Mayflower Diagrams

Friday, March 25, 2016

We recently started reading about early English colonies like Roanoke, Jamestown, and Plymouth. Colonists had to have amazing constitutions to survive life in the new settlements, but what has been more amazing to my students (and me) is the trip from England to the new world on the ship.

We did a little extra digging into the voyages on ships like the Mayflower. The Mayflower was a merchant ship and not really intended for voyagers. The 102 passengers mainly stayed in the gun deck or "tween" deck in a space that was about 80' long, 24' wide, and a ceiling height of about 5 1/2'. To give you a little comparison, a school bus is usually 40' long, so the Mayflower is the length of two school buses parked one in front of the other.

In order to visualize the parts of the ship a little better, the students are creating cutaway Mayflower diagrams with 14 main ship parts labeled. We defined the ship parts first and then searched Mayflower diagrams and pictures to draw our own cross-sections of the ship.

I found this SITE and this SITE with reliable definitions for the students, but there were plenty of other online resources. Google images had great results too. I gave the students this Mayflower Ship Parts Handout, and they completed the definitions first. After we compared definitions, students used legal sized white paper (and rulers) to draw, label, and color their diagrams. We did not quite finish before spring break, but I love the way the diagrams look so far. This has been a great activity to enhance my history content as well as work with proportion and measurement.


Explorer Infographics

Thursday, February 18, 2016

I recently attended the SCCTE teacher conference where I gathered many great ideas, but my favorite session shared strategies for creating visual arguments with infographics as a variation on the persuasive essay. The presenters used this project with college and high school level students. I needed to make some adjustments but wanted to try it with my 4th graders. My students just finished reading about famous explorers, and I fiddled with some activity ideas until I came up with a way to use the infographics.

Explorer v. Explorer

  • We started with a little background reading to get a feel for the format of comparing two topics based on data. I paired students and had them read various Who Would Win? books by Jerry Pallotta. They noted the format of the book and how the author compared two wildly different animals. We then discussed how a "winner" is chosen based on the statistics and facts.
  • Keeping the Who Would Win? books in mind, the students chose two explorers we had studied during our explorer unit and spent a day doing further research. The students were looking for data or numbers they could compare between their two chosen explorers. The students located basic biographical facts as well as stats like number of voyages, length of voyage, size of the crew, sponsoring country, areas conquered, etc. 
  • The students completed this Explorer v. Explorer Planning Page.
  • We then created individual free accounts at I gave the students a class period to create a "test" infographic. We started with one of the free templates and clicked around on the tools and tested different formatting options. We had the most fun creating charts and tables and using the icons. 

  • Currently, my students are completing their Explorer v. Explorer infographic. The side by side comparison is forcing the students to think about why one explorer might be "greater" than another even though these men were often ruthless.

Now that the students have the hang of Piktochart, I think we will use the site again. It would be fun to create visual displays for other topics in science, math, reading, or really any subject. They work well for timelines or as a way to share small blocks of information about a single topic.

To see an explorer timeline activity that the students completed as a pre-activity leading up to the infographics, CLICK HERE.

Happy Comparing!


Mini Post-it Rubrics

Thursday, September 17, 2015

This week, I collected a short writing assignment from my students that asked them to create a billboard slogan that summed up key ideas in our One and Only Ivan Novel Study so far. I wanted to quickly grade the assignment with a rating that was more specific than a checkmark at the top of the page.

 The One and Only Ivan

I had a vague memory of something I had seen on Pinterest that showed a piece of copy paper with six sticky notes attached and a brief explanation about running Post-it notes through a printer. I started messing around with 3" x 3" box shapes in a Word document and designed a template for mini rubrics that would print on Post-it notes. I love these rubrics.

I opened a new Word document and set the margins to .6" on all sides. I inserted a square shape and set the size to 3" x 3". The shape had "no fill" and a black outline. I right clicked on the shape to choose "add text" and typed the line items I needed for the rubric. Once I completed the first rubric, I copied and pasted the box five times for a total of six boxes on the page. I moved the boxes, so I had three rows of two boxes each and printed one copy.

After I had one printed copy of the rubrics, I went back to my Word document and removed the black outline from the edges of each box. On my hard copy of the rubric, I attached six Post-it notes with the adhesive strip along the top edge of each box. To print, I ran the paper through my printer according to the icons for printing in my feed tray. On my printer, the side with the sticky notes is face down, and the sticky edge of each box inserts first. When the paper exits the printer, the finished page is face up.

After my rubrics were finished, I made more Post-its for my son's close reading homework assignment. He needed to add sticky note thoughts while reading the last few chapters of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. He codes each of his ideas while he reads, so we created printed Post-its to make his notes neater. He circled the type of comment he was adding and then wrote his thoughts. CLICK HERE for the close reading Post-it template.

OB = observation
OP = opinion
CT = character trait
P = prediction

One drawback to Post-it note printing is removing six individual sticky notes, reattaching fresh notes, and printing again. I needed 35 copies of my mini rubrics and had to run my template five times through the printer. It is a little time consuming. The other drawback (for me) is the smudging I had with my ink jet printer. Since the sticky notes are loose at the bottom, the words did not print cleanly on all parts of each Post-it. I am anxious to try running the page through my laser printer at school.

Happy Grading!


Amazon Book Listing Writing Activity

Sunday, August 30, 2015

My school requires a summer reading assignment for each grade level. In my 4th grade class, students read one required book and three "free choice" books from a list I provide. This year, I asked rising 4th grade students to read The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies. I do not like to dwell on the summer reading for too long at the beginning of the year, but I do want students to complete some sort of writing assessment. This year students created a fun Amazon book listing.

First, we looked at actual book listings for favorite books I had read over the summer (hint, hint... generating book recommendations for your students). We identified key features in an Amazon book page and items that seemed to be the same in every book listing.

Students discussed the differences between the book summary at the top of the listing and the book reviews at the bottom of the site page. We noted that the summaries contained more facts and less opinion, but the summaries did try to entice a reader. We also noticed how the summaries did not give away the ending or any surprise twists but created a little bit of a cliff hanger for a potential reader.

Finally, we discussed the "Frequently Bought Together" section in each Amazon listing and the purpose of that feature.

I designed an Amazon-like template and gave the students a copy. Each student completed an Amazon book listing for The Lemonade War that included the title of the book, author, a book level that the students determined like 3rd to 5th grade or 8-11 years old, year published, star rating, summary, and three additional book suggestions.
It is a simple writing activity that could be used for any novel. It incorporates many literature skills like summarizing and identifying important details and main characters. I was also able to sneak some library skills into the assignment by having students look for the year published and choose a reading level for the book. My favorite piece of the assignment is asking students to generate three additional book suggestions that would be good "next reads" to share with classmates.

To download a copy of the Amazon template (and see a few more writing activities for novel studies), CLICK HERE. To purchase a complete Lemonade War novel unit CLICK HERE.

Happy Reading!


Do This! Not That...Back to School Blog Hop

Friday, August 14, 2015

You made it!  Thanks again for hopping with us! We hope you found many valuable tips to implement in your classroom ASAP and discovered what tricks you can throw right out your classroom window!  Best wishes to you this school year. Check back with us often!

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To hop through again, head to the next stop!

Alternative Ideas to Daily Reading Logs

Sunday, August 9, 2015

My Dream: All of my students have a book in their hands at all times and run to the library for the next great book choice as soon as they finish the previous great book choice.

My Reality: A handful of students run for the bookshelf; a handful of students walk to the bookshelf, and a handful of students have to be pointed in the direction of the bookshelf.

Since not all students are avid readers, it is nice to have an accountability system in the classroom to track and encourage independent reading. It does not have to be a daily reading log (insert opinion here-- I loathe and detest dislike daily reading logs for upper elementary readers).

In the primary grades when students are learning to read, a daily reading log works well, so students can improve fluency and build their sight word banks. In the older grades when students are reading to learn, I am in favor of more independence when it comes to free reading.

There are many options that do not involve the teacher (and parents) tracking a daily reading goal, which turns reading into something a student HAS to do not something a student GETS to do. There is a big difference in the mind of a student, and motivation is a huge piece to building readers.

1. Have students Track Completed Books, not daily minutes or pages. When students finish a whole book, they log the book title and pages (and maybe reading level too). This works well for all level of readers. Some students may read one longer book or many shorter books. Teachers can monitor by informally checking with each student once a week to ask about book titles and how far along in the book the student is. When a book is complete, the student records the book on their Student Reading Log; the teacher logs the book too. Everybody has a record.

2. Have a short class book chat each day and assign students specific days to present a book. Students read aloud a short passage from their book that they pre-select and briefly discuss what is good (bad?) about the book, character(s) they like, events that are exciting (sad, funny...). Students must have something new to present each time it is their turn. Depending on how many students go each day, a student would need to present a book chat about every two weeks. That would encourage continuous reading. This 5-minute task also provides practice with oral reading fluency and public speaking. 

3. If you use the Accelerated Reader system at your school, assign each student a point goal for each month or grading period (or week). Students can self monitor to reach their point requirement. Easier books have lower point values, so students would need to read more books. If a student chooses a more challenging book, the book might take longer to read but provide more points. Teachers can differentiate reading levels by assigning different point goals to low, middle, and high readers. Set benchmarks throughout the time period (earn X amount of points by this date).

4. Require brief assessments when students complete a book to quickly check for comprehension. Complete a short recommendation form; take an AR test, fill out a Book Buddy Bookmark. Avoid big projects or lengthy writing assignments for independent book choices. Save those projects for the books and stories you read as part of language arts class. First of all, that is too much grading for a teacher. Secondly, when students know they will be required to "think deeply" about a book in assignment form, they read less. It interrupts the pure enjoyment (and free part) of a "free" reading book choice.

Other Book Motivator Ideas

  • Allow students to set a personal reading goal. I love Penny Kittle's Book Stacks for middle and high school readers or the idea of a "Tower of Books." 
  • Write Read Me Blurbs about a book (or even a hashtag style comment) on strips of paper and insert the paper on the shelf with the book, so other students may read the comments to encourage new book choices.
  • Each time a student completes a book, he/she can write the book title and author on a piece of paper and add it to a jar or container of some kind. The teacher draws book titles from the jar and that is the book that the teacher will read next. A student may not add titles to the teacher jar unless he or she has read the book.
  • Have students keep a Book Journal. At the end of a block of time (one month, one grading period...), review the book titles and make assessments about the styles of books, book author choices, length/difficulty of books, plots, likes, dislikes, and improvements in reading abilities from the previous book journal reflection. Keep the reflection on its own page in the book journal.

Please share any of your student independent reading ideas in the comments below and happy reading this school year!


What to Buy at the Back to School Sale

Monday, August 3, 2015

Planning to shop the Teachers Pay Teachers Back to School Sale? Me too. I am having a tough time prioritizing what I need. If you are in the same boat as I am, check out some great Lesson Deli sellers "must haves" and happy shopping! (Don't forget to use code BTS15 at checkout.)

 Grammar Flip Chart

The Grammar Flip Chart: This product includes easy to follow notes and tips for all of the essential parts of speech and sentence structures. The product includes 3 options for building the flipchart (cascading cards, binder ring, Dollar Store photo album). Click HERE to see the product.

 Greek and Latin Root Bundle

Greek and Latin Root Bundle: 40 weekly lessons including hands on activities. Great for Daily 5 Word Work! Click HERE to see the product.

 Decimal ZAP Bundle

Decimal ZAP Bundle: Zap games are quick and easy to implement. Add them to a corner of your room for early finishers to pick and play. Click HERE to see the product.
 SS Quick Checks
4th Grade Social Studies Spiral Review: This 30 page set will have your students reviewing key concepts for the new Learning Standards in 4th grade all year long! Click HERE to see the product. (5th grade version also available)

 Common Core 4th Math Club

Common Core Club 4th Grade Math Membership: This growing bundle is a great value. Purchase an entire year's worth of 4th grade math resources that includes task cards, games, homework, and assessments. Click HERE to see the product.

 ELA Made Easy

ELA Made Easy: An Upper Elementary Resource Bundle: If you are looking to implement the Daily 5 in your classroom, this bundle will make your life very easy! Click HERE to see the product.

 Spot It Game

Personification Spot It and Steal It Game: Personification is a breeze to teach with this engaging, hands-on game! Click HERE to see the product.

The Lesson Deli