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!
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!
I 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).
I 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!
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 WWIIand 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:
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!
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!
“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!
I love words. Words in books, words online, words in games, words out in the world. This quote could have been written about me: “She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.”
― Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
And another favorite quote…funny but also sadly, true…“Some people have a way with words, and other people…oh, uh, not have way.”
― Steve Martin
How can we ensure that our students have “a way with words”? In my previous blog post, I gave an overview of the elements of a literacy-rich environment: classroom materials, classroom design and layout, and reading and writing using authentic activities. I promised that I would go into more detail about each one, so the first topic will be WORD WALLS!
In this article from Questia.com, a word wall is defined as: “An ongoing, organized display of keywords that provides a visual reference for students throughout a unit of study.The words are used continually by teachers and students during a variety of activities.” However, when I first started presenting on word walls during my literacy training sessions, I discovered that many teachers had a narrow definition of which teachers and students should use word walls…namely primary teachers and students. But word walls are important for ALL students in ALL classrooms…pre-school to university! And (shocker!) they don’t have to be on a WALL!
Here are the purposes of word “walls” (whatever format they are in!):
To focus students’ attention on important subject area words
To allow Students to have multiple exposuresto new vocabulary and anchor the words in their long-term memory
To foster connections between words
To enable the use of content/academic words in discussions, writing, and activities in your classroom
The purposes listed above are necessary for whatever grade, content, subject or topic you are teaching! Here are some different types of “word walls”:
“Those who do the work, do the learning!” – Anonymous
I think it’s great that there are so many Word Wall card products on Teachers Pay Teachers…teachers don’t have the time to be making all those cards! But…there is no need for YOU to be creating the words for the wall…students should! It is far more powerful for the students to write the words that will go on the wall! Teachers just need to guide them in which/what words to include on the wall and make sure the handwriting is legible and the word spelled correctly. Student created word walls elicit far more excitement and ownership than a professionally created wall!
Okay, this is all great, but perhaps you don’t have a wall…or time to put stuff up…or your classroom changes all the time. No problem! You can still have your students use word walls in these ways:
One of my favorite memories from my literacy training years was presenting our district’s balanced literacy program to our Specials teachers (art, music, PE, band, orchestra, etc.) and having some of them create word walls for their content areas! Check out the P.E. wall, and what a middle school teacher has done in her classroom!
Okay, okay, so you now understand the importance and power of word walls…whether they are on a wall or not. Now…how do we get students to use them? Here are some ideas and resources for you!
Favorite Primary Grades Word Wall Activities: This book has SO many great activities for primary students! Some of my faves are:
Word Wall Storytelling: A “traveling” story where one person begins with a word and then others continue with their own words…no repeating! The teacher needs to keep track of which words are used.
Morning Mystery Message: Write your morning message to kids as usual, but leave some blanks where word wall words should go! Have kids guess which words they are!
Dictionary Word Wall: This is similar to Balderdash…make sure to have the real definition AND fake ones ready!
Double Trouble: Students guess the word using phonemic elements.
So what do you DO for word walls in your classroom? Do you have other ideas for how to do word walls and activities to use with them? Let’s hear it in the comments! SHARE the great things you are doing with other teachers….and until next time, “WORD UP”!
“Word up everybody says When you hear the call you’ve got to get it underway Word up it’s the code word No matter where you say it you know that you’ll be heard!”
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!
TEACHERS PAY TEACHERS FREEBIE COMING UP! KEEP READING! (How’s that for a shameless plug?) Plus, there are photos of my cats coming up, so that is a reason to continue reading!
Math story problems…word problems…whatever you want to call them, they were the bane of my childhood school years. I was never that confident with math and would just get a math skill mastered when suddenly there were words with the numbers, which in my young mind, just confused everything! Consequently, while working with my gifted students for the last four years of my teaching career, I made it a point to focus on word problems to help them build both problem solving and reading comprehension skills. In one of my recent blogs on Math and Growth Mindset, I discussed using math challenges such as Math Olympiad, Continental Math League, Exemplars and the Noetic Learning Math Contest, all of which contain excellent math word problems. I learned how important it is to teach problem-solving strategies, and also to honor unique and unusual methods that students will come up with!
However, I had never thought of having my students WRITE word problems, but this idea dawned on me because of dice…yes, that is correct, DICE! During this last year of tutoring, I had used something I found on Pinterest, a “Roll a Story” with my 6th-grade student who was working on writing. A roll-a-story is a table that has different options for whatever the die lands on. Here is an example of one on Teachers Pay Teachers, created by Ms.JordanReads – and check out her blog for more information on this resource and other fun dice activities!
So, I was working a quite a bit with my third-grade student, Brayden, on word problems. He was great at math; he knew his computation skills and caught on quickly to new concepts. But something happened when he was given a word problem…he really just glanced at the numbers and then either added, multiplied, or whatever, to find the answer. He wasn’t reading the problem carefully to find out what the problem was asking him to find. So I had him using several strategies to help with this, including reading the problem at least two times (if not more) and highlighting and/or underlining important words, phrases, and numbers. I always made him answer the question, “What is this problem asking you to do and find out?”
After using the roll-a-story for writing with the other student, I hit upon the idea of having Brayden help me create a MATH WORD PROBLEM Roll-a-Story as he actually loves to write (whoo hoo, we need more third grade boys who love to write!). I first created a blank template, filled with a few ideas, and then had Brayden give me suggestions for the rest. (At the bottom of this blog you will find a link to these FREE resources on Teachers Pay Teachers!)
I then had Brayden roll his die, and he came up with: cowboy for the character, in a magic forest for the setting, getting the wrong homework for the problem in the story and multiplication for the math skill. He launched right into his story, which turned out to be quite the fantasy! I am waiting for Spielberg to option the film rights. You can read his story HERE!
Brayden and I thought this was so much fun we wanted to share it with other teachers everywhere, and I decided this would be my very first product on Teachers Pay Teachers! I have even included a blank one, as well as a link to the editable versions in Google Drive (which I prefer!). Teachers of intermediate and secondary students can use this by changing the operations to things like fractions, ratios, percent, algebraic equations, etc. If you try this with your students, please post some feedback for us!
Okay, click HERE for your TpT freebie of this Math Roll-a-Story Word Problem!
P.S. At another tutoring session, I used a word problem from THIS resource and modified it to be about Ms. Crazy Cat Lady (who may or may not be me). I included photos of my current and past cats. Brayden integrated this into another Roll-a-Story word problem and made it be the “homework” the dogs were not expecting. I had him work the problem and then explain in a short constructed response how he solved it! Check it out HERE!
That’s it for now…have fun dice rolling and creating math word problems!