meaning can be inferred via context clues.

Quotes: There are so many wonderful, meaningful quotes out there and they can foster some fantastic discussions! Using these as a shared read and discussion is a great way to start each day! Below are some of my favorites.

 

 

For students to become proficient readers, they need to participate in shared learning experiences with the teacher. Not all learning should be in isolation. Remember, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

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Image by geralt on Pixabay

In my next post, I will focus more on using song lyrics for shared reading, and all the fun, learning…and singing you and your students can do in your own classroom!

P.S. Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, here’s a Teachers Pay Teachers freebie for you…a St. Patrick’s Day Roll-a-Math-Word Problem Story!

TpT St. Patrick's Day Math Roll-a-StoryThis is a sample from my full product, Year-Round Math Roll-a-Word Problem Stories! All you need is a pair of dice, and students can have fun rolling for their math operation, character, setting and problem. Students will use both math and writing skills by creating the word problem, solving it and then explaining their method for solving. Students can also create word problems,  exchange with others and solve! 

Click Here to Download!

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