Saturday, January 14, 2017

Host a Book Tasting in Your Classroom!

January is rolling along and my kids (both my school and actual kids) are finally readjusted to our routine after winter break. While in real life, I find January-March the three most difficult months to endure because the weather hurts my face, at school it's a different story. January-March are, I think, the BEST months of teaching! By this point, students are well-acclimated to the schedule and expectations, and there is no looming break to look forward to. The weather, as I already mentioned, hurts your face, and the end of the year is still a long way away!! I feel like each and every day I have a captive audience. And that makes me HAPPY (despite the hurt-your-face weather!).

This week, we are getting ready to start our first round of literature circles. Our book choices are Wonder, Among the Hidden, Freak the Mighty, Al Capone Does My Shirts, and Running Out of Time. Gah! Don't you just love those books?!? I am so excited and can't wait to get started!

I've written before about how I make Literature Circles work in my classroom, but today I wanted to share how I get them started. It's one of my FAVORITE classroom activities that I stole borrowed from my friend, Janice Malone at ELA Seminars, LLC. It's called a Book Tasting and it's a hoot!

After I have the books picked, I make a "menu" for each one that features the book's synopsis and some reviews. Next, I set up my room with some super-cheap checkered tablecloths, paper place mats, and battery-operated votive candles (all from Amazon). A copy of each book is laid on the place mat. I stream some Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, put my favorite roaring fireplace video on the big screen, and set out a basket of after-dinner mints.

When the kids come in, they are grouped into a "party" and led to their table. Once everyone is seated, they get about 10 minutes to read and discuss the title at their table. Then, each party moves to a new table and "tastes" the choice there.

At the end of the tasting, after each party has sampled all the books, the kids rank their choices - "1" being the book they are most excited to read, "5" being the least - and give their sheets to me. Then, I group them into their Literature Circles. (Usually, I am able to give most kids one of the books in their top three slots!)

When I do activities like this with my 7th graders, I am reminded that even though their bodies are big and their mouths can sometimes be bigger, they are still just kids! They get so into the "pretending." When I was doing this with them the other day, after each party was seated, I overheard one kid saying to another, "Get your elbows off the table! You can't have your elbows on the table at a fancy restaurant!" And a bit later I heard someone telling a party-member to remember to "cover your mouth when you cough in a restaurant because you don't want your germs in the air to land on people's food!" Even after the book tasting was over, they insisted that I not remove the tablecloths and candles for writing class because it made the room a lot more fun :)

So, if you are getting ready to jump into a round of literature circles, or you just want to get your students to "taste" some different titles, give this a try!

Ever host a book tasting? Think you might want to? I'd love to hear from you!

Happy Teaching!!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Writing Mini-Lessons (They are so much easier than you think!!)

The exhaustion, people!! Oh, the exhaustion! We've been back for TWO days, and seriously? I'm falling into bed at a most undignified hour! In fact, as I type this, I am noticing that it's already 9pm... way past my bedtime, folks, so I'ma gonna make this short!!

I've had several emails, blog comments, and questions in my TpT store about the mini-lessons that I teach during writing. If you have any of my writing units, then you know that many of them come with mini-lessons to teach during that unit, but not all of them. Several of you are wondering where I get all my other the mini-lessons.

Well, the answer is simple: from EVERYWHERE! See, several years ago, I gave up teaching vocabulary, grammar, mechanics/conventions, and even some parts of writer's craft in an isolated manner. I knew that the transfer when teaching this way was negligent and it took up a ginormous amount of my period. So instead, I opted to flood my kids with great writing and teach the lessons they needed to learn RIGHT FROM THE WRITING ITSELF. No more worksheets, or text books, or quizzes. Just lots of good writing that we observe, dissect, and imitate.

So, pretty much everyday, I share a great piece of writing with my students. (My favorite sources are the Chicken Soup books because so many of them are written by kids for kids. I will also use students' work from a previous year, with their permission, of course!) Then, after I read it aloud, I mark a few things that I really liked and want them to notice. Below, you can see a piece that I shared and the three things I wanted them to observe: the author's use of commas in a series, her word choice, and her closing.

We spent a few minutes talking about these things and practiced writing a few sentences that modeled how to use commas in a series. Then, I told the students to get drafting (we were in the middle of a narrative unit) and suggested that while they were writing to try to focus on their word choice, comma usage, and their closing.

As I walked around the room to conference with students, I noticed how kids are doing with these three things and provided some feedback. Then, at the end of class during "share time" and I asked students to share either: a.) a sentence that includes a series, b.) a sentence that really shows their care with word choice, or c.) their closing. BOOM! Mini-lesson success!!

Now, just because I shared this once doesn't mean they'll get it. And, some kids might not have an opportunity to practice that skill that day, so, as I share more mentors, I'll touch on these aspects again (and again and again!).

Throughout the course of a year, I will teach dozens of mini-lessons over and over. (Go ahead and just ask how many times I teach punctuating dialogue!! And they still struggle!!) That means kids will get lots of opportunity to observe the skill in action and to practice the skill themselves. Can you think of anything better?!? Authentic observation and practice?!? Awesome!

How do you design your mini-lessons? Any sure-fire strategies to share? I'd love to hear from you!

Happy Teaching!!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Happy New Year!!

Happy New Year, Friends! Just wanted to drop by and say, "hi!!" I hope everyone had a great holiday and that 2017 is off to an awesome start for you!

I've been enjoying my winter break with lots of family, friends, fun, and food! But, back to school tomorrow!! I'm torn about it... it's time for me to go back to work and to get my family back into our routine, but I'm sad about it, too. I'm going to miss my little people all day!! Spending 10 days in a row with them makes me realize just how quick my kids are growing. Slow down time!!

Anyway, I've got lots of great stuff planned for this blog, my TpT store, and my YouTube Channel in 2017. I just can't wait!! So, stay tuned! I'll be back shortly with my regularly scheduled blog posts!

Happy New Year!!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Teach This Lesson Tomorrow - Dear Dear

Oh my, everyone! Isn't time just flying?!? I feel like all year long, I'm excited for December to arrive. But, once it's here, I'm all, "Hold on!!!! I'm not READY!!!!" Anyone else?

Well, with all the holiday hoopla surrounding me these days and a classroom full of overly-hyper kids, I'm looking for some fun-yet-rigorous-yet-a-cinch-to-plan lessons. I figured you are, too, so I'm a bringing you another installment of "Teach This Lesson Tomorrow."

This lesson is amazing on so many levels. First, it uses an adorable picture book (I've mentioned before my passion for using picture books with big kids!). Second, the kids have a ball with it. And finally, it gives your students practice with a skill they all need work on: homophones!

I began the lesson with this:

Then, I read this book aloud to my students and we discussed homophones and their definitions (each of two or more words having the same pronunciation but different meanings, origins, or spelling, e.g., new and knew.). 

Then, I told them they need to write a short story (no more than a page) that uses 10 sets of homophones. I modeled one for them. (I always draft models "live" in front of my students so they can see a writer in action, hence all the cross-outs!)

Next, I gave them a sheet of common homophones and they got to work!

Once they were finished, we shared.

There you have it!! Easy-peasy lemon squeezy, engaging and fun, and addresses a skill that kids always need to practice.

Got any quick and easy "teach this lesson tomorrow" ideas to share? I'd love to hear from you!

Happy Teaching!!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

'Tis the Season!

December is here!

Ahh, this time of year is so full of love, excitement, and joy... and also a bit of exhaustion, dread, and angst! Anyone else feel this way?

I mean, don't get me wrong... I'm not all Scrooge-y about the holidays... but, I feel like they just sneak right up on you! You know, you're finally feeling settled from all the Back-to-School hoopla... your routine is in place, your kids are learning, you're in the GROOVE... and then, WHAM!! The holidays are here and it all gets thrown into a tizzy!

But, ready-or-not, the holidays ARE HERE... how do I know? Because...

My own children (ages 7, 5, and my 2-year old twins) are officially over-the-moon! Our beloved Jingle is back! Fingers crossed he helps to cut down on the whining and fighting that's been happening all up in here!!

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I am excited for this

It's easily one of my favorite writing assignments of the year!!

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Also, I already know what I'm doing for my students this year:

Our district is incredibly diverse, so I always try to stick with secular gifts and phrases. These FREE gift tags (which have an editable salutation by the way!) simply say "2017 is looking BRIGHT" and can be attached to a highlighter (something all my students need!) or any item of your choice.

Quick, easy, inexpensive, and perfect for any student regardless of his/her traditions and customs!

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So, what is happening in your classroom this December? I'd love to hear from you!!

Happy Teaching!!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Teachers Pay Teachers Cyber Sale is Happening NOW!!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

THE SALE IS ON!! Up to 28% off with the code CYBER2016. Everything in my store is on sale. Be sure to check out the following (already discounted!) bundles offered at some big savings. 

Get your shop on, my Friends!!

Happy Teaching!!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Practicing What You Pin - Testing Offices

If you celebrated Thanksgiving this week, I hope you enjoyed yourself!! I certainly did :)

I haven't shared a "Practicing What You Pin" lately, so I thought a post was due. This idea came from Pinterest so long ago that I can't even find the original pin! I know I've been using these for years, so I can only imagine how long ago I pinned it!

Anyway, what you see in this picture are my Testing Offices. They are simply two file folders stapled together that the kids put up when taking a test. 

Literally, the most simple idea in the world, but a great way to help kids keep their eyes on their own papers when they sit at tables.

Have you pinned, then tried, anything great this year? I'd love to hear about it :)

Happy Teaching!!