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-regulatedlearners. 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 THIStemplate. 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 hope that you will use the “I Am” poem with your students! Let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments below!
“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:
Washington 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.
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.
On this interactive site, you and your students can view panoramic views as well as videos that discuss Lincoln and his memorial.
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:
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.
Merry Christmas to all the followers of my blog! Want a FREEBIE to keep you sane this last week before Winter Break? Then keep reading!
Okay….it’s the last week before Christmas break…so here’s a quick post with a few ideas for things to do to keep the kids busy and NOT driving you crazy!
The first idea is based on something I did in my classroom days…and it was a HUGE hit! This was in the 90s before technology came to the classroom, so I used to copy off catalog pages of potential holiday gifts for friends and family. I would hand out a sheet to the kids for listing gifts and prices, then show the items on the overhead projector (yes – I said overhead projector; that’s how old I am LOL!). I would use this “fantasy” shopping excursion to help the students practice math computation skills. I can’t remember exactly what I did, but I know that there was a competition to see who could spend the most and the least!
Now that I’m tutoring, I wanted to try the same idea with my students but updated with technology. I created three sheets for fantasy shopping…one for multiplication/addition, one for a division and one for subtraction. Armed with both catalogs I had received in the mail, as well as websites (Amazon, Target, Wal-Mart, etc.), I had the students choose WHO they wanted to shop for…it could be friends or family, or both! On the sheet, they had to list the cost, and then do the computation based on the topic. Then, taking it a step further, I had them create a presentation with a photo of the item, the cost, and their grand total/budget. The students are either taking a photo of the item in the catalog or finding it online and doing a screenshot, then adding to their Google Doc or Slide. Click HERE to see a sample presentation!
For my students not working on math skills with me, I created a few literacy activities to use with the fantasy gift shopping, including responding to a prompt about what gifts they would give to friends and family if money was not an issue, as well as persuasive and descriptive writing ideas. For my student just today, I brought my catalogs so he could pick out some “gifts: for his family. Tomorrow I plan to have my 7th-grade student do writing about some very “unique” gifts using her vocabulary words from her vocabulary word wall on Padlet (see photo below.) Check out her work HERE!
My Fantasy Holiday Gift Shopping activities are currently for sale in my TpT store, but I wanted to thank all of you for following my blog by offering you a free copy for just 24 hours! Click HERE for your copy! Best of luck surviving the week and have a restful, peaceful and relaxing Winter Break! You deserve it!
Getting students absorbed in meaningful, purposeful literacy activities requires a number of significant changes in the classroom – in the physical environment, in the events and activities, and in the nature and quality of the interactions. – Noel Jones
By now, your classrooms are all set up, decorated and in full use by your students! But I have a question to ask you: Is your classroom Literacy-Rich? During my tenure as a district literacy trainer for Douglas County Schools in Colorado, I trained hundreds of elementary and secondary teachers in a program for best practices in teaching literacy that we called LIFT (Literacy Instructional Framework for Teaching). This program was based on the program, California Early Literacy Learning.
One of the most important components of LIFT was ensuring that teachers, especially those in elementary schools and teaching secondary Language Arts, had a “literacy-rich environment” in their classroom. Dr. Kimberly Tyson defines this environment as: “a setting that encourages and supports speaking, listening, reading, and writing in a variety of authentic ways – through print & digital media”. During our LIFT training, we focused on the following components of the “LRE”: classroom materials, classroom design/layout and reading and writing through authentic activities.
Classroom Materials: The Classroom Library
The classroom materials necessary for an LRE include books, books, and more books, as well as other print materials: magazines, comic books, online reading material, as well as print on the walls, writing materials, and displays of student work. During our training sessions, I spent a great deal of time discussing classroom libraries and how best to make them inviting, organized and useful. As an elementary teacher back in 1994, I had never been taught how to set up an effective classroom library, and mine was appalling, as evidenced in this photo. Yup, that’s it..both sides of the rolling cart filled with books! Inviting…NO! Organized…NO!
At our training sessions, I began by asking our teachers this question: Is the classroom library inviting, providing a range of quality books at all appropriate levels? However, it’s not enough to have an inviting classroom library, it needs to be organized! Teachers can use many methods to organize…using bins/baskets separated by popular authors, levels of books, topics, etc. There must also be a clear and easy check-out system. Check out the photo gallery of some exemplary classroom libraries!
(Click on each picture in the photo tile below for explanation and credit!)
Kelly’s 5th Grade Classroom Library
Leslie’s Pre-School Classroom Library
Carol’s Middle School Book Display
Sarah’s 4th grade classroom library!
Classroom library in Renee’s 2nd grade classroom.
After leaving the classroom and moving into offices as either a literacy, GT or RtI specialist, I managed to hang on to some sort of classroom libraries: (notice the Laura Ingalls Wilder shrine on the right!)
Photo by Jan
Photo by Jan
Classroom Materials: Words All Over the Place!
“A print–rich environment is one in which “children interact with many forms of print, including signs, labeled centers, wall stories, word displays, labeled murals, bulletin boards, charts, poems, and other printed materials” (Kadlic and Lesiak, 2003).
What goes on your classroom walls is important as well! I never learned about an LRE in my teacher prep training, but I attempted it in my 5th/6th-grade classroom…sometimes to excess! Some of my displays probably overwhelmed my students…evidence below:
All grade levels need to have a great deal of print on the walls that assist students with (depending on the grade level) the alphabet, sight words, phonics concepts, writing and content vocabulary. Of course, you can buy commercial posters, make some online, or print on chart paper. But more ownership comes when these materials are created with the help of the students through Interactive Writing (sometimes also called Shared Writing). Check out the interactive writing that students can continue to refer to during the school year…(these were all taken in Douglas County School District classrooms during my literacy training years, 2006-2009). More on interactive writing, including how to use it with older students, and in content areas, in a future blog!
I even tried to maintain a print-rich environment in and right outside of my offices once I left the classroom! This was a display in the hall outside my door for our upcoming all-school Star Wars Day my GT students were planning!
And don’t forget Word Walls! There are so many ways to create word walls: on the wall (of course) personal word walls, or electronic word walls. Content area classrooms in secondary schools should have them too and so should art, music, and PE teachers! More on Word Walls in a future blog!
More tudent written words – Photo by Jan
Word Wall using a felt backdrop; perfect for teachers who track in & out of classrooms!
Abby Schmitz’s personal sight word rings for her 2nd grade students.
Abby’s Word Wall lists
I love how eye catching and colorful this wall is! – Abby Schmitz, 2nd grade a Ruth Hill Elementary in Lincoln NE
(Click on each picture in the photo tile above for explanation and credit!)
Classroom Design and Layout
“The room arrangement should encourage repeated opportunities to interact with literacy materials and activities to practice skills that students are learning.” (Gunn, Simmons, & Kameenui, 1995)
Another question teachers need to ask themselves is: Does the room arrangement support all literacy activities of the instructional framework? How your room is set-up can affect how successful your literacy activities are! What area will allow for a large enough classroom library, where students can both read and browse for books? Where will content print be hung so that students can use as a reference? And most importantly, where is your whole class meeting area? This is something that I never had in my 90’s intermediate classroom; again, I had never been taught or told to have one! But in my classroom visits, I saw the power of this space, not only in primary classrooms but also in intermediate! These areas are used for read-aloud, shared reading, interactive writing, interactive editing (all topics coming soon to this blog!) and mini-lessons. And of course, they can be used for class meetings as well. You also need an area for your small group instruction work. Check out some ways teachers have designed their whole-class meeting and small group instruction areas!
(Click on each picture in the photo tile below for explanation and credit!)
This was my small group area in the RtI classroom at my school!
Here is Abby’s Guided Reading area!
Kelly’s whole class meeting area for her 5th graders.
Children who are successful at becoming literate view reading and writing as authentic activities from which they get information and pleasure, and by which they communicate with others. – Richard Allington, Classrooms That Work
Finally, a literacy-rich environment needs to include authentic literacy activities, not ones created by publishing companies (disclaimer: nothing wrong with using these occasionally, but authentic stuff creates better readers/writers!). NWEA states that: “Authentic learning occurs when activities or projects offer students an opportunity to directly apply their knowledge or skills to real-world situations.” So what are examples of authentic literacy activities? Here are a few ideas in the slideshow below: daily class or personal news, novel character texts (I used http://ios.foxsash.com/), real text from tutoring student to parent using a vocabulary word, thank you notes, a character “Fakebook” page using Classtools.net, or this Google Doc template, and an Instagram template! For more ideas, check out my Pinterest board on the Literacy-Rich Environment for even more!
The ABC’s of Back to School, Part 2! More ideas on what teachers need to communicate to students and parents in the first few weeks of school! I also share a FUN activity I did with my students the first week: “Me Collages!”
First of all, be sure to check out my last blog, Part 1 of The ABC’s of Back to School. This is where you will get my A to I information I put in my back-to-school packet for students and parents
J is for June Box: Since our school got out in June, I had a special box where all the toys or gizmos I had to collect from students would reside until the last day of school, or until parents came to me to request them. I ended up having quite a collection to give back in June: yo-yo’s, Pokemon cards, Beanie Babies, action figures, etc.
K is for Kid Safety: Here’s my exact wording from the packet: “It is my responsibility to make sure that my students learn in a safe environment. We need to be safe our on the playground, at lunch, on field trips, and in our classroom. School supplies need to be used in a safe manner and experiments conducted safely. Poor choices will result in immediate consequences.”
L is for Long Term Assignments and Projects: Our job as 5th/6th-grade teachers in our school was to prepare our students for middle school. I would often assign projects or writing that would take 3-4 weeks or longer. After hearing about stressed parents trying to help their child finish that assignment in just 1-2 nights, I made sure to communicate to both students and parents to manage their time and START EARLY! I eventually began assigning staggered due dates (for proposal, rough drafts, conferences on progress, etc. – these were interim assessments before I knew that term!).
M is for Magic Scrap: I have to admit…this was one of the BEST ideas I ever came up with (and believe me, there were many bad ones!). One of my expectations is that all students helped clean up at the end of the day, especially the floor so our vacuuming crew after school did not have to do their job on an obstacle course! So, to get the floor super clean, I would “pick out” a scrap of trash, or a school supply item on the floor. My students would frantically rush around trying to find the magic scrap; they would pick up a pile of stuff off the floor and bring to me waiting by the garbage can, where I would pronounce it as NOT the Magic Scrap or YES, that was indeed the Magic Scrap. If it was a “No”, off they would run to collect more stuff! When the floor was sufficiently cleaned up, lo and behold, there would be the sought after “Magic Scrap” from a lucky student! That student would receive a Homework Pass which would excuse them from homework for one night. Believe me, these were in high demand (see “P”)!
No is for No T.V.! (unless you have read your required 30 minutes at night): Lately I have been reading about how reading logs can be detrimental in getting kids to enjoy reading...but back in the 90’s, I used them and they worked for me, parents and my students. My expectation for my students 120 minutes a week of reading, and then to record what they were reading on the log. I didn’t care if they were reading a novel, textbook, a magazine article, a comic book, (appropriate) stuff on the internet, or picture books, as long as they were READING!They could do all their minutes in one night, over the weekend, or could spread out the minutes over the week. Parents had to sign the log before it was turned in. Do you use reading logs?
O is for On the Chart, Oh No!: My consequence/behavior system was multi-tiered:
* 1st incident: A verbal warning
* 2nd incident: A check on the chart under their assigned number (no names and the numbers were changed often)
* 3rd incident: Another check and a recess missed
* 4th incident: Another check and an Inappropriate Behavior Form (used school-wide)
* 5th incident: Another check, a Behavior Referral (school form) and a phone call home (Disclaimer: I realize things have changed since I used this system 25 years ago, and schools and teachers may have different ideas for behavior expectations. All teachers at my school had to have their behavior plans approved by the administration.)
P is for Passes – Homework Passes! A homework pass could take the place of one nightly assignment (but I had the prerogative to say “no passes” for any assignment I needed them to have the next day). The pass had to be attached to the assignment when turned on, and they would then receive full credit! Students could use one pass per week. The passes were given for prizes in games, for rewards and recognition, and as a “thank you” from me for students who went out of their way to help others. I made my own, but you can find many already created on Teachers Pay Teachers!
Q is for Quiet Voices: I didn’t expect my students to work in silence during independent work time (I wanted them to ask questions about their work to peers and collaborate!), but I did expect low voices during work time. Many students actually liked to get as much work done at school if they had busy sports/activities schedules after school. Since I used this time to confer or help students, I did not want to be walking around and shushing kids all the time! What are your expectations for noise during work time?
R is for Recess: Yay, we all love recess (except for teachers when they have recess duty in February!) However, sometimes my students had to miss recess as a consequence for behavior or missing work. Or, they could stay in for positive reasons, such as to get extra help from me or assist me with set-up for an activity (of course I would have many volunteers on cold and snowy days!)
S is for Standards: I was “lucky” enough to be a classroom teacher during the nationwide implementation of education standards in the 1990’s. Our workload was suddenly increased by the task of collecting specific pieces of student work and assessments to determine if they had met a particular standard or not. Standards are still around, and it was important for me then, as it is for teachers now, to make parents and students aware of the standards your state and district are using.
Stay tuned for the rest of the Back to School ABC’s in next week’s post! Best of luck to you getting YOUR school started! Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog if you want to see future posts, and a HUGE THANK YOU to those that already have!